Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, OH

Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, OH

Building History

The Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, also known as the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, is a monumental anchor to Cleveland's Civic Mall. Fronting the Mall and Public Square, it was the first building erected under Cleveland's 1903 Group Plan, which illustrates the urban planning ideals of the City Beautiful Movement.

New York Architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) designed this imposing building under the direction of Supervising Architect of the Treasury James Knox Taylor (1857-1929). It is one of thirty-five buildings constructed during Taylor's tenure (1883-1912) that were designed by independent architects commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Tarsney Act. The 1893 Act authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to use private architects, selected through competitions, to design federal buildings. As a process, it manifested the growing demand for greater architectural standards for public buildings and opened the way for additional appropriations to maintain those standards.

As the first building erected under the Group Plan, the federal building was the model for later structures. The Group Plan proposed that local and federal government buildings be placed around a grand Mall. Embraced from the late nineteenth century into the first decades of the twentieth century, the City Beautiful Movement had its beginnings with the monumental planning and predominately classical architectural style of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Celebrated architect Daniel Burnham, who was instrumental in promoting the nationwide adoption of City Beautiful Movement principles, served as a member of the design team that produced the Group Plan. Arnold W. Brunner, working as an independent architect, and John M. Carrere, of the prominent New York firm of Carrere and Hastings, also served on the team. The Federal Building formed one half of the Mall's termination at Superior Avenue. Cleveland's Public Library (1925), forming the other half of this terminus, emulates the Federal Building in scale, mass, and general overall appearance.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. On May 27, 1998, the building was officially renamed in honor of U.S. Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio.


The Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse is one of Cleveland's great monumental public buildings, skillfully illustrating the strong, classical characteristics of Beaux Arts architecture. The five-story, granite-faced building was constructed between 1903 and 1910. The building covers the entire city block bounded by Rockwell Avenue on the north, Superior Avenue on the south, East Third Street on the east, and Public Square on the west.

Inspiration for the design of this Beaux Arts building came from the Place de la Concorde in Paris as well as the work of French architect and theorist Francois Blondel. The resulting design presents a rusticated first floor and forty-two-foot high Corinthian columns and pilasters on each elevation. These massive columns and pilasters define the sequence of window bays on the second, third, and fourth stories. Rusticated stone-arched windows with carved keystones adorn the first story. The more ornate second-story windows are capped with classically inspired pediments and balustraded sills. The third- and fourth-story window openings have molded surrounds and bracketed sills. Screening the fifth floor is an expansive entablature capped by a balustraded parapet that rises nine feet. A low-hipped, standing-seam copper roof crowns the building with attic dormer windows facing the interior light court. The parapets are adorned with shields and carved stone eagles at the building's corners.

The main entrance to the building is centered on the Superior Avenue facade. Granite steps lead to three rusticated stone arches once fitted with cast bronze doors and ornate bronze lanterns hang from cast bronze brackets. The original doors have been replaced.

Flanking the primary entrance are two important sculptures executed by the famed sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). Jurisprudence is located on the Public Square corner, while Commerce sits at the corner of East Third Street and Superior Avenue. Jurisprudence is personified by a mother figure clasping her baby while a criminal crouches in chains.Commerce is depicted as a female figure holding a model ship in one hand while her other arm rests on a globe representing the opportunity for world trade. At her right is "Electricity," symbolized by a female figure holding a magnet catching electrical sparks. "Steam," located to her left, is represented by a male figure grasping a wheel.

On the interior, the grand main lobby dominates the first floor as it runs east to west across the entire length of the building. The floors, walls, and vaulted ceiling of the lobby are surfaced with marble. Original chandeliers illuminate the space. The postal service windows are located along the lobby's north wall. Marble stairs wrap around three sides of the elevator shafts, located at the east and west ends of the public lobby. Cast-bronze, spread-wing eagles standing on globes appear over each pair of elevator doors. Corner offices in the upper floors are adorned with impressive murals depicting significant events in the history of Cleveland. Among the magnificent artworks are City of Cleveland Welcomes the Arts by Will Hicok Low (1853-1932), and the Battle of Lake Erie by Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum (1849-1925). Murals in the ceremonial courtrooms on the third floor are The Common Law by Henry Siddons Mowbray (1858-1928), and The Law by Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848-1936).

A major renovation project to restore public spaces and modernize the mechanical systems was initiated in 2002. Although the primary activities of the U.S. District Court system moved to the new Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse a few blocks west, the ceremonial courtrooms in the Metzenbaum Courthouse continues to be used for public hearings and proceedings.

Significant Events

1893: Passage of the Tarsney Act permits the Federal Government to hire private architects through competitions.

1902: The 1858 federal building is demolished to allow for the construction of a new U.S. Post Office, Custom House, and Courthouse building.

1903: The Cleveland Group Plan is presented; construction of the new federal building begins under direction of New York architect Arnold W. Brunner.

1910: Construction is completed.

1934: The main U.S. Post Office moves out of the building.

1950: The U.S. General Services Administration initiates alterations and construction of additional courtrooms.

1974: The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

1998: The building is renamed in honor of U.S. Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio.

2002: Extensive rehabilitation and modernization of the building to better serve new client agencies.

Building Facts

Architect: Arnold W. Brunner

Construction Dates: 1903-1910

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Location: 201 Superior Avenue, NE

Architectural Style: Beaux Arts

Primary Materials: Gray granite

Prominent Features: Exterior sculptures Jurisprudence and Commerce by Daniel Chester French; Ceremonial Courtrooms

Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, OH

The Cleveland Federal Building & United States Courthouse is a five story, granite faced, neo-classical style building. Constructed between 1903-1910, the building covers the entire site bounded by Rockwell Avenue on the north, Superior Avenue on the south, Third Street on the east and the Public Square on the west.

All four facades have highly rusticated first floors, over which rise forty-two foot high Corinthian engaged columns and pilasters. A broad entablature and balustraded parapet, extending nine feet above the entablature, screen the fifth floor. A hipped, batten seam copper roof crowns the building. Original chimneys can be seen on top of the roof. Copper roofed attic dormer windows face the interior light court.

On the four facades, massive engaged columns and pilasters define a sequence of window bays. On the first floor, windows are set within rusticated stone arches with carved keystones. Windows on the floors above decrease in height at each floor. The second floor windows rise from the interior floor level behind a stone balustraded railing; these windows are capped with classical carved stone pediments. The third floor windows are much shorter, with the interior wood and marble sills at about
30-36 inches above the floor level. A stone band enframes the third and fourth floor windows, with a carved stone spandrel between the floors and a stone lintel with a carved keystone above the fourth floor windows. The fifth floor is completely hidden behind the entablature and balustraded parapet screen.

The four building corners above the first floor are identical. Each slightly projecting end bay rises to the entablature, which forms a unifying band about the building. In addition these cut granite faced bays form side frames for the major, engaged column or pilaster portions of the facades. There is a single window at each floor in each of the end bays. The window at the second floor is similar to its neighbors on the same floor; however, its stone balustraded railing sits on a slightly projecting cut stone plinth set across projecting stone brackets. The third and fourth floor windows, as at the other building bays, are tied together by a narrow stone band, the spandrel between the third and fourth floors enriched by carved stone decorations. The third floor window, smaller than its adjacent third floor windows, is capped by a carved stone lintel and embellished keystone. Each end bay is capped by a spread winged carved stone eagle.

The main entrance to the building is centered on the Superior Avenue facade. Three rusticated stone arches frame the doors. Granite steps lead to the doors; the original cast bronze doors have been replaced with later bronze doors. Original ornate bronze lanterns hang from cast bronze brackets. Flanking the Superior Avenue facade are two important statue groups executed by the sculptor, Daniel Chester French. "Jurisprudence" is on the Public Square corner while "Commerce" is located on the Third Street corner. Side entrances, from Public Square and Third Street, also access the main public lobby. The original bronze doors at these entrances have been replaced by later bronze doors as well. Original cast bronze light standards, set on stone bases, flank the side entrances.

Vehicular access into the building is located along Rockwell Street. The ramps to the basement loading dock area are masked along the street side by a low wall of granite ashlar masonry with a section of granite balusters. Originally two cast bronze light standards, similar in design to the standards at the side entrances, stood towards the top of each ramp.

Windows throughout have typically been replaced with double glazed aluminum units with a black finish. Original ornamental bronze window frames remain at the first floor. Some original frame elements remain at other locations as well.

On the interior, the main space of the first floor is the Grand Hall, or public lobby, which runs east to west across the entire front of the building. The floors, walls and vaulted ceiling of the lobby are surfaced with marble. Original chandeliers still light the lobby. The original postal service windows and later lobby are still present along the north wall. The elevators are located at east and west ends of the public lobby. Marble stairs wrap around three sides of the cast bronze and plaster paneled elevator shafts. Cast bronze eagles with spread wings standing on globes appear over each pair of elevator doors.

The other significant interior spaces include the two third floor courtrooms and their accompanying chambers and jury rooms, some corner offices on the second and third floors and the overall circulation pattern on all floors. The two story courtrooms essentially appear as they did when initially constructed. Though most of their hardwood floors have been carpeted, the decorative marble and plaster walls and ornamental plaster ceilings, furnishings and artwork have been restored to their original grandeur. The other spaces mentioned above also remain in near original configurations.

Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, OH

The Howard M. Metzenbaum United States Courthouse in Cleveland, also known as the Old Federal Building, is located in the heart of the central business district at the northeast corner of Public Square. It was constructed under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury Department between 1903-1910. The building was designed to house the Post Office, District Court, Circuit Court and the several other Federal agencies then scattered about the downtown area of Cleveland.

The imposing neo-classical style building was designed by Architect Arnold W. Brunner of New York City under the direction of Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, James Knox Taylor. It is one of the few Federal buildings built during Taylor's years as Supervising Architect (1898-1912) that were designed by outside commissioned architects. The completed building is an excellent example of the beaux-arts design philosophy prevalent in the first decades of the twentieth century. Continuing that philosophy are two large stone sculptural groups in front of the Superior Avenue elevation of the building. Executed by Daniel Chester French, these massive pieces named "Jurisprudence" and "Commerce" add meaningfully to the streetscape.

The Federal Building is a most significant landmark to the downtown cityscape of Cleveland. It was the first building to be erected under the Cleveland 1903 Group Plan and set the tone and scale for the buildings that followed. The Cleveland Group Plan represents a major example of the "City Beautiful" movement that swept across the United States from the late 19th century and on into the first decades of the 20th century. Although differing in detail, the exterior facades of the Cleveland Public Library of 1925, which sits directly across Third Street, mimic the Federal Building in scale, mass and general overall appearance. Together the Federal Building and its sister, the Cleveland Public Library, form the inland terminus of the Cleveland 1903 Group Plan Mall.

Description Architect
1902 1910 Original Construction Brunner, Arnold W.
1937 Post Office Work Room Alterations unknown
1939 Conversion of East Courtroom/Ramp Entry Repairs unknown
1950 New Fluorescent Ceiling Lighting unknown
1955 Installation of New 2nd Floor Courtrooms unknown
1957 Installation of Additional Jail Cells unknown
1959 Addition of Toilet Room to 3rd Floor Jury Rooms unknown
1960 Conversion of Room 430 into New Courtroom unknown
1962 Installation of Handrails at Entries unknown
1962 1963 Replacement of Original Bronze Doors unknown
1962 1963 Installation of Two New Courtrooms on 1st Floor Dalton-Dalton
1963 Installation of New Elevators and Enclosing Shafts GSA
1964 Installation of Air-Conditioning System Dalton-Dalton
1965 Installation of New Heating System Dalton-Dalton
1966 Changes to 3rd Floor Jury Room(s)/Cant. Corridor unknown
1969 Changes to West Court Room & Chambers unknown
1970 Remodeling for US Attorney Offices unknown
1972 Structural Repairs to Sidewalks & Stairs unknown
1973 Installation of New 2nd Floor Courtroom unknown
1974 New Furniture for Magistrate's Courtrooms unknown
1975 Remodeling of Courtroom #2 unknown
1975 1978 Installation of Accessible Toilets unknown
1978 Installation of Law Library Annex unknown
1980 Replacement Windows/Interior Stone Cleaning Dalton-Van Dijk Architects
1982 Installation of 4th Floor District Court unknown
1984 Installation of 5th Floor Judge's Chambers
1989 Modifications to 2nd Floor Courtroom ZBA, Inc.
1992 Restoration of 3rd Floor Courtrooms Lorenz & Williams Inc.
1994 Renovation of Judge Matia's Courtroom & Chambers
Last Reviewed: 2021-09-09