Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, Detroit, MI
The Detroit Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse is located in the downtown financial district and occupies the entire block bounded on the north by Lafayette Boulevard, the south by Fort Street, the west by Washington Boulevard and the east by Shelby Street.
The structural system is of a regular bay steel frame construction, resting on a series of concrete caissons. Concrete is also used for poured-in-place floor slabs as well as fire-proofing for steel columns and beams. The exterior stone cladding is hung from the steel frame or tied to back-up walls of unit masonry.
All four of the exterior elevations are similar, although the primary entries are located on the north and south sides while vehicular openings are located on the east and west. Each elevation is divided vertically into thirds, with a base, a midsection and a top. The base consists of a raised basement and floors one and two and is clad with polished black granite at the water table/raised basement level, and smooth-cut limestone blocks at the first and second stories. The basement, first and second stories have punched recessed openings with bronze sheet sills. The middle portion of the building, floors three through seven, is also faced with smooth-cut limestone articulated by rectilinear pilasters. The windows on the third through sixth stories are grouped vertically and separated by bronze spandrels. The seventh floor windows are in punched openings with bronze sheet sills. The upper portion of the building, floors eight through ten, is characterized by smooth-cut limestone with vertically-grouped windows aligning with those of the middle section. The cubic mass of the building is relieved by minor setbacks at the third and eighth floor levels. An ornamental frieze with relief sculpture extends around the building between the sixth and seventh floors. Each elevation has carved relief panels located in its end bays. The panels depict 1930's-era federal government agencies. Extending between the end bays is a frieze of circular medallions alternating with carved, fluted panels. The medallions depict various symbols of the federal government.
The building has bronze framed, single-glazed, double-hung windows of varying proportions. Typically, the first floor openings are glazed with double four-over-six sash and are surmounted by fixed transoms. Floors two and seven have double, four-over-six sash without transoms. Floors three through six and eight through ten have paired, double-hung sash with four-over-four lights grouped vertically and separated by fluted bronze spandrels.
As stated previously, the principal entries to the building are located on the north and south elevations. Each entry is centered on the elevation where three portals are defined by four fluted pilasters surmounted with stylized eagles. These entries are reached by granite stairs leading from the sidewalk level to recessed loggias. At the north end of the east and west elevations are granite-clad vehicular sally-ports which lead into the basement level parking/loading dock area.
Significant interior spaces include the vaulted public concourse which extends north-south between the primary entries on the first floor and the two-story courtrooms located on the seventh and eighth floors. The Chief Judge's Courtoom, Room 732-734, was salvaged from the previous federal building that occupied the site and reconstructed in the present building. The Romanesque style courtroom stands in dramatic contrast to the stripped, neo-classical and modernistic details typical of the other courtrooms.
Of interest, the building was originally designed and engineered to carry two more full stories in place of the penthouses at the eleventh and twelfth floors. A 1931 publication rendering depicts the courthouse with twelve full stories. Their elimination may have stemmed from budget shortfalls during the period of construction between 1932 and 1934 which coincided with the height of the Great Depression.
The existing Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse was predated by two previous federal buildings in downtown Detroit. The first was a combined Custom House, Post Office and federal courts structure which was located on the northwest corner of Griswold and Larned Streets. The three-story Renaissance Revival style structure was completed in January of 1860 and cost $162,000.
In the 1880's, plans were developed to demolish the building and construct a new and larger facility. However, due to public objections, the government was forced to select a new site. The block bounded by Lafayette Boulevard, Fort Street, Wayne Street (now Washington Boulevard) and Shelby Street, was purchased for $400,000 in 1887. Excavation for the new Post Office and Courthouse began in June of 1890 and the building was occupied in late 1897. Construction costs exceeded $1,000,000. The massive rock-faced ashlar granite building was designed by Philadelphia architect James H. Windrim. A soaring clock tower with a tiled pyramid roof dominated the Fort Street facade.
Federal authorization and planning for the present building occurred during the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The Detroit Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse was designed Robert O. Derrick, under the auspices of James A. Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect for the Department of the Treasury. The building's overall impression is one of Neo-Classical Revival with Modernistic traits. Demolition of the 1890's building began in late 1931. Construction began in April of 1932 and the completed building opened in March of 1934. The budget for construction was over $5.5 million dollars.
The building features several ornamental bas-relief sculptural groupings executed by noted Detroit architectural modeler, Corrado Joseph Parducci. Parducci designed the sculptural panels and medallions to depict various agencies and activities of the then-current federal government.
On November 2, 1994, the U.S. Congress approved an act to designate the courthouse as the "Theodore Levin United States Courthouse". A ceremony is planned for the Spring of 1995 to officially announce the designation and present new building signs on the Lafayette Boulevard and Fort Street elevations.