Sidney L. Christie Federal Building, Huntington, WV

The Sidney L. Christie Federal Building is located at the southwest corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown Huntington, West Virginia. The north and east elevations front Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, respectively, with the other elevations facing alleyways. Originally designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style by the firm of Parker & Thomas, the elevations rely on the unity of their parts, symmetry, rhythm, and ornamental features to define the architectural style.

Though a restrained example of the style, features that define this building as an example of the Second Renaissance Revival style include its rectangular form and massing, use of stone rustication at the first floor and for quoins, arched windows at the first floor, heavy cornice and belt courses, and the presence of balustrades. These features and the proportional systems used are derived from Italian architectural masterpieces such as the Medici Palace in Florence.

The designers of the two additions chose to continue the original style and replicated the ornamental features along the facade to keep the building visually consistent. As such, the divisions between the original building and the additions are not apparent from the exterior. However, these have been marked on the 2015 Zoning Plans included with this report, for reference. In general, the exterior remains largely as built and significant alterations, such as the replacement of the windows, have been undertaken carefully in order to minimize their visual impact.

The original design by Parker & Thomas reflected not only the prevailing aesthetic ideas of the period but also the influence of functional planning. The first floor, which was originally devoted entirely to post office matters, is distinguished from the rest of the building by the rusticated base, and the relatively uniform window and wall treatment across the facade relates to the long public lobby behind. The upper two floors, occupied by the federal court and related functions, are horizontally unified. The three monumental windows at the second and third floors of the central pavilion signify the location of the original two-story courtroom while the single windows of the side bays open onto supporting single-story office space.

The building is three stories (56 feet) in height, and measures 255 feet on each of the north and south sides and 94 feet on each of the east and west sides. The building comprises three construction periods: the original structure built in 1905-1910; a three-story, 94-foot addition to the west side built in 1917-1919; and a final three-story, 100-foot addition to the west side in 1935-1937. The 1905-10 building has a rectangular footprint on the first and basement floors, changing to a U-shape on the upper two stories. The later additions enclosed the U-shape end to create a completely rectangular footprint with three internal light courts at the upper two levels. The additions were executed using the same materials and scale as the original building. The building's flat roof is not visible from the street.

The steel-frame and masonry building is clad with Bedford Indiana limestone with a grey granite water table. All of the elevations, including most elevations of the east and center light courts, are similarly composed and detailed in the Second Renaissance Revival style, featuring symmetrical bays and a formal composition of parts organized into three horizontal divisions: a base of rusticated ashlar granite, a two-story body or central section of ashlar masonry (rusticated at the east elevation and ashlar at the others) embellished with classical pilasters on the facade, and a parapet punctuated with regular sections of urn-shaped balusters. The more elaborately treated pavilions, set at corners and at regular points along the north elevation, serve as compositional accents.

The projecting entrance pavilion on Ninth Street marks the original entrance to the building. The east and north elevations are articulated as the most prominent, and the east end of the south elevation and the east and center light courts generally follow the same styling. The west end of the south elevation, the south end of the west elevation, and the west light court are articulated as less prominent facades and so follow the same compositional order as the more prominent elevations but buff brick is substituted for stone as the primary facade material and ornamental elements such as belt courses and parapets are simplified.

The windows typically are recessed and arranged in vertical groups of two or three. The existing windows are aluminum replacements mimicking the rail and muntin profiles (though somewhat thicker) and patterns of the wood windows that were originally in the openings. The first floor windows have eight-over-eight lights, surrounded by radiating keystones of rusticated limestone. The second and third floor windows in the central section have stone heads and are set back from the rusticated limestone by a flat limestone surround. The second story window heads are broken by projecting limestone keystones; third story windows have unadorned heads. Basement windows are found below grade in window wells. The existing exterior doors are aluminum assemblies installed in 2008 to meet blast-proofing requirements. The entries at the north elevation have metal and wood canopies above, which are tied back to the building with turnbuckles.

The interior retains a large amount of historic fabric throughout. The most ornate space is the lobby at the northeast corner of the first floor, which is the original 1905-10 building lobby incorporating adaptations and expansion during the first addition in 1919. This lobby has a terrazzo floor with maroon marble border and pink and maroon marble cross-banding. The walls are plaster divided into bays by pink marble pilasters crowned by marble pilaster caps. A pink marble wainscot lines the east and north walls. The ceiling echoes the established bays with plaster coffering. Bronze mailboxes line the inner walls and an iron lattice above originally provided light to the post office work room beyond, but is now covered from behind by gypsum board. Lighting is by multi-globe pendant fixtures which are replicas of the original fixtures that were located in this space. The center lobby adjacent and the northwest lobby date to 1937 and have terrazzo floors with marble borders. The walls are plaster or gypsum board with marble baseboards. The ceiling of only the center lobby has a bas-relief band at its perimeter. Lighting is by ceiling-mounted fixtures that are replicas of those that were in these spaces historically. Stairs with ornamental iron railings and pink marble treads and risers are located in both the northeast and northwest lobbies.

Corridors at the first floor are non-historic but have synthetic tile flooring imitating the historic terrazzo elsewhere throughout the building and their walls feature marble baseboards. Offices throughout the remainder of the first floor are non-historic and typically feature carpet and gypsum board walls and ceilings. Profiled wood trim installed in the 1980s but matching the original at the second and third floors is used for many corridor door surrounds and for trim elements in the first floor courtroom.

The second and third floors have received relatively few changes since they were originally constructed. The corridors have terrazzo floors with marble borders, marble baseboards, plaster walls with wood chair rails in some areas, and gypsum board ceilings. Light fixtures are compatible though non-historic c. 2010 replacements. Offices typically have carpet with the original wood floors below exposed in some areas, profiled wood baseboards, plaster walls with wood chair rails in some areas, and non-historic acoustic tile ceilings with integral fluorescent lighting. Corridor doors and doors between offices are paneled oak with brass hardware and profiled trim. At the corridor side, the casings have eared heads, whereas at the office side, they have squared tops (there are occasional exceptions to this rule.) Casings have marble base blocks at the corridors and wood within offices.

The second floor courtroom is a double-height space that dates to 1937. Many elements including the marble baseboards, wood paneling, and one of the entry doors were salvaged and relocated from the original 1907 courtroom, which was converted into office space. The floor is carpeted over the original cork tile. Plaster pilasters extend from the top of the paneled wood wainscot to the underside of a dentillated plaster cornice. Lighting is by compatible though non-historic 2008 pendant fixtures.

The basement is generally utilitarian with concrete floors in many areas and some vinyl tile and carpet, gypsum board or exposed brick walls, and the exposed concrete structure above. Doors are a combination of older wood and metal and recent hollow metal. Exposed piping and conduit is visible in many spaces. Lighting is by fluorescent pendant fixtures or ceiling-mounted LED fixtures, typically.

The United States Post Office and Courthouse is located near the center of downtown Huntington, West Virginia, at the southwest corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. This three-story building, also known as the Sidney L. Christie Federal Building, was originally constructed from 1905-1910 with additions completed in 1919 and 1937 that approximately quadrupled its original size. The building still houses federal courtrooms and offices, but is no longer used as a postal facility. The building was renamed in 1974 for Judge Sidney L. Christie, a prominent regional figure in the 1920s and 30s who served as district judge in Huntington from 1964 until his death in 1973. A second federal building, known as the Huntington Federal Building, is located next door to the west and was constructed in 1960 with an extensive facade renovation completed approximately 2014. The two buildings are connected at the basement level and share aspects of their mechanical systems.

The Christie Federal Building is a representative example of the high quality of civic architecture which resulted from the Tarnsey Act of 1893, a law that allowed the architects of federal buildings to be chosen by holding competitions and selecting among the entries submitted by private architectural firms. While smaller and less ornate than some of the federal buildings built contemporary with it, the Huntington building has the monumentality, urbanity, and solidity associated with public architecture of the early twentieth-century academic tradition. It also exemplifies carefully integrated additions which significantly increased the size of the original building while maintaining its style, materials, and decorative features.

The building generally retains a high level of integrity. Recent alterations have been carefully integrated into the historic fabric to minimize intrusion to the extent possible and some recent small contextual changes such as adding floor coverings in the first floor corridors consistent with the historic floor materials elsewhere have made for a more cohesive whole while remaining compatible with the building's historic character.

The city of Huntington is located at the western tip of the state of West Virginia on the border with Ohio and only a few miles east of the border with Kentucky. The city is named for C.P. Huntington, who was the president of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. In 1869, he traveled to the area to select a site for the new terminus of his railroad. He assembled property in the area on the bank of the Ohio River and laid out the town in 1871. He then transferred the land to a new company, the Central Land Company of West Virginia. This company had financial difficulties and by 1890 was in receivership. Nevertheless, the nascent city experienced rapid growth. With its combination of railroad and river access, it became an important railroad center and a distribution point for consumer goods. Manufacturing interests prospered due to cheap and efficient transportation and the availability of inexpensive energy.

The building is an important part of a cluster of government and civic architecture in downtown Huntington. Near it and also fronting on Fifth Avenue are three public buildings erected between 1899 and 1902. They are the Cabell County Courthouse (a Renaissance Revival style building), the Huntington City Hall (Neo-Classical Revival style), and the former Carnegie Public Library (now Huntington Junior College, in the Beaux-Arts style). This assemblage of monumental public architecture produces an immediate impression of the wealth and rapid growth of Huntington at the turn of the 20th century.

The Tarnsey Act, mentioned above, was signed February 20, 1893, and allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to obtain designs for federal buildings by holding design competitions and selecting from among the entries submitted by private architectural firms. It was a permissive rather than a compulsive act and at first was not applied. During the administrations of Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft, it was used for buildings with large appropriations. The act was repealed on August 24, 1912. The Tarnsey Act was an important piece of legislation in the history of American architecture since "by this law the federal government gave architecture official representation as an art essential to the community." It resulted in government buildings designed by leading architects in the most up-to-date styles of the day.

At the time they entered the competition for the Huntington federal building, J. Harleston Parker and Douglas H. Thomas, Jr., had only been practicing architecture together for three years, yet they were already showing promise of becoming a prominent firm. They maintained offices in both Boston, Parker's hometown, and Baltimore, Thomas's hometown. Parker, an 1893 graduate of Harvard, studied architecture at MIT for a year. Following a year in the office of Winslow & Wetherall, a Boston architectural firm, he spent four years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Thomas followed his 1893 graduation from Johns Hopkins with two years of architectural study at MIT. Next he spent a year studying in Paris.

Several of the designs of Parker & Thomas prior to 1903 were published in "American Architect and Building News", an important professional journal of the day. In 1907, Arthur W. Rice joined the firm and it was renamed Parker, Thomas and Rice. Thomas was killed in an automobile accident in 1915. When Parker died in 1930, "Architectural Forum" cited him as "head of one of the foremost firms of architects in the East."

Buildings designed by Parker & Thomas include the Hotel Belvedere and the Savings Bank of Baltimore in Baltimore; Commonwealth Trust Building, Harvard Club Building, R.H. Sterns Department Store, and the John Hancock Building (c. 1921) in Boston; and the US Post Office and Courthouse in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Like many architects of the day, the firm was very eclectic in the styles it used, varying the historic precedents it employed depending on building type and client. In 1913 an architectural critic praised the firm for "persistent good taste."

Eight firms were invited to submit plans for the Post Office and Courthouse at Huntington: Arthur B. Heaton and Paul J. Pelz, both of Washington, DC; Parker and Thomas and Baldwin and Pennington, both of Baltimore; Noland and Baskerville of Richmond, VA; Field and Medary of Philadelphia; J. Hannaford and Sons of Cincinnati; and Overall and Wade of Huntington. The latter declined to enter but J. B. Stewart of Huntington and J.R. Geiskie of nearby Ceredo both accepted invitations to submit in their place. Records of the other designs are not known to exist.

Supervising Architect of the Treasury Henry Knox Taylor had prefaced the 1901 Report of the Supervising Architect by announcing that "the Department, after mature consideration of the subject, finally adopted the classic style of architecture for all buildings, as far as it was practicable to do so, as it is believed that this style is best suited for Government buildings." Based on this stated position, it is not a surprise that a Classically-based design such as the one submitted by Parker & Thomas was chosen for the Huntington federal building.

Description Architect
1905 1910 Original Construction Parker & Thomas
1915 1917 Addition Supervising Architect of Treasury
1935 1937 Addition Willet with Meanor & Handloser Assc
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13