Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse, Salt Lake City, UT

Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse Exterior

Building History

The Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse (originally known as the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse) is the oldest building in Salt Lake City's Exchange Place Historic District. The district consists of eight buildings, constructed between 1903 and 1917, that reflect Utah's growing prosperity at the end of the nineteenth century.

After Utah became a state in 1896, planning began for a federal building in the capital city. The following year, Congress appropriated $500,000 for site acquisition and building construction. The selected site was purchased from two local bankers, the Walker brothers, for one silver dollar on November 21, 1899.

The Classical Revival style building was designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department headed by James Knox Taylor. Construction began in the summer of 1902. Flaws in the stonework delayed construction, but the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was finished in late 1905. An addition, which echoed the style of the original building, was constructed on its west (rear) side between 1910 and 1912.

In the late 1920s another addition was planned under the direction of Louis A. Simon, Superintendent of the Architectural Section of the Treasury Department. The design was intended to duplicate the earlier facades, but an unforeseen problem arose. During construction of the building's final addition, extensive cracking and spalling were discovered in the soft Kyune sandstone that faced the 1905 and 1912 sections. As a consequence, the addition was constructed entirely in granite and nearly all the existing facades were refaced to match. Work was completed in 1932.

A new federal courthouse will soon be constructed on an adjacent site to meet the expanding needs of the courts. As the project proceeds, the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse will be renovated.

In 1990 the courthouse was renamed in honor of Frank Edward Moss, a Utah native who served as U.S. Senator from 1959 to 1977. The Exchange Place Historic District, including the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. This district is also listed as a historic landmark on the Salt Lake Register of Cultural Resources.


Located on Main Street in Salt Lake City's Exchange Place Historic District, the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, now the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse, helped introduce the Classical Revival style to Utah. The original building was constructed between 1902 and 1905 with a U-shaped plan. The two additions, completed in 1912 and 1932, closed the end of the U and added another U-shaped section. Together they form a plan with a figure-eight shape, enclosing a pair of light courts. When the last addition was constructed, the Classical Revival style was reinterpreted as a form of modern classicism that was prevalent for many public buildings of the 1930s.

The building rises five full stories above a basement and has a central two-story penthouse. The exterior walls of the 1905 and 1912 sections were originally clad in Kyune sandstone that experienced significant cracking and other damage over the years. These walls were refaced with Utah granite during the construction of the final addition. The only original sandstone wall surface remaining is on one of the eight internal light court elevations.

Because much of the original sandstone was replaced in 1932, the classically designed exterior displays elements of stylized modern classicism. Broad granite steps lead from the street to the courthouse's main entrance, along its east elevation. Flanking the steps are granite railings with streamlined detailing and eagles with outstretched wings. Atop the bronze entry doors are elaborate decorative grilles of bronze and aluminum.

A colonnade of fifteen fluted, engaged Doric columns spans the eastern facade, supporting a classical entablature and parapet with balustrade. Three-story high window openings are recessed behind the columns. In each bay, just below the third floor, is a decorative metal screen set on marble backing.

The north elevation is similar in style but not as wide with seven columns and ten window bays. Its three westernmost bays have wood spandrels and pediments in place of marble-backed metal screens. The south elevation, also ten bays wide, is simpler in design, having rectangular pilasters rather than the engaged columns of the north and east elevations.

The rear of the building, which faces west, presents the simplest elevation. It differs from the other three elevations, having neither columns nor pilasters, as it was intended to be the least visible when built. It is faced in yellow brick with a sandstone belt course. The north side of this elevation, which dates from the 1912 extension, has sandstone trim, while its south side, added in 1932, employs terra cotta for the window lintels and other elements. The internal light court elevations are also faced in yellow brick, except for the south elevation of the original building. It retains its intricately carved pilasters and capitals. This elevation originally faced the street.

Inside the courthouse, the floors of the main lobby and corridors are a combination of marble, tile, and terrazzo. Marble wainscoting appears throughout the 1905 portion of the courthouse. Three original courtrooms, located on the second floor, have retained much of their original appearance. They are two stories high, with oak wainscot and paneling, as well as ornamental plaster ceilings with decorative coffers.

The new courthouse being planned for an adjacent site will be approximately 100,000 square feet larger than the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse and will provide fourteen new courtrooms for district judges. The simultaneous renovation of the historic Courthouse will include interior space alterations as well as upgrades to all major building systems.

Significant Events

1896: Utah becomes a state, and planning for a federal building in Salt Lake begins.

1899:The building site is purchased for one silver dollar.

1902-1905: The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is constructed.

1910-1912: An addition is made to the west side of the building.

1932: A U-shaped addition to the south side gives the building its present plan; most of existing structure is refaced in granite.

1978: The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Exchange Place Historic District.

1990: The U.S. Courthouse is renamed in honor of Frank Moss, three-term U.S. Senator from Utah.

Building Facts

Architect: James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department

Louis A. Simon, Superintendent of the Architecture Section

Construction Dates: 1902-1905

additions 1910-1912 and 1930-1932

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Exchange Place Historic District (the district is also a Salt Lake City Historic Landmark)

Location: 300-400 block of South Main Street

Architectural Style: Classical Revival; Modern Classicism

Primary Materials: Granite, sandstone, and terra cotta

Prominent Features: Fluted Doric colonnade; Decorative grilles on entrance doors

Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse Exterior

The Federal Building and U.S. Court House is a five story plus basement granite structure originally built in the Neoclassical style. It was constructed in three phases, 1905, 1912, and 1932. The building extends from Post Office Place to 400 South in the Exchange Place Historic District in downtown Salt Lake City. The original building and two additions form a "figure eight" in plan, surrounding two lightwells.

The sixteen bays of the east elevation, the building's primary facade, are articulated by a colonnade of fifteen round, fluted engaged columns. The columns are approximately four feet in depth from the recessed center wall of the building, and rest on a granite base near the first floor line. Above the columns is a granite architrave and frieze, terra cotta cornice and granite parapet with carved granite balustrade. Monumental window openings extend from the first to third floors, between the pilasters. Each bay includes, at the third floor line, a decorative metal screen backed with marble.

The two main entries, with bronze doors and decorative grillage, are directly accessed from Main Street via granite steps. Both were added in the 1932 addition construction. The granite railings along these steps are accented with carved eagle’s heads and streamlined detailing, indicative of the Art Moderne style. The original construction and two additions reflect the popular public building styles of their time. Multiple styles of architecture predominately include Neoclassical with influences of Art Moderne features in the 1932 addition.

The ten bay north elevation is similar to the east, except the three westernmost window bays have richly detailed wood spandrels and pediments, instead of marble backed metal screens. A carved granite pediment, engraved as "Post Office" entry, occurs over the single door opening near the east end of the facade.

While substantially similar to the north in elevation, the south elevation is slightly simpler in detail. The south elevation has pilasters in lieu of engaged columns, which are rectangular instead of round, and are considerably shallower than the engaged columns on the north and east facades. In lieu of a granite balustrade, the parapet at the south elevation has metal grilles between granite pilasters.

Aside from the approximate 6-foot returns of granite detailing at either end, the west elevation, facing a parking lot, is simply finished with blonde brick and double hung windows. The north side of this elevation, built in 1912, is trimmed with sandstone. The south side, built in 1932, is trimmed in terra cotta. A series of non-historic modifications, such as loading dock, entries, and the like, have been added to this facade.

Seven of the eight internal light court elevations are detailed similarly to the west elevation. The sandstone clad south elevation of the original 1905 building, however, remains much as it was constructed originally, with intricate pilasters and carved capitals.

In plan, double loaded corridors circle the figure eight, with tenant spaces facing out and in toward the light court. Elevators and stairs are located at the north and south ends of the east side of the building. The main lobby on the first floor, originally constructed as the post office lobby, retains much of its original configuration. Recent modifications to the space, with the removal of the post office function have led to the application of a number of new materials in the space. Original marble, tile, and plaster finishes do, however, remain in the space.

On the second floor, three original courtrooms remain in much their original configuration. These courtrooms, two of which are two stories in height, are richly detailed with oak wainscot, paneling and carved ornament plaster ceilings with decorative coffers.

The original corridors remain in much of the building, although some have been incorporated into secure tenant areas. Like the lobby, the corridors have a combination of marble and tile floors, although the 1905 and 1912 portion of the building has terrazzo insets. Marble base occurs throughout these space, and marble wainscot remains in the 1905 building. All corridor ceilings, except at the elevator lobbies and the first floor entrance lobby, have been lowered with contemporary materials to satisfy functional concerns. Original entry doors to tenant spaces remain, with a variety of richly detailed wood or marble casings.

Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse Exterior

The Federal Building and U.S. Court House in Salt Lake City was constructed in 1902, initially as a U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. The building is significant architecturally for introducing the heretofore-unknown Neoclassical Style to Utah. This style, promoted by the government for its buildings in the early 20th century, found its way into Utah's commercial, religious and residential architecture after 1903.

From an initial offering of thirteen sites, the number was quickly narrowed to two. The site which was not selected was offered by the Mormon Church. Due primarily to strong public opposition of the potential for Mormon influence in the federal project, a site in the "Gentile" business section was selected.

The building is the oldest structure in Salt Lake City's Exchange Place Historic District, which was created as a direct outgrowth of Utah's mining industry in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The district grew up around the building following an intensive Mormon-Gentile conflict. The existence of Exchange Place documents the commercial rivalry between Gentile (non-Mormon) capitalists and the Mormon financial community, which established a separate commercial district. The building serves as the visual terminus for Exchange Place, which is bilaterally symmetrical with the building.

Even though the Tarsney Act of 1892 allowed for the design of federal buildings by independent architects, the building was designed by the office of James Knox Taylor, Architect for the Treasury Department. The reason for this, as written in the Salt Lake City Tribune on March 2, 1902, may have been the perception that "...through political and other influences, inferior plans have frequently been accepted in competitions."

The building consists of the original structure and two additions. The original building, completed in 1905, was a "U" shaped Neoclassical structure on the northeast corner of the site, and was clad entirely in sandstone. Soon after its completion, a need for more space became apparent and a matching two bay addition was added to the west. In order to match the original, two end bays of the north facade were removed from the original building and used to face the addition, which was completed in 1912. Additional demands for federal space led to a major expansion and renovation, completed in 1932. The expansion was initially designed to match the original sandstone building; however, a study of the original stonework uncovered serious flaws in the original stone. It is assumed that the discovery of the flaws caused the supervising architect to develop another design, which stands today. This design included sheathing the existing building in granite to match the addition, all in the Greek Revival style.

Description Architect
1902 1905 Original Construction James Knox Taylor
1909 1912 West Addition James Knox Taylor
1931 1932 South Expansion and Renovation of Original James Knox Taylor
1962 1963 Air Conditioning Redd & Tregeagle Engineers
1977 1978 Miscellaneous Exterior Renovations & Fire Safety Fowler, Ferguson, Kingston, Ruben
1981 1981 Secure Parking/Loading Dock Brixen & Christopher Architects
1982 1983 Building Remodeling and Sitework Scott, Louie & Browning
1985 1985 Senior Judge Facility Steve Crane Associates
1987 1988 First Floor North Courtrooms Steve Crane Associates
1990 1991 Court Alterations (First Floor Post Office Area) Edwards, Daniels Associates
1990 1993 Renovations (HVAC, Lighting, Court Restoration) Gillies, Stransky, Brems, Smith
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13