Gus Solomon U.S. Courthouse, Portland, Oregon

Building History

Portland, Oregon, located at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, functions as a vital inland center of trade and distribution. The oldest sections of Portland are centered west of the Willamette, and the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse—a building of monumental stature and handsome proportions—is located in this area. Commonly referred to as the New Courthouse to distinguish it from nearby Pioneer County Courthouse (1869), the Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse has housed such government offices as the downtown post office, the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, and offices for the U.S. Secret Service and branches of the military.

The building was designed in 1929-1931 by native Portland architect Morris H. Whitehouse. Whitehouse developed the plans for the courthouse from directives formulated by federal agencies. Jules Henri de Sibour of Washington, DC, was the consulting architect and James A. Wetmore served as the Supervising Architect of the Treasury.

Ninety-two percent of all contract money available for labor and materials went to Portland and Seattle area firms, providing a solid economic boost to the region. In August 1932, the cornerstone was laid. Included in a metal box within the stone were five Portland daily newspapers, historic documents relating to the building, and a photograph of Whitehouse and the partners of his architectural firm. Construction proceeded smoothly, and a little more than a year later, in September 1933, the new federal courtrooms were officially opened.

In 1989, the Courthouse was given its current name to honor Gus J. Solomon, a judge who served the U.S. District Court for 37 years—longer than any other judge in Oregon. Judge Solomon, who was appointed to his position by President Harry Truman in 1949, was known as a strong advocate of civil rights and freedom of speech.

Architecture

The Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse occupies an entire block, covering approximately 40,000 square feet. The massive building contains a full first floor only; the central interior space opens into a light court, giving the upper stories of the building a square plan with a hollow center. The exterior of the building is faced with a veneer of light grey Wilkerson sandstone, described as "hard in texture and impervious to water," from Washington State. Characterized in a 1933 Oregonian article as "looming, immense, and impressive," the Courthouse retains its original character.

Designed in the Renaissance Revival style, the building is a study in formalism with touches of Art Deco details. The symmetrical facade is accented with classically inspired details such as the Doric pilasters and the evenly spaced fenestration pattern. Prominent Renaissance Revival details include the rusticated entry level, multi-pane steel casement windows, and the belt course that separates the first level of the building from upper stories. A sandstone frieze with alternating classical triglyphs (groups of three vertical bands) and metopes (interstitial spaces) with Art Deco stylized floral patterns wraps the building. Topping the frieze is an egg-and-dart pattern beneath a moulded cornice. The flat roof features a parapet wall surmounted with scrolled cheneaux (ornamental gutters).

Bronze details are used throughout the Courthouse, most notably on doors, decorative grilles, flagpole bases, and handrails. Principal entrance is gained through the central doorways on the Main Street facade. A repeating star-in-circle motif surrounds the doors, and a garland pattern stretches across the lintel. Surmounting the center door is an Art Deco-inspired eagle with outstretched wings. A modern white marble figurative sculpture by artist Manuel Neri is located east of the main entrance.

Interior public spaces are richly appointed with lavish use of various types of marble. The floor of the foyer is of Brown Nebo Golden Travis marble, veined with natural gold. Surrounding trim is of Pink Kasota Fleuri and Red Nebo Golden Travis marbles. Handsome bas-relief figures memorializing Oregonians who fell in military service in World War I decorate the end walls. The foyer is topped by a plaster cornice and ceiling.

Other impressive interior spaces are the two U.S. District Courts on the sixth story. Brown Nebo Travis Gold marble was used for trim and clock faces. Main doors are covered in leather; walls, cornices, and desks are oak. The decorative coffered ceiling, rosettes, and wall panels are plaster. Nearly full-height windows with oak shutters are located on the exterior walls. Ornate bronze heating grilles, Corinthian columns and pilasters, and glass and bronze lamps are suitably dignified details for the courtrooms.

The post office, which occupied the basement and first floor of the site, moved to other quarters in 1984. The original post office spaces were then renovated for use by the U.S. District Court. Today, the building retains its original character and many original materials and features. The Gus J. Solomon U.S. Courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Building Facts

Architect: Morris H. Whitehouse

Construction Dates: 1932-1933

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Location: 620 SW Main Street

Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival

Primary Materials: Steel frames, reinforced concrete, and sandstone veneer

Prominent Feature: Art Deco interior

Significant Events

1928: Congress allocates $500,000 for the acquisition of a site and $1,500,000 for the construction of the new Federal Courthouse.

1929-31: Morris H. Whitehouse, a local Portland architect, designs the U.S. Courthouse.

1949: President Truman appoints Gus J. Solomon to the U.S. District Court.

1979: The U.S. Courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1984: The U.S. Courthouse undergoes extensive renovations, and the U.S. Post Office relocates to another location.

1989: The U.S. Courthouse is renamed to honor Judge Gus J. Solomon.

Gus Solomon U.S. Courthouse, Portland, Oregon

The Solomon Courthouse is located on a full, 200' x 200' city block, bounded by S.W. Broadway Street on the west, Madison Street on the south, 6th Avenue on the east and Main Street on the north. The site slopes from a highpoint on the southwest corner 21' down to the northeast corner. On the east and west sides, 18' wide planting strips with granite curbs and sandstone site walls separate the exterior mass of the building from the street. The north side, which was originally the principle facade and entry to the downtown Post Office and the Courthouse, is set back 28' from the sidewalk. This exterior fence wall contains two semicircular recesses with flagpoles, and landscaped areas symmetrically arranged to either side of a broad flight of stairs. These stairs lead up to three pairs of bronze doors that provide entry to the building. The south side is set back 8' from the sidewalk. Heavy stone balustrades with painted pipe railings define the site and the building, and also serve to separate the landscaped, planting strips and lightwells from the sidewalks. The main facade is divided vertically into three parts. The base extends to a string course at the first floor level and to a second string course above the second floor. The six upper stories form a shaft that extends to an entablature which encloses the eighth story and attic. Original, exterior materials include Wilkeson sandstone (from Washington State), which is used for 5" masonry veneer and carved details, granite curbs, steel pipe guardrails, bronze handrails and window frames, bronze and iron grilles, bronze and glass entry doors, divided steel casement windows, and a terra cotta frieze. Features of the Neoclassical composition include solid end bays with fluted pilasters between the windows, banded rustication at the first and second stories and carved stone garland surrounds at the doors. A Deco-style eagle is located above three pairs of centered doors at the north entry. The building structure is a steel frame with reinforced concrete floor and roof slabs, and 13" thick unreinforced masonry exterior walls at the perimeter and light court. The concrete floors are framed with steel beams supported by steel trusses or girders. Unreinforced hollow clay tile partitions and non-structural metal studs provide walls within the interior. The structural bays -- 11 along the north and south elevations and 10 bays on the east and west -- are defined by alternating vertical bands of sandstone masonry veneer and steel sash windows which reflect the rational design of the steel structural frame. A 65' x 78' light court is located at the building's core above the full footprint of the first floor. The lightwell walls are clad with unreinforced white brick and contain double-hung, painted wood windows. As with the exterior walls, the materials of the light court are original. The original skylit light court roof was removed in 1984 and replaced with a membrane roof and mechanical equipment was installed. Originally a service vehicle entry at a 38' wide opening at the south side led from Madison Street to the basement trucking area and mailing platform. This space was infilled during an extensive renovation project in 1984 to provide for additional judicial chambers. During the same renovation project, the primary, north entry was locked for greater security. A level, handicap-accessible entry on the west side was designated the main, public entry to the first floor lobby. HVAC changes included a large mechanical penthouse addition at the north side of the roof. Few other changes have occurred on the exterior to effect the appearance of the Solomon Courthouse. After 1993, the non-original courts and associated spaces were removed from the first floor and replaced with GSA offices. The north entry was reinstituted as the main entry. The basement contains rooms for storage, service spaces for staff use and the building's mechanical and electrical rooms. Finishes are simple and original: painted concrete floors, plaster and hollow clay tile walls, and plaster ceilings. Original dressing rooms for postal employees' use have been removed and replaced with a staff break room (unused and empty), locker/shower rooms, and exercise rooms. However, the basement retains its original, utilitarian, and non-public character. The first floor of the courthouse originally contained the downtown Portland Post Office with its 125' x 25', marble-clad lobby. Service windows and rooms were arranged around this lobby: a stamp sales room to the west of the north foyer and money order room to the east. A large, skylit work room was located south of the lobby below the light court. Panels containing numerous bronze and glass lock boxes with tall glazed windows separated the work room from the lobby. The post office functions were removed, and these spaces renovated for courthouse use during the 1984 renovation project. However, the public spaces, and fine interior materials and decorative elements in the public foyers and lobby areas were preserved. These include Pink Kasota Fleuri marble walls, Red and Brown Nebo Golden Travis floors, bronze and glass doors and decorative plaster cornice and ceilings. The post office lobby's bronze and glass lockboxes and service windows, and cast bronze writing desks have been maintained; the glass of the windows was changed to mirrors. Original postal service work areas were more modestly finished with plaster walls and lineoleum floors which have been replaced. The removal of the post office resulted in new renovated spaces off the first floor lobby: conference and waiting rooms and new judicial chambers, offices, and two new courtrooms. These non-original spaces were removed after 1993 and replaced with GSA offices. In 2004, the post office was reinstalled at the first floor in northwest corner off the main lobby. Elevators with bronze doors and cabs, and marble stairways lead from the first floor lobby to adjacent floors. Above the second floor, the stairs are more utilitarian with steel treads and risers and newer bronze rails. The two public elevators are located opposite one another at the east and west ends of the north side of the building (northeast and northwest corners). These are linked with a main double-loaded corridor on the upper floors. Public restrooms are located near these elevators. These rooms retain much of their original character with lounge vestibules, French Pink Tennessee marble wainscotting, ceramic tile floors, and in many places original fixtures and accessories. At the upper floors single and double-loaded corridors lead around the east, west and south sides of the open light court to offices, courtrooms and judicial chambers. Corridor floors were constructed originally of terrazzo. Typically, these have been covered by carpet, but the marble base and the marble window sills remain preserved and exposed. Original interior elements remaining at most upper floor corridors include painted plaster walls, cornice and ceilings, stained wood cove moulding and base, and ceiling-hung incandescent light fixtures. Many of the light fixtures were designed specifically for the building while the rest were specified from the federal schedule. Most of the original light fixtures are intact and functioning. They should remain so. Some fluorescent light fixtures were later added. Stained and varnished wood, panel-type doors and transom windows were provided originally and most of these remain. Many portions of the upper floor corridors are original in terms of finishes and details, but only those on the third and sixth floors are continuous on all four sides of the building as originally designed. A large Law Library was installed at the east side of the second floor which incorporated some of the public corridor and of original office spaces. After 1993, the law library was removed and replaced with offices and corridors. The fourth floor plan was modified to serve the U.S. Marshall's with new offices. With this renovation, the public corridor on the east side of this floor was closed to provide increased security between the security elevator on the south side and the jail facilities on the north side. After 1993, the Marshall's space and cells were removed and replaced with offices and corridors. The most impressive and significant of the interior spaces above the first floor lobby are the District Courtrooms on the sixth floor, in this report referred to as the east and west courtrooms (formerly No. 61 and 62), and the original lobby and Court of Appeals on the seventh floor, referred to as the north courtroom (formerly Courtroom No. 71). The east and west courtrooms (Courtrooms No. 61 and 62) are similar. Both are multi-storied and 24'-4" in height. They occupy nearly 80' of the east and west sides of the building. Interior materials include Brown Nebo Golden Travis marble base, trim, and clock faces, tall, panel-type doors, and oak wall panels, trim, window reveals, railing, clerk's and judge's benches, jury platforms and steps. Plaster ceilings are made of painted, ornamental coffers. Plaster walls contain ornate, original bronze heating grilles. The double pairs of public doors leading into each court room are clad in pig-skin leather and decorated with large brass tacks. The doors leading to the judges chambers to the south are each surrounded by Corinthian pilasters and a segmented pediment. The judge's bench is flanked by Corinthian columns made of stained oak with similar pilasters. These support an entablature with modillions which are reflected in the plaster rosettes of the ceiling coffers. Six, original, custom glass and bronze lamps are suspended from the ceiling. Floor-to-ceiling windows are open to the exterior and covered with non-original drapes. Non-original features of these courtrooms include wood panel-covered acoustic treatment at the windows, fabric wrapped acoustic panels at the walls and ceiling, recessed fluorescent light panels and HID lamps in the suspended ceiling fixtures, indirect lighting behind the bench, and carpet which is installed over portions of the original, checker-patterned rubber tile floor. Although the east and west courtrooms (Courtrooms No. 61 and 62) have been modified, most changes have been sensitive and most of the original details and materials retained. Because the courtrooms are so intact, several movies have been filmed there. The original Court of Appeals or north court (formerly Courtroom No. 71) is located off a marble-clad corridor lobby on the north side of the Seventh Floor. This 15'-6" high space extends into the eighth floor attic. Rubber tile floors; marble base; cherry wood panel walls, cornice, window reveals, rails, judge's bench, jury platform and stairs; and ornamental plaster characterize this room. Entry doors off the corridor lobby are original and clad with pig-skin leather decorated with large brass tacks. Pairs of Roman Doric pilasters flank the large, wood panel door to the judge's chambers behind the bench. A carved wood eagle is mounted at the top of the broken pediment over this door. A heavy-scaled, carved wood cornice with modillions completes the entablature at the ceiling. Four, original, bronze and glass suspended lighting fixtures complete the original design. Changes to this courtroom have been for the most part minimal, and the original finishes are in relatively good condition. Non-original changes include carpet, window drapes, bronze heating grilles at the wood wall panels, flush fluorescent ceiling lights, and acoustic ceiling panels. As with the east and west courtrooms (No. 61 and No. 62), the north courtroom (No. 71) retains its historic grandeur and impressive sense of formality and tradition. In summary, several changes have taken place since 1993. These changes are as follows. At the first floor the non-original courtrooms and judicial spaces were removed and replaced with GSA offices and corridors. At the second floor, the library was removed and replaced with offices and corridors. At the third floor, the judicial chambers were converted to offices. At the fourth floor, the Marshall's space and cells were removed and replaced with offices. At the fifth floor the non-original courtroom and judicial spaces were removed and replaced with offices and corridors. At the sixth floor, the judges library was divided into two rooms. At the seventh floor, the non-original courtroom and jury spaces were removed and replaced with offices. This change is not reflected in the current building drawings. A 2009 project for courtroom preservation is planned to restore the historic wood in the courtrooms with beeswax and finish. Despite these changes, the Gus Solomon retains a high degree of original materials, character, and integrity. It is one of the most intact federal courthouses in the northwest region, especially considering that it no longer functions as a courthouse but rather as a post office and public and private offices. It is a significant property.

Gus Solomon U.S. Courthouse, Portland, Oregon

The U. S. Courthouse, located at 620 SW Main in Portland was known also as the "New Courthouse" to distinguish it from the Pioneer Courthouse, until the Hatfield Courthouse was built in the 1990s. In 1989, the courthouse was given its current name to honor Gus J. Solomon, a judge who served the U.S. District Court for 37 years. Judge Solomon was appointed by President Harry Truman in 1949. It is significant because of its urban presence in the city, and as a characteristic example of Neo-classical federal courthouse design. The building is also a exemplary work by noteworthy Portland architect Morris H. Whitehouse.

Designed in 1929 - 1931, and constructed in 1932 - 1933, the building's monumental shape made it a dominant, impressive form in the city's downtown. The design and the fine materials used in its construction -- Wilkeson sandstone, terra cotta, Mt. Nebo marble, and bronze decorative elements, grills, hardware, light fixtures, entry and elevator doors -- were described in a contemporary newspaper account as contributing to the building which was characterized as "a symbol of Portland's progress," and "the most handsome of the five federal buildings in the City" in 1933.

The building's designer, native Portland architect Morris H. Whitehouse, is well known for other landmark buildings that he designed in the city, including the Sixth Church of Christ Scientist, the Columbia Gorge Hotel, the 1913 University Club and the Multnomah Athletic Club (all of which are extant). Whitehouse was educated in Portland, and at MIT. He was a member of the American Academy in Rome and also served as the president of the Oregon Chapter of the A.I.A.

Whitehouse developed the plans for the courthouse from directives formulated by federal agencies. J.H. De Sibour of Washington, DC, was the consulting architect, and J.A. Wetmore was the Treasury Department's Supervising Architect.

The downtown Portland Post Office was originally located at the basement and first floor of the eight story building. It was removed in 1984 and reestablished in 2004 after the Pioneer Courthouse renovations. Reportedly, the post office is relocating to another building in 2009. The Solomon Courthouse retains most of its original character. The exterior elevations, foyers, lobby space, three historic courtrooms and their upper floor lobbies, and many of the stairways and public corridors on the upper floors have been well maintained. Infill and renovation of the post office spaces and changes to the lobby have been done in a sensitive or discrete manner. The building remains as it was described in a 1933 Oregonian article, "looming, immense and impressive."

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1932 1933 Original Construction Morris H. Whitehouse
1967 AC Remodel Thomas E. Taylor Mech. Engineer
1979 Handicap Renovation SERA
1983 New Snack Bar and Dressing Rooms Zimmer Gunsul Frasca
1984 Grand Jury and Library Remodel Zimmer Gunsul Frasca
1984 1984 Post Office relocates to another location.
1984 1985 US Courthouse Alterations and Improvements Zimmer Gunsul Frasca
1986 1987 Alterations and Improvements Wilson Bryant Gunderson Seider
1992 1992 Judges chambers installed on 3.
1993 2004 Non-original court/chambers/library/cells removed @ 1-7 offices installed
1997 1997 District Court moved from Solomon to Hatfield Courthouse
1999 1999 4th floor corridors & partitions modified. Jail removed.
2004 2004 Exterior Cleaning of Fence & Lower Stone
2004 2004 Post office moved back into Gus Solomon on the 1st floor in the NW corner.
2006 2006 Exterior renovations.