Exterior:  Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Building History

The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse was constructed in 1932-1933 as the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. It was the last major work by eminent Chattanooga architect Reuben Harrison Hunt (1862-1937) whose career spanned more than five decades. Hunt designed every major public building constructed in Chattanooga between 1895 and 1935. He was also the architect of local churches, hospitals, and private office buildings, as well as similar public and private buildings throughout the South.

Chattanooga's Post Office and Courthouse was built as part of an expanded federal construction program, undertaken in the 1930s under the direction of Supervising Architect Louis A. Simon. This program resulted in the construction of new post offices and courthouses throughout the United States and provided employment to many architects, engineers, artists, and construction workers. The Post Office and Courthouse cost approximately $493,000.

In 1938 the building was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 150 finest buildings constructed in the previous twenty years in the United States, and it was featured in an AIA photographic exhibit in America and Europe.

Prominent U.S. District Court cases have been heard in the building. In 1960 the filing of a major civil rights lawsuit, Mapp et al. vs. the City of Chattanooga Board of Education, initiated the desegregation of the city's public schools. It was also the site of Jimmy Hoffa's 1964 conviction for jury tampering.

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, as part of a thematic nomination of the most significant buildings of Reuben Harrison Hunt.

The U.S. General Services Administration assumed ownership of the building in 1981 and renamed it in honor of Joel "Jay" W. Solomon, a Chattanooga native and Administrator of GSA from 1977 to 1979. The main Chattanooga Post Office has relocated, but the building still houses federal courts and offices.

Architecture

The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Court-house stands in the central business district of Chattanooga. Facing Georgia Street and across from a city park, it occupies half a city block. The building is a notable example of the Art Moderne style as employed for government buildings in the 1930s. The form and details recall the classicism of earlier government architecture but take a stylized form here seen in sleek lines, a vertical emphasis, and plant, animal, and geometric decorative motifs. Several of the motifs, such as eagles and stars, evoke patriotic associations that are particularly appropriate for a federal building. The five-story building has a steel structure clad in white marble. Two penthouses are set on projecting towers at the northwest and southwest corners.

On the west (main) elevation, end pavilions project from the towers. These flank a thirteen-bay central section with thirteen three-story windows groups, recessed behind marble pilasters with fluted inner panels. A banded beltcourse running between the fourth floor and the parapet features a pattern of stars and eagles carved in low relief.

The building's main entrances are set in the end pavilions. These are approached by wide steps of granite, with tiered cheek walls. Both upper cheek walls have stylized eagles carved into their corners. In each pavilion the paired and single entrance doors are surmounted by a curving window bay that rises four stories. Both are flanked by angled reveals, adorned with alternating fluted segments and foliate-motif plaques.

The rear of the building is dominated by a five-story central section, flanked by one-story pavilions built to house the post office work floors. Carved panels above the window bays feature stylized eagles and shields.

The building has elegant interior features and finishes that reflect the Art Moderne style while incorporating motifs that are particularly appropriate for a federal building. The entrance foyers and the lobby have their original chandeliers and marble walls and inlaid marble floors in chevron and star patterns. The lobby ceiling is bordered with bands set with stars. The entry foyer ceilings take the form of shallow domes set with a stylized star pattern. The lobby contains the original postal sales windows with ornate aluminum grilles and fittings, as well as original postal counters. Dark-veined marble staircases with ornate metal railings lead to the upper stories from the entrance foyers. "The Mail Carrier," a cast-aluminum sculpture by Leopold Scholz, was installed in the postal lobby in 1938.

The ceremonial courtroom is located on the third story. The courtroom lobby has marble walls and a terrazzo floor with an inlaid seal of justice. The courtroom is paneled in oak enhanced by decorative aluminum grilles. The judge's bench is a masterpiece of cabinetry. A mural called "Allegory in Chattanooga" curves behind the judge's bench. Installed in 1937, it was painted by Hilton Leech under the auspices of the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture. The mural illustrates the history of the city through the New Deal era and includes a transmission tower symbolizing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), headquartered in Chattanooga from its inception in 1935.

Significant Events

1932-33: The Federal Building and Courthouse is constructed at an approximate cost of $493,000.

1938: The building is named one of the 150 best modern buildings (built since 1918) in the United States by the American Institute of Architects.

1960: A civil rights lawsuit is filed in Federal District Court initiating a court-ordered desegregation plan for Chattanooga's public school system.

1964: In one of the courthouse's most notorious trials, Jimmy Hoffa is convicted of jury tampering.

1980: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of nomination focusing on buildings of Chattanooga architect Reuben Harrison Hunt.

1981: The U.S. General Services Administration acquires the building and renames it for former GSA Administrator Joel W. Solomon.

Building Facts

Architect: Reuben Harrison Hunt

Construction Dates: 1932-1933

Landmark Status: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Location: 10th Street and Georgia Avenue

Architectural Style: Art Moderne

Primary Materials: White marble with aluminum details

Prominent Features: Projecting entrance pavilions with carved eagles; courtroom mural by Hilton Leech, entitled "Allegory in Chattanooga"

The Joel Soloman Federal Building and Courthouse is an Art Deco,
white marble building located in the Central Business District
of Chattanooga. The building is four stories with two tower
penthouses and, as is typical of Art Deco design, is stepped back
at various levels so that the massing of the building varies giving the impression of greater height. There are two projecting towers at the north and south ends of the front elevation. The fifth floor penthouses are located within these towers. The first floor
of the building is rectangular in plan. The massing of the building changes at the second floor. The second and third floors are in the shape of an I with an elongated base. The fourth floor plan is in the shape of an inverted T.

The main elevation faces west. The main facade has a flat surface with full-height projecting pavilions at the north and south entries. The pavilions extend from towers which constitute the northwest and southwest corners of the building. The central pavilion is divided into thirteen vertical window bays. The bays are delineated by
marble pilasters which are fluted at the inner panels. The windows
are recessed between the pilasters at the first through third floor
levels. All windows are aluminum. Aluminum transom panels have fluted panels in the center with foliate borders. A fluted beltcourse extends around the building above the fourth floor level and below the parapet. At the central pavilion, the fluted beltcourse features low relief carved eagles and five pointed stars in the center. Below the fourth floor windows the words "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE AND COURT HOUSE" are incised. The penthouse extensions at the northwest and southwest corners are also marble clad and feature a series of glyphs in a band at the parapet. Projecting pavilions at the northwest and southwest ends of the elevation provide the main entry to the building. Within the projections is a curved central bay of windows three stories tall. The curved bay rises above the main entry doors amd features fluted spandrel panels. The marble side walls, which angle back, are fluted and ornamented at intervals by elongated marble plaques with foliate motif. Broad granite steps with tiered cheek walls lead to the main entries. The upper cheek walls feature low relief carved eagles incised into the corners. The double storefront type main entry doors are flanked by similar single doors. An aluminum panel above the doors features a United States shield in the center flanked by the United States Postal Service and Justice Department seals. An aluminum framed marquee over the doors is ornamented with a band of rosette and foliate motifs in low relief.

The north and south elevations are very similar. At these elevations,
the principal mass of the building (to the west) is divided into
four recessed bays of windows. The fifth floor penthouse windows are visible at these elevations. The eastern portion of the first floor appears as a rearward projecting wing at both the northeast and southeast corners of the building. These wings housed the original postal work floor (at the present time, the south wing remains a postal work floor). On the north and south sides, the east wing of the building is visible from public streets. The clerestory windows at the courtroom can be seen at the central pavilion which connects the main portion of the building with the east wing.

The entire roof of the building is flat, built-up, tar and gravel. The
building occupies an entire city block with lawn and plantings at the
north and south. A row of low-growing shrubs is planted across the
front. The block across the street from the main elevation is a city park with a massive fountain. The park compliments the building and the open space provides an impressive vista of the building's primary elevation.

Significant interior spaces include the main lobby, entry foyers and staircase, the corridors, and the ceremonial courtroom. The lobby features marble floors, full-height marble walls and original postal sales windows. The entry foyers also have marble floors and walls as well as original marble staircases and Deco style elevators. The corridors of the second, third and fourth floors feature decorative terrazzo floors, and marble wainscot. The court lobby and ceremonial courtroom are largely original. The court lobby also features a decorative terrazzo floor and full-height marble walls. The courtroom is panelled with matched oak and contains an original mural.

The Joel Soloman Federal Building and Courthouse in Chattanooga,
Tennessee is significant as an example of the Art Deco style of Architecture; it is part of the body of work of a noted local architect; and it is a symbol of the Federal presence in Chattanooga. The Joel Soloman Federal Building and Courthouse is an example of the Art Deco style (popular in the 1930s) for the following reasons: its exterior is clad with smooth materials for sleek lines; it has vertical bays of windows providing an emphasis on verticality; it has a flat parapet roof; it has rectilinear bands of ornamentation in the form of integrated, low-relief sculpted stone panels; and it has ornamental doorways.

Local architect Reuben Harrison Hunt designed many public buildings and became a leader in the field of architecture across the South. Hunt was Chattanooga's first significant architect and was important in the city's architectural development. Hunt arrived in Chattanooga in the 1880s. Throughout his long career (fifty plus years) his work reflected the popular styles of the day - Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts Classicism, Neo-Classicism, Georgian Revival, and finally, Art Deco. The Federal Building and Courthouse was Hunt's last major work in Chattanooga. It was chosen by the American Institute of Architects in 1938, as one of the 150 best buildings in the country, constructed since 1918, and, as such, was part of a photography exhibit displayed throughout the United States and Europe. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a thematic group nomination based on the buildings within Hamilton County designed by R.H. Hunt.

The building is located in the Central Business District of Chattanooga at the corner of 10th and Georgia Streets. It is highly visible in the downtown area due to its location adjacent to a major downtown park. Since its construction in 1933, the building has served as a Post Office and Courthouse. Though no longer the main Post Office for the city, the postal function still resides visibly in the building, and is an integral part of life in the city. Occupying an entire block, the building is a continuing symbol of the Federal presence in Chattanooga.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1933 1933 Original Construction Hunt, Reuben Harrison
1990 Interior drains replaced Unknown
1990 General refurbishment of windows, terrazzo, doors Unknown