James T. Foley U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Albany, NY
In 1930, Congress allocated $3.325 million for the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase a site and construct a new federal building in Albany, New York, to house a post office, courthouse, and custom house. The following year, the government chose a location on the southeast corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane and subsequently demolished several existing buildings to prepare the site for new construction. The Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury selected the prominent local architectural firm Gander, Gander & Gander to design the building under the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which gave treasury officials the option of hiring private architects for federal projects. Norman R. Sturgis served as associate architect. Notable New York City architect Electus Darwin Litchfield, who began his career with the renowned firm of Carrere & Hastings before establishing his own practice, served as consulting architect on the project and contributed major design concepts and aesthetic refinements. The architects designed the building in the Art Deco style, which was simultaneously Modern and decorative. When discussing the building, the architects used the term "modern classical" to describe their innovative design, instructing observers to "Squint your eyes, look in perspective and note the classical proportions of the building--minus columns and entablature."
The architects completed their plans in 1931 and the following year, the government awarded the construction contract to Kenny Brothers, Inc., of New York City. Prominent officials and the public gathered for a cornerstone-laying ceremony on August 18, 1933, and construction was completed in 1934. The building had an exterior bridge connecting the nearby rail station with the post office, which occupied the entire first two floors.
In 1980, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building to the Downtown Albany Historic District. In 1988, it was renamed to honor Judge James T. Foley (1910-1990), who President Harry Truman appointed to the Northern District of New York in 1949. Foley served the federal courts for forty years, including a period as chief judge from 1963-1980 and senior judge from 1980 until his death.
The post office vacated the building in 1995. Current tenants include the U.S. District Northern Division of New York State, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, U.S. Marshalls Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the FBI.
The James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse is a distinguished symbol of the federal presence in Albany, New York. It is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture, which incorporated sleek Modern forms while retaining ornate yet stylized decorative elements. The architects utilized high-quality materials on both the interior and exterior. The walls rest on a Bethel White granite base and are faced with Vermont Eureka marble above the water table. The building is built around two light courts that admit natural light into the interior. Vertical bands of windows with aluminum muntins emphasize the height of the five-story building. Black structural glass spandrels separate the windows on the facade.
The facade, which faces west on Broadway, contains two entrances, each topped with an eagle that is more than eight feet tall and carved from a seventeen-ton Vermont marble block by New York City sculptor Albert T. Stewart, who also received the commission for the building's frieze. Artist Benjamin Hawkins created ornate aluminum screens titled Departments of Government located behind the eagles. The screens contain stylized motifs representing the Departments of Navy, Agriculture, Labor, Army, Post Office, Commerce and Revenue, as well as images of the courts, thirteen stars representing the original colonies, and the New York state seal. A bas-relief frieze encircles the building on three elevations: the west facade contains images of postal service activities, the north elevation shows customs duties, and the south elevation illustrates the mission of the courts. To make the carvings visible to street-level viewers, Stewart created figures approximately eight feet tall and executed at a depth of nearly three inches.
Typical of the Art Deco style, the architects designed an opulent interior. Six marble types, including St. Genevieve Golden Vein, Rose, Champlain Black, Eagle Grey Tennessee, Eagle Pink Tennessee, and Verde Antique, are used on the richly appointed interior walls and floors. Ceilings are ornate plaster with medallions and stepped molding covered with aluminum leaf. Entrance vestibules lead to public lobbies with marble walls. Marble mosaic medallions are inset in the north and south lobby floors. A gilded plaster ceiling medallion of the United States Seal is centered in the lobby and framed by step moldings covered with aluminum leaf and gold stars.
Marble pilasters divide the main lobby into nine bays, each articulated with a ceiling mural. Artist Ethel M. Parsons painted the oil-on-canvas murals in 1935, depicting each of the seven continents as well as the North Pole and the United States. Interspersed with the murals are plaster plaques by Italian artist Enea Biafora Portraying famous Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, as portrayed on the earliest U.S. postage stamps. With the exception of the murals, the ceiling is covered with aluminum leaf. Four original black marble writing desks are centered in the main lobby.
Throughout the building, in both public and private spaces, intricate wood inlay designs adorn the ceiling and wall trim. Each of the five floors contains two elevator lobbies with adjacent public staircases. The stairs have treads and landings of Eagle Grey Tennessee marble with Champlain black marble risers. Cast-aluminum railings, also designed by Biafora, contain stylized motifs related to the functions of the building, including an airplane and scales of justice.
The two original courtrooms retain many original finishes and features. Both feature elaborate ornamentation on the wood walls and plaster ceilings. Courtroom No. 1, used for District Court proceedings since its construction, has Oregon maple burl paneling with exotic wood inlays and decorative aluminum grilles. The Courtroom Lobby retains original radiator grilles, bronze Art Deco light fixtures, and marble floor and walls. Two black-and-gold marble benches provide seating. Courtroom No. 2 features walnut burl veneer walls and Art Deco wall sconces.
When the post office vacated the building in 1995, much of their original workspace on the first and second floors was transformed to accommodate new uses, including renovated office space and the installation of a new courtroom.
1930 Congressional funding for new federal building allocated
1932 Construction begins
1934 Building completed
1980 Building listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of Downtown Albany Historic District
1988 Building renamed to honor Judge James T. Foley
1995 U.S. Postal Service vacates the building
Location: 445 Broadway
Gander, Gander & Gander
Electus D. Litchfield
Norman R. Sturgis
Construction Dates: 1932-1934
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Contributing Building within the Downtown Albany Historic District
Primary Materials: Marble and Aluminum
Stylized Art-Deco Ornamentation
Elaborate Lobbies and Courtrooms
The Albany Post Office is a five story, full basement building with a mezzanine between the first and second floors. Its main entrance is located on the southeast corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, and it is also bounded by Dean Street and Exchange Street. The five-story building forms a rectangle in plan with two light courts extending from the second floor roof up to the main roof. The structural frame is steel; the floor and roof slabs are reinforced concrete. The structure is 101 feet tall. The main roofs are flat with EPDM (synthetic rubber) roofing. There is one small skylight in the intermediate roof over the fourth floor in the rear. The roof structure and forms of the original 2 hipped skylights at the light courts remain, but have been covered over by a membrane roofing system.
A granite parapet wall with a raised granite terrace along the main Broadway facade forms the base upon which the building appears to rest, and wide granite stairs lead up to monumental public entries at each end of the facade. Distinctive bronze urns flank each side of the staircase. The entries are surmounted by 8-1/2' high eagles carved from 17-ton blocks of marble. All the exterior walls above the water table are marble, except the center portion of the wall on Dean Street and the interior court and penthouse walls which are white glazed brick. A frieze band of sculptured marble about 8 feet high
extends around the front and two sides of the building at the fifth floor window level.
The main elevation faces Broadway and has two main public entrances to the first floor lobbies. Both identical in design, the entrances are located at the north and south ends and are surmounted by the carved marble eagles sculpted by Albert T. Stewart, an English immigrant to the United States. Stewart was awarded the commission for the two eagles and marble frieze in March, 1933. The eagles were placed over the Broadway entrances with Benjamin Hawkins' aluminum screens behind the sculptures. The eagles, eight and a half feet in height, were carved at the quarry from a 17-ton block of
marble by Stewart with the assistance of Vermont marble craftsmen.
The 8 foot high marble frieze at the fifth floor provides a strong decorative horizontal band around the top of the building along the three primary street elevations. The bold, sharp outlines of the frieze have a rough chiseled background cut to a depth of 2-1/2 inches. The 269 foot long carved marble frieze fronting on Broadway depicts the activities of the Post Office. On the Maiden Lane facade the 150 foot long frieze depicts the activities of the Custom House. The Exchange Street facade, also 150 feet in length, is devoted to the story of the Court. All exterior doors and windows are metal. The mailing platform at the rear of the building is only 4 feet from the property line at one end of Dean Street and 15 feet at the other end.
The main public stairs are located at the northwest and southwest corners of the building and extend from the first floor to the fifth. Another stairway on the south side of the building near the southeast corner is for the private use of the judges; it extends from the first floor to the roof. A stairway originally used by post office personnel is located on the east side, near the southeast corner, and extends from the basement to second floor. Another stairway is located on the north side near the northeast corner. In the center of the fifth floor is a stairway that extends to the fan room which opens out onto the center
roof over Court Room No. 1.
There are four public passenger elevators, two in each stair hall at the northwest and southwest corners of the building. They serve all floors of the building. In addition there is a private elevator for the judges, a freight elevator, and an elevator for prisoners.
On July 3, 1930, an Act of Congress provided for and authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to acquire a new site and construct a building for the use of the Post Office, United States Courts and Customs in Albany, in the amount of $3,325,000. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on July 19,1932, and construction was complete in November of 1933.
The building was conceived and constructed as a solid and dignified symbol of the presence of the Federal Government in the center of downtown Albany. Executed in fine materials which were worked with excellent craftsmanship, the building represents the best efforts of its designers -- a distinguished New York City architect, Electus D. Litchfield; Gander, Gander, and Gander Architects of Albany; and Norman R. Sturgis, Associate Architect of Albany.
The design of the building as developed by Litchfield was influenced by the work of architect Paul Philippe Cret, who designed many important public buildings during the 1920's and 1930's. Designing in a style referred to as "starved classicism"; Cret rejected the "modern" or "international" style which called for newness for the sake of newness. Instead he designed within traditionally set limits while placing emphasis on the value "of restraint...of designing volumes instead of merely decorating surfaces...of empty surfaces as an element of composition."
Litchfield's design of the Albany Post Office skillfully reflects Cret's tenet of carefully mixing classical and modern design elements and the axial organization of the plan with grand public entrances and circulation spaces. The program for the building offered little scope for grandly conceived spaces, since a great amount of office space was required. Therefore, the architects chose to render the more prosaic elements of the plan --lobbies, corridors, stairways-- with a dignity and generosity that continues to gratify the users of the building. Architecturally the building embodies the evolution of Federal design policies, the history of the United States Post Office and the transition from one stylistic influence to another. In design, materials and workmanship the Albany Post Office clearly expresses an outstanding example of the Art Deco Architectural Style.
The U.S. Postal Service originally occupied the first floor, but moved out of the space in the 1990's. At that time the postal workspace area was reconfigured into two new courtrooms for District Courts, Judges' Chambers, and holding cells. The second floor is occupied by Border Protection, U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshalls, and two offices are occupied by the FBI. The third floor is divided into spaces by Probation and Bankruptcy Courts. The fourth floor is subdivided into three Courtrooms and Judges' Chambers. The fifth floor houses the Clerk of the Courts, visiting judges, and the Grand Jury Room.
Contributing Building to Downtown Albany Historic District.