The Joseph P. Kinneary U.S. Courthouse exemplifies early twentieth-century ideals to gather primary government functions into civic centers that dignified rapidly growing American cities.
In 1923, the city of Columbus, Ohio, adopted a master plan for its governmental district. This plan, conceived by architect Frank Packard and promoted by publisher Robert Wolfe, had its roots in the 1908 Columbus Plan and drew on the tenets of the City Beautiful movement, which formally organized important structures, unified in design, on clear, generous grids. Beginning in 1924, five significant buildings, designed in the Neoclassical and Streamline Moderne styles, were slated for construction. Dedicated on October 18, 1934, and the last building of the plan to be completed, the post office and courthouse assumed the duties of an 1887 post office building, which was later restored and is now privately held.
Commandingly sited on a view corridor on the Scioto River's east bank, the building's site linked the river-front and the older downtown to the east. The city's preeminent architectural firm, Richards, McCarty and Bulford, responsible for many noteworthy Columbus buildings such as the 1930 Ohio National Bank and the 1932 Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, was chosen to design this important anchor of the complex. It was among the last federal buildings to be commissioned to a private firm from the Public Buildings Act of 1926 that allotted $100 million for federal building construction outside of Washington, DC. Acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury James A. Wetmore oversaw the design. The Columbus federal building was constructed for $1,419,000 during President Franklin Roosevelt's Public Works Administration (PWA) employment and economic recovery program. In 1968, the postal service functions relocated to a new facility and, in 1972, the building was renovated in response to growing judicial needs.
In 1998, the post office and courthouse was renamed to honor Judge Joseph P. Kinneary (1905-2003), who served on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio from 1966 to 2001.
The restrained exterior of the five-story post office and courthouse is designed in the Neoclassical style, seen in the building's overall simplicity that nonetheless conveys a strong federal presence. The steel-framed building is clad with Ohio sandstone above a watertable of honed pink-gray granite, with secondary features such as door surrounds and belt courses set off in complementary variations.
While characteristic of federal government architecture confronting the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s, the courthouse is distinguished by its sensitive response to the challenge of a compact, eccentrically shaped site. The building's footprint is a U-shaped trapezoid with a large central courtyard above the second floor. Three sides address the city at crisp right angles, while the fourth (west) elevation angles northwest to follow a bend of the nearby Scioto River. The north elevation features an open, monumental colonnade that stands above an adjoining garage and concourse.
With the exception of the north facade, and while differing in some respects, each elevation shares the same three-part vertical division of architectural elements. The most prominent element of each elevation is the grouping of three-story engaged Tuscan pilasters with articulated capitals. The recessed bays between them comprise a single-height window below a double-height window separated by a spandrel panel of honed Virginia Green sandstone. The pilasters support a spare entablature consisting of a flat lintel and a carved frieze of triglyph and foliated ornament. Above the frieze is a projecting cornice with dentil molded soffits. Belt courses, one above the ground floor and another extending from either side of the cornice, enflame the pilasters and continue across all primary elevations, unifying the composition.
The highly ornamented south facade faces Batelle River Park and features ornate wrought iron grilles, two symmetrically placed carved eagles upon the soffit, and a carved allegorical frieze depicting Justice flanked by Industry and Agriculture. The main entry is located at the east elevation and a second entry is present at a corresponding point of the west elevation.
The interior is organized around a monumental public corridor leading from the entry loggias, which have coffered ceilings decorated with bronze trim and stars. The ground floor corridor, extending into the three principal wings, is largely unchanged. Richly decorated and combining Classical and Art Deco motifs, it displays a wide variety of skilled artisanal work typical of the PWA period, including pilasters and wainscoting of St. Genevieve marbles from Missouri, trompe, gilt, and glazed and painted plaster friezes. The striking metal work used for the public exterior and elevator doors, radiator grilles, signage, and pendant lanterns is rendered in white bronze or polished aluminum.
The corridors and primary courtrooms, which feature double-height windows, are located on the third floor and are largely intact, with many original furnishings such as decorative aluminum railings. The courtrooms share some of the same material palette used for the ground floor, along with paneled walnut and padded leather for the double entrance doors.
When the post office vacated in 1968, many secondary offices and corridors above the ground floor were renovated along with the central workroom on the ground floor. While now clad in conventional roofing on the exterior, the room's historic saw-tooth roof and massive roof monitors that once illuminated the huge space can be seen from the interior.
1932-1934: Building designed and constructed
1968: Post office relocates to a new facility
1972: Building renovated to serve more judicial and federal needs
1980s: Most original steel frame sash windows replaced with new sash windows with dark anodized aluminum and insulated glass
1998: Building renamed to honor U.S. District Court Judge Joseph P. Kinneary
Location: 85 Marconi Boulevard
Architect: Richards, McCarty and Bulford
Construction Dates: 1933-1934
Landmark Status: Eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places
Architectural Style: Neoclassical
Primary Materials: Sandstone and granite
Prominent Features: Three-story Tuscan colonnade; Frieze with carved figures; Monumental corridor and courtroom with marble and decorative plaster finishes
The Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse is an example of characteristic federal government architecture of the late 1920's and 1930's when numerous public buildings were constructed under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration and related agencies. The style of the building is Neo-classical Revival with Medernistic traits. The building footprint is trapezoidal with a large central light court alcove the second floor. The structure is five stories in height with a flat roof. Two gable-roofed penthouses containing elevator equipment surmount the structure. The building is enclosed on three sides while the north elevation is articulated by a massive yet simple three-story colonnade that separates the building proper from an adjoining Garage/Concourse. The exterior of the building is clad with Ohio sandstone above a pink-gray (Cold Spring Rainbow) granite watertable. The sandstone cladding from the watertable to the second floor belt course had a slightly combed "six-cut" chiseled finish. The granite watertable has a honed finish. The pink (Swenson pink) granite door surrounds have a scrabbled finish. With the exceptions of portions of the third floor, the windows are new bronze-anodized aluminum non-operable sash units. The third floor retains some of its original, single-glazed steel operable casement and awning units. The spandrels between the third and fourth floor windows around the building are Virginia Green Stone with a honed finish. At the center of each spandrel is a cast aluminum medallion with an eagle, horse or Indian head motif. The first floor level of each elevation has a smooth base, articulated by the entryways. Above the first floor is a three-story colonnade denoted by smooth pilasters. Simple Tuscan pilasters support a spare entablature consisting of a flat architrave, a carved frieze of abstracted triglyph and foliate ornament, and a projecting cornice. The latter is composed of large-scaled dentil surmounted by a bullnose molding and carved lion's heads. The fifth floor is expressed with flat sandstone blocks punctuated by various carved ornaments located at regular intervals. The building is capped with a simple dentilated coping. Entries to the building are located at the north and south ends of the east and west elevations. Each entrance is located within an alcove reached by a short flight of granite steps up from grade. At present, only the southeast entrance off Maconi Boulevard is actively used as the main entry to the building. The Garage/Concourse has vehicular entries at the east and west ends.
The Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse was built on land designated by a master plan for a new civic center and government district advocated by Columbus community leaders in 1923. This plan, conceived by architect Frank Packard and promoted by Robert Wolfe, publisher of the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, had its roots in a 1908 City Beautiful scheme know as the "Columbus Plan." The new structure was to be located in the new riverfront civic center and was designed to replace an earlier Post Office, constructed between 1881 and 1887, and located across from the state capitol in downtown Columbus. Besides the Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse, four other significant buildings resulted from the 1923 Civic Center Plan; Central High School (1924), Columbus City Hall (1926), Central Police Station (1928) and the Ohio State Office Building (1933).
The architect for the building was the local firm of Richards, McCarty, and Bulford. Richards, McCarty and Bulford had become the preeminent architectural firm in Columbus in the first third of the century, designing numerous public, office and commercial buildings in the city. The Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse was designed in 1932.
Previous to construction, the site housed small businesses, gas stations and parking lots bordering the east bank of the Scioto River. The site was purchased for $400,000 and cleared in the Spring of 1933. The building was constructed at the cost of $1,419,000 and was officially dedicated on October 18, 1934. The postal service moved into the structure in January 1935 and occupied it until 1968 when it moved to a new facility. Since then, the building has undergone several substantial renovation. In 1971, plans were drawn up for major interior and mechanical renovations in area previously occupied by the postal service to accommodate the growing space requirements of both federal courts and agencies. The work was executed in 1972. In the early 1980's, the majority of the original steel sash windows were replaced with bronze-anodized aluminum sash. Further interior alterations occurred about the building during the recently completed court expansion project.