John A. Campbell U.S. Courthouse, Mobile, AL

The John A. Campbell U.S. Courthouse in Mobile, Alabama is a white, limestone building resting on a granite base, built in the relatively austere Neo-Classical Revival style. The building exhibits some characteristics of Renaissance Revival and some of the Art Deco style; it serves as a bridge between the two styles. The building was constructed in 1934 with an addition to the west in 1940. The main elevation is the east. The south and west elevations are slightly less elaborate and are not generally in public view.

The east (main) elevation fronts St. Joseph Street. The first floor level appears to serve as a base for the mass of the upper floors of the building, and is separated from the rest of the building by a molded stringcourse. The fourth floor level is slightly stepped back and the fifth floor level stepped back farther. First floor windows are slightly recessed within limestone surrounds and feature limestone sills. Fluted Ionic pilasters separate the bays of the second and third floor levels. The pilasters support an unembellished architrave and denticulated cornice. Second and third floor windows are separated vertically by cast bronze spandrel panels exhibiting a vine motif on the center flanked by fluted panels with a narrow reeded border at the sides and chevron motifs at the top and bottom. An unornamented limestone parapet surmounts the building at the fifth floor level.

The main entry to the building is at the center of the east elevation. Broad granite steps with cheek walls lead to a recessed exterior entry vestibule. Double bronze storefront-type doors with transoms provide entry to the building.

The center of the east elevation at the second and third floor levels exhibits carved relief ornamentation. The five window bays of the center are recessed. At the base of these window bays, are sculpted, relief limestone plaques. The center plaque exhibits the U.S. shield with American eagle surrounded by a laurel wreath motif and flanked by the bundled axe motif. Flanking the eagle are stone plaques displaying the scales of justice in the center with the same laurel and broad axe motif. At each end are plaques displaying the lamp of knowledge. Flanking these window bays are the flagpoles which extend out from the plane of the wall at the base of the second floor level. There is a sculpted relief plaque above each flagpole. The plaque to the south displays a U.S. Department of Justice seal; the plaque to the north bears a Latin inscription and the scales of justice. Both plaques are recessed within a glyphed octagon. The entablature displays the incised words "UNITED STATES COURT HOUSE AND CUSTOM HOUSE" flanked by relief plaques with foliate relief. At the fourth floor parapet is a glyphed band accented at intervals by five-pointed stars.

The north elevation is divided into eighteen bays at the second, third and fourth floor levels and seventeen bays on the fifth floor level. Features of the elevation at these levels are the same as at the east. Due to the construction of the 1939 addition, however, the first floor level at the north elevation is slightly different. Windows are similar to the east; however a monumental iron gate, three bays wide, appears to the south of center. The gate provides access to a limited drive under area marking the division between the original building and the 1939 addition. There is a secondary entry to the building at the northwest, adjacent to the gate. Granite entry steps with reeded granite cheek walls lead to the entry. Double bronze storefront-type doors are recessed here within an aluminum paneled entry vestibule. The entry vestibule is set within a reeded limestone jamb.

Significant interior spaces include the simply finished main lobby and entry foyer. The walls of these spaces are clad with imitation travertine marble. The plaster ceiling is corbelled. The floors are terrazzo with a white marble band and pink marble border. On the second floor, to the west, a courtroom was added in 1940. This courtroom and adjoining judge's suite have been well preserved. Both the courtroom and the judge's office display full-height wood paneling on a marble base. The doorways are ornamented by flanking rounded, fluted surrounds. The judge's office exhibits fluted relief fan, or shell, motifs on the walls plus original copper-finished, conical light sconces in the corners.

The John A. Campbell Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse gains its significance as a continuing symbol of the Federal presence in Mobile. Located in the central business district and near the Alabama state docks the building was strategically located as a Federal Courthouse and Custom House. The building was completed in 1934. At the time, the construction was undertaken under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury Department and Louis Simon, Supervising Architect. It is also significant as an unfettered example of the federal architecture of the period.

The passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 precipitated a period of building construction that was unprecedented in the United States. The Public Buildings Act specified that the office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury would be responsible for the design and construction of all public buildings. The Campbell Federal Building was constructed during this period, in 1934. The office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury typically designed the federal buildings of the early 1930s. Occasionally a private architectural firm was hired to design a public building. Perhaps due to the failure of over half of the nation's architectural firms in the Depression, the design of public buildings by local firms was encouraged by the mid-1930s. The Campbell Federal Building was designed by Carey and Dowling, a local firm.

The building was named for John A. Campbell who was one of two Supreme Court Justices from Alabama. Justice Campbell was appointed to the Court in 1853 but resigned when Alabama seceded from the Union at the onset of the Civil War (1861). Campbell subsequently became Assistant Secretary of War for the Confederacy.

The Federal Building was built adjacent to the U.S. Post Office, which was later torn down and replaced by a new federal office building, so the U.S. Courthouse has long been part of a federal complex in the central business district of Mobile. It remains a continuing symbol of the federal presence in the area.

Description Architect
1932 1934 Original Construction Carey and Dowling
1940 Addition built to the west Unknown
Last Reviewed: 2021-09-14