Judge Bruce M. Van Sickle Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Minot, ND
Located within the Minot central business area, the U-shaped three-story Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse occupies a 150' x 150' area one block from the central core. Although postal operations were located elsewhere in 1961, the building continues as an active downtown element.
A one-way street, 1st St. S.W., fronts the principal facade on the east, which faces the Union National Bank and runs north to the rail yards and the Souris River, approximately 1 1/2 blocks away. To the north is 1st Ave. S.W. and the American Bank and Trust Company of Minot. Property boundaries on the south face a grocery store and on the west face a parking lot for the Elks Club. Parking for the building occupants is located on the south and west sides of the building.
The principal facade is set back 33' from the street and the north facade is set back 23'. Sidewalks 13' wide extend from the curb to grassy areas next to the building. On the south and west sides, the building is abutted by an asphalt and concrete parking lot and a concrete retaining wall with steel guard rails which define the property lines.
The architectural statement presented by the symmetrically arranged principal facade of the U-shaped, three story Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse expresses an austere stateliness in its centrally projected massing which can be most closely associated with the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Consistent with this style, texture changes occur in the horizontal movements at successive elevations to highlight each zone.
Seven bays, precisely aligned, characterize the principal facade, which rises from a large-paneled limestone foundation. In the basement elevation are four rectangular window openings, the left two of which are blocked in. The two window openings on the right side are set in realigned window wells. In addition, in this zone is the cornerstone on the right corner which has incised lettering in the stone, which reads “William G. Mc Adoo Secretary of Treasury Oscar Wenderoth Supervising Architect 1914.” Emphasizing the broad profile of the lower zone, elongated steps mount to the first story entry in scale with the larger elements of the elevation. Beyond the water table at the introduction of the first story is broad limestone paneling, girdling all facades and containing balusters set in aprons beneath each window opening.
Graduated reduction in wall element composition emerges in the first story elevation and is manifested by the rusticated banding of the course cut limestone wall finish. Stepped arching accommodates the round-arched bays containing entrance presentation as a whole. The center main entrance in this elevation is comprised of aluminum framed glass double doors with fixed transom under the blocked in rounded arching. Complimentary to this entry are the round-arched window openings, which contain double sash flanked by mullion and side sash.
Building identification appears over the main entry in metal lettering, which reads “FEDERAL BUILDING UNITED STATES COURTHOUSE.”
A projected string course occurs above the first story elevation and accentuates the contrast of the brick finish on the second and third stories. Further contrasts result from the five fluted pilasters which enframe the central projection and span the upper two stories. Within the central projection, the 12 over 12 light double-sash second story windows display enrichments above and below, achieving a focal balance to the facade. These enrichments consist of aprons and cornices supported by consoles. The upper aprons contain decorative reliefs including trygliphs and metopes. End windows continue the fenestration pattern and feature flat arched brick voussouirs centered with limestone keystones.
Between the second and third story windows are decorative panels in limestone featuring double swag reliefs. These panels are horizontally and vertically aligned and contribute limited ornamentation on all facades.
Presenting the final zone is a stone banded architrave with a wide brick frieze except for the central projection, which bears decorative reliefs in the form of trygliphs and pateras in limestone. Above the frieze are limestone dentils, fascia, cornice, and the surmounting plain brick parapet capped with limestone coping.
Other facades continue the primary theme set forth in the principal facade with slight variations. The seven-bay north facade displays the continuation more definitively than does the six-bay south facade due to the necessary alterations. However, the north facade fenestration was originally designed with a departure in the third window of the first story elevation. Smaller and rectangular, the 4 over 4 light sash window is set in the same size round arched openings as the others but was designed to have the round arch blocked in with stone compatibly designed. On the south, a brick projection, which accommodates an enclosed fire escape, extends from the basement to the architrave at the center of the first vertical window alignment, and a 10' x 40' recessed loading platform is located at the rear of the facade. A marquee anchored by five rods in the wall finish projects over the loading area.
The six-bay, U shaped rear facade is part of the 1940 addition and in general corresponds to the other facades. The transoms above the first story center windows contain metal louvers. In the center recessment between the second and third stories, the round-arched window opening display radiating brick voussoirs converging to limestone keystones and remain although the openings have been bricked in for heat conservation.
Completed in 1940, a major addition lengthened the width of the building 39'-6" on the basement and first story elevations. On the second and third stories, the additions recessed in the center leaving two sides, each measuring 31' wide by 39'-6" long. On the west side of the addition a 40'-6" recessed loading platform was built into the first story and has a 10' x 43' marquee anchored in the wall finish above. As part of the addition, a 4'-6" x 20' exterior stairwell abutted the rear facade to facilitate a basement entrance. Also in 1940, interior vestibules were updated in the main and side lobby entrances and minimized the inflow of cold air, which is a significant factor during North Dakota winters.
This 1940 addition substantially increased the building's massing and the design harmoniously continued the scale and proportion of the original building. Corresponding materials were used in the addition and jointing was accomplished smoothly, but weathering and a slight color differentiation produced a vertically discordant area on the two side facades.
Extensive interior renovation costing $160,000 occurred in 1962 after the postal operations moved to a new location. The renovation involved conversion of lobby and work areas to office space. A $347,463 project in 1975 provided a 21'-5" x 9'-5" enclosed fire escape, which abuts the west side of the building and extends the full height. The contract also included a hot water and heating plant, new plumbing, air conditioning, and provisions for the handicapped. In 1982 the courtroom was remodeled and the majority of the furniture was replaced. In 2001, security equipment and metal detectors were installed in the east lobby.
The windows have been replaced with dark metal framed combination storm and screen windows although the sash, pane, and mullion were replicated from the original wooded windows. On the recessed center of the rear facade, the three tall, round arched windows, which spanned the second and third stories, have been bricked in, inside existing brick surrounds.
Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form 1980
Conspicuous to the Minot, North Dakota central business district is the 95-year old Italian Renaissance Revival style Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. Its historical landmark status is assumed by Minot citizens and it is one of few downtown buildings continuing in one of its original functions.
Contributory to the prime importance is the fact that the site derives from the original Minot Townsite patent #85, August 23, 1888, from President Grover Cleveland. The patent was granted to Solomon G. Comstock, President of the Northwest Land Company, who was also an agent for James J. Hill, the Northwest pioneer railroad builder. Common to the times was the practice of railroad and townsite companies aligning to attract immigrant settlers to sites compatible to the railroad development. Such was the case with the predominately Norwegian immigrants who chose to settle in Minot.
Between the time the townsite patent was granted and the Federal Building was completed in 1915, a Mr. T. P. Kulaas, pioneer lumber merchant, had acquired five of the six lots comprising the building site. Evidence suggests Mr. Kulaas did not want to sell the lots to the U.S. government and contributed to the 10 year delay after Senator J. C. Hansbrough had introduced a bill in Congress for construction of the building. However, upon the death of Mr. Kulaas in 1910, the Government brought forth a condemnation action, which was decreed on August 3, 1911 and provided $9,800 to the fee owners.
Designed by the U.S. Treasury Supervisory Architect, Oscar Wenderoth, the original drawings were completed November 8, 1913, and the contract was awarded on March 28, 1914, to John Lauritzen of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Contract bid was $124,650. Superintendent of construction for the project was Joseph C. Johnson whose "firm hand and eagle eye" guided it to completion. Minot citizens were intensely proud of their new federal structure, which was considered to be one of the finest in the Northwest, and joyously participated in its midnight opening on June 12, 1915.
Main original occupants were the U. S. Post Office and the U.S. District Court. The latter continues to function as one of four federal courtrooms in North Dakota and is included in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Postmasters who served in the building include: E.H. Stenvick, Fred L. Anderson, Burt E. Stewart, Nellie Daugherty, Leo E. Tibbs, W.H. Dunnell and John P. Severson. In December 1961 the Post Office vacated the building and moved to a location on the fringe of the central business area.
The majority of the Federal District Judges have figured in North Dakota history. Judge Charles F. Amidon, who signed the condemnation action in acquiring the building site, was noted as one of the great civil libertarian judges of President Grover Cleveland in 1896 and served until his retirement and death in December of 1937. A strong supporter of citizenship, Judge Amidon allowed few exemptions from jury duty participation. His most famous cases included U.S. v. Allen (179 Fed. 13) in which Oklahoma Indians were able to retain their lands and cases involving violations of the Espionage Act in 1917. Although besieged by attacks of patriotism, Judge Amidon prevailed on the side of civil liberties to guarantee First Amendment rights.
Other judges who have served on the court include: Alfred D. Thomas, Ronald N. Davies, Paul Benson, Andrew Miller, Charles J. Vogel, George S. Register, and Bruce M. Van Sickle. Of Judge Register who was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 27, 1955, a citation of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (317 F. 2nd 264-265) praised his jurist abilities in regard to the handling of Butler v. U.S. (317 F. 2nd 249), a mail fraud case. The judge who the building was renamed in honor of, Bruce M. Van Sickle, born in Minot on February 13, 1917, was appointed by President Richard Nixon on January 18, 1972 and is the only judge who has had his chambers in Minot.
By the 1930s, it became obvious that additional space was needed and a major rear addition was completed in 1940. Specializing in government construction work, the MacDonald Construction Company of St. Louis, Missouri was awarded a $149,293 contract with Louis Boos serving as Construction Superintendent. The Construction Engineer for the U.S. Treasury Department was Walter J. Mark. The addition was designed by U.S. Treasury Supervisory Architect Louis A. Simon.
Minot federal court actions continue to contribute to area development as the scene of actions including tax and bankruptcy cases as well as hundreds of naturalization cases over the past decade. Many of the latter result from nearby Minot Air Force Base personnel who marry overseas and return with dependent foreign spouses.
Since its erection, the Minot Federal Building has unobtrusively provided a federal presence and is the only government-owned federal building in the Minot area. Taken for granted as a historical landmark, citizens fondly refer to it "being there" and recall its association in their daily lives. Its period of significance has been determined to be 1900-1924 with specific year of significance 1915.
Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form 1980