The United States Post Office and Courthouse is located one block east of Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati and is bounded on the half-city block by Walnut, East Fifth and Main Streets. It was designed and constructed in response to the demand for suitable and adequate quarters for the growing services of the Federal Government in Cincinnati. The previous Federal building on the site, completed in 1885, had grown too small. Construction was begun on November 30, 1936, and when dedicated in January of 1939, the building housed 51 agencies of the Federal Government. These agencies were accommodated in a nine story extended u-shaped building with its symmetrical long facade facing south onto East Fifth Street. The structural system is steel frame, the floors and roof are reinforced concrete and the exterior walls are clad in limestone set atop a dark granite base. The style is predominately Art Moderne. The block-long south facade has seventeen fenestration bays as defined by vertical recessed window and spandrel panel openings. Stylized pavilions at the southeast and southwest corners contain two story glass and aluminum framed entrances. The vertical thrust of the recessed window openings is interrupted by a Greek key belt course at the fourth floor level and terminated by a carved frieze and projecting cornice at the top of the facade. The view of this facade has been compromised by the installation of the city bus system pick-up/drop-off area. This block-long facility, constructed in the late 1970's, consists of a series of concrete, aluminum frame and tinted-glass kiosks of a futuristic appearance. Their location and design seriously detracts from the overall character of the building. The half-block east and west elevations, identical to each other, have eight fenestration bays and pairs of one story entry doors located toward the center of each elevation. The Greek key belt course and carved frieze and cornice continue from the front facade. The north elevation has a pair of identical three bay limestone facades on the ends of the east and west wings while the central section of the north elevation is the buff-colored brick light court. The light court rises from the roof of the first floor postal service loading dock up to the roof of the nine story u-shaped portion. Typically, the plan of the building is composed of a long corridor running east-west the length of the building. At the southeast and southwest corners of the building, the corridors intersect with the elevator lobbies and above the first floor, turn north to service the east and west wings of floors two through nine. The corridors of the upper floors are generally double-loaded, have tile floors, marble and plaster walls and suspended acoustical tile ceilings. The elevator lobbies have the same finishes and feature the original elevator doors and cabs. On the interior, significant spaces are found on the first floor in the entry/elevator lobbies at the southeast and southwest corners of the building and their connecting east-west corridor, formerly the postal service lobby. These two story lobbies and the connecting corridor have tile floors, marble walls and plaster ceilings. Also, historic courtrooms exist on the sixth and eighth floors. Although these two story rooms have had carpeting and acoustical ceiling tiles installed, the original wood paneling and details, as well as their overall spatial volume, remains intact.
The existing USPO/Courthouse was at the time of its construction, Cincinnati's third Federal Building. The site for the first - the southwest corner of Fourth and Vine Streets - was bought in 1851 in response to a general demand in the city that scattered Federal offices be assembled. Construction of that first building took seven years and cost $339,183. Then, after 27 years of use, the site and structure were sold in 1879 for $100,000 to make way for the Merchants' Exchange.
Even before the Government became responsive to the growing city's demand for a larger building and began to take an interest in Fifth Street as a site, the section now embraced by Fountain Square and Government Square had assumed historic importance. Three Presidents - Monroe, Jackson and John Quincy Adams - had visited it. Lincoln had spoken there. The fountain and esplanade were installed in the early 1870's, becoming leading attractions of the city. It seemed a good place for a Federal Building, then as now. But business men in the "Bottoms" complained when the move to Fifth Street was proposed. They contended Fifth Street was too far from the business center of the city.
The site was acquired by condemnation and cost the Government $708,026. The act authorizing construction of a new building was passed by Congress, March 18, 1872, and signed by President Grant immediately, but it was not until April, 1874, that the last of the business houses on the land had been torn down. Excavation for foundations, done entirely by hand labor, required another year. In all, it took 11 years to complete construction. Its cost was $5,088,328.
Nearly half a century went by, and then again, in the 1930's, the demand arose for suitable and adequate quarters for the growing services of the Federal Government in Cincinnati. The old building, completed in 1885 to house 27 departments, had grown too small. A new building, the existing USPO/Courthouse was the answer. And, strangely, it was actually smaller than the previous structure.
The USPO/Courthouse, when constructed had 6,640,000 cubic feet where the old building had 7,883,500. The working area in the new USPO/Courthouse was 485,000 square feet as against 240,000 in the old - more than double the working space in a smaller building! Part of the explanation is to be found in the fact that the new building has nine stories, where the old had only five, although the height of the old was virtually the same. Cost of the USPO/Courthouse was approximately $3,170,000.
Designed by Treasury Department architects in Washington, Supervising Architect Louis A. Simon, the new building was constructed by Great Lakes Construction Company of Chicago, as the general contractor. Calvin H. Cool, Treasury Department Construction Engineer, was in charge in Cincinnati for the two years of building, with Joseph Areokelan and O.V. Dukes as assistants. Work began November 30, 1936, with the start of demolition. The 1937 flood and the sturdiness of the old structure promptly delayed progress. Obstacles, however, were overcome with time.
When dedicated on January 14, 1939, the modern, efficient and beautiful building housed 51 branches of the Federal service. The major tenant was of course the United States Post Office. The Post Office Department employed 128 persons in the building and occupied virtually the entire first floor and a large part of the second, as well as the mezzanine and the basement. The remaining tenants of the building read like a laundry list of then Federal agencies which included the Public Works Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Narcotics, Veterans Administration, Federal Housing Administration, Social Security Board, Conciliation Service, Alcohol Tax Unit, Bureau of Valuation, Bureau of Motor Carriers, Customs Service, Home Owners' Loan Corporation, National Labor Relations Board, U.S. Engineers, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, Agricultural Conservation Association, Ordnance Office, Circuit Court of Appeals, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Weather Bureau, U.S. District Attorney, United States Commissioner, Secret Service, National Bank Examiners, United States District Court, United States Marshal and the Civil Service District to name but a few.
The USPO/Courthouse was renamed for Potter Stewart, a Supreme Court justice from Cincinnati.