J. Will Robinson Federal Building, Provo, UT
The Robinson Federal Building constructed in the Art Deco style, specifically the Classic Moderne. It is a two-story ashlar limestone building with a flat roof. The existing building is composed of the original 1938 construction and a 1965 addition to the north. The building structure is cast in place concrete. The exterior walls are clad with coursed ashlar granite at the basement and coursed ashlar limestone from grade up. The site retains most of the original layout – the south and west retain the 1938 layout and the north and east retain the 1965 layout. The south and west sides of the site are landscaped with grass areas surrounded by planters. A set of wide concrete steps leads up to a concrete plaza which leads to a set of wide granite steps in front of the south entrance. The north and east sides of the site are paved asphalt drives that provide access to parking spaces.
The base of the building has a projecting granite watertable with a sloped top. The granite watertable stops at the level of the first floor and from there up the facades are a smooth, cream colored, coursed ashlar limestone veneer. The horizontal banding is consistent from the original building to the addition, but the limestone blocks are shorter on the addition. A projecting cornice with a simplified moulding and simplified dentils below is continuous around the entire building. The parapet above the cornice is limestone veneer that is topped by a thick bullnose parapet cap. The roof is a flat roof with a roll roofing with a light gray granular topping. Most of the windows on the building are simple punched openings.
The main (south) façade faces North West street and is divided into seven bays. The five central bays have high framed openings at the first floor. The center bay is the main building entrance and has an Egyptian leaf and dart motif carved into the limestone frame around the door. A cornice band spans over the five center bays and has decorative relief eagles carved on each end with the aluminum letters that say “FEDERAL BUILDING” mounted to the limestone blocks between them. The three center blocks of the cornice band are replacement blocks since the original blocks had the words “UNITED STATES POST OFFICE” carved into them. The cornice band forms the second floor window sills. The windows are all dark bronze anodized aluminum windows that replicate the appearance of the original windows. The entry door is a replacement aluminum door in an aluminum frame with sidelights and a tall transom. An original set of wide granite steps with cheek walls leads up to the main entry.
The west façade consists of six original bays and four addition bays that match the finishes of the six original bays. The windows in the addition are set closer to the face of the limestone. An areaway on the west façade leads down to the boiler room entry. The original half lite steel door is still intact along with the hardware. The door has a two panel door with a solid panel on the lower half and wire glazing above.
The north façade matches the finishes of the other facades but the west third of the building does not have any openings. The north entry door is a modern aluminum full lite door with sidelights and a transom. The door is recessed into the building and the soffit over the door is plaster that is painted gray. A set of concrete steps and a ramp provide access to the door.
The east façade is similar to the west with six original bays and four addition bays. The east areaway is accessed from the south edge of the building and is a larger areaway than on the west. The east basement entry door has a modern aluminum door in an aluminum frame.
Interior spaces on the first floor have been significantly altered from their original design as a Post Office and workroom space. The first floor was remodeled in 1965 when it was converted to office space and has undergone multiple remodels since. The only element of the original building layout that remains on the first floor is the southeast stair. The stair is a yellow gold terrazzo stair that curves out at the bottom six steps and has the original steel handrail with a wide cap. The original marble wall paneling remains along the exterior wall adjacent to the stair and on the outside face of the stair facing the lobby. The 1941 mural that was painted in the Post Office lobby has been preserved and is visible in the current lobby. The rest of the first floor finishes are new. The first floor restrooms retain most of their original 1965 layout and finishes.
The second floor has retained some of the original layout. The 1938 corridor has been retained in its original location with the original plaster walls and many of the original half lite wood doors and trim still intact. The 1938 offices on the south side of the building have generally been maintained in their original layout with many of the original finishes, especially the wood trim. The second floor restrooms are fairly intact with many of the original 1938 finishes, partitions and fixtures intact.
The basement is mostly support space for the building and a few original spaces remain intact. In the southeast section of the basement, the original 1938 offices are intact with many of the original finishes including the plaster walls and some of the wood trim. The basement restrooms retain some of the original fabric and fixtures.
Historically Provo was the center of the Utah Valley industry, commerce and government. Provo had a major water source and was at the intersection of two major railroad lines. The railroad brought in raw materials and transported out finished materials, which allowed the Ironton steel mill to be constructed in the 1920s and the Geneva steel plant to be constructed after that. Provo is the seat of Utah County and as such houses the county offices and courts.
The first Provo Post Office was completed in 1909 and was a two story brick building in the Neo-Classical style. In 1931, the Federal Government allotted $45,000 for expansion of the Provo Post Office. However, there were problems with purchasing the land necessary to expand the Post Office so a new site was purchased and a new building designed. The land cost $17,500 and the building cost $143,361. The building was designed in 1936 with Jos Nelson as the consulting architect and Louis A. Simon, Supervisory Architect of the Treasury Department. It was the first post office with a completely concrete structure constructed in Utah. Originally, the building served as a Post Office and Federal office building.
In 1941 a mural was painted in the lobby by Everett Clark Thorpe. The mural was part of the New Deal arts program which typically funded works of art reflecting events and places of local significance designed in a straight forward style easily interpreted by the public. The mural features development of Brigham Young University with Old Lewis Hall which was BYU’s first building, pioneers coming from Salt Lake chased by Johnston’s army, pioneers making a treaty with the Native Americans and images of important industry in the area such as wool, iron, fishing and mining. (Johnston’s army is a reference to the 1858 marching of federal troops into Salt Lake City under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston under the orders of President James Buchanan to ensure the authority of newly appointed officials for the Utah Territory and suppress a “Mormon rebellion”. Brigham Young, Governor of the Utah Territory, issued a proclamation that the Federal troops were not to enter Utah and order the militia to harass the army and supply train. After a few skirmishes and a long winter, the Mormon pioneers decided not to fight and instead fled Salt Lake City rather than be occupied by the Federal troops. A peaceful agreement was reached in which the Mormon settlers were pardoned, the army marched through a deserted Salt Lake City and then the settlers moved back to the city.) The mural is one of three public artworks in Utah that were placed in post offices (the other two were in the post offices in Beaver and Helper). Everett Clark Thorpe was a Utah artist who created works ranging from portraits to murals to expressionism and who has been exhibited in multiple art museums throughout the United States.
In June 1961 the Post Office was relocated. This created a large unused space in the building that was to be converted to Federal office space. The conversion and an extension to the north were designed by architect Lee C. Knell and the final drawings are dated 9/6/1963. Construction of the addition and conversion of the interior began in 1965. The extension matched the detailing of the original building and construction was completed in July 1966.
In 1990, the building was renamed the J. Will Robinson Federal Building for his years of service as a U.S. Congressman. J. Will Robinson (James William Robinson) was a Senator from Utah from 1932-1946. During this time he was influential in passing legislation that created the National Highway System. He then served as director for the Office of Land Management in Washington, D.C. from 1947-1949. The bill changing the building name to honor Senator Robinson passed in the House on October 10, 1990. It passed in the Senate on October 28, 1990, and was signed into law by the president on November 15, 1990.
The lobby was remodeled in 2002 as part of the General Services Administration’s First Impressions Program. This remodeled altered the majority of the finishes in the lobby, though it retained the 1941 mural on the west wall and the original terrazzo stair in the southeast corner. Flexible stone tile flooring in a light and dark pattern and a suspended ceiling with coffered ceiling tiles and chandelier light fixtures were installed throughout the lobby.