U.S. Courthouse, Davenport, IA

U.S. Courthouse, Davenport, Iowa

Building History

Part of the site occupied by the U.S. Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa, was previously the site of an 1891 post office. The 1891 building also became home to the federal courts in 1904. A wing added in 1909 did little to alleviate the crowding in the building. The city experienced an economic boom during the 1920s that lasted into the early 1930s. The construction of high-rise buildings downtown, including hotels and department stores, spurred the need for a new building to house the post office and federal courts. By 1932, the Great Depression had put many people out of work. Federal projects, including construction of a lock and dam, improvements to the seawall, and road construction provided employment for Davenport residents.

In 1930, Congress appropriated $655,000 for the construction of a new federal building on the site of the 1891 building, plus the purchase of two adjacent parcels. Demolition of the early post office and courthouse took place in April 1932, and construction of the new building took just over 500 days.

Local architect Seth J. Temple designed the building, which was commissioned by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury. Temple studied at the American Academy in Rome and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, and taught at the Illinois School of Architecture in Urbana. Other Davenport buildings that Temple designed include Davenport Hall, the Union Bank and Office building, and the Black Hawk and Burlington hotels.

The building was completed for approximately $500,000, which was significantly less than the original appropriation, and city residents and officials gathered for a dedication ceremony on October 15, 1933. Constructed as a post office and courthouse, the building retained both of those functions until about 1965. The post office moved out of the building at that time and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) acquired the building. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.


The U.S. Courthouse is a skillfully executed example of Depression-era architecture that invokes the Art Deco style. The three-story building is essentially rectangular, though a portion of the building near the rear has only one story. The building has a steel frame and integral concrete beam floors, with cladding that includes a coursed granite base and Minnesota Kasota travertine limestone on the north, east, and west elevations. The cladding of the south elevation is buff colored brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern. The building has a flat composite roof with a parapet.

The main entry is in the north elevation, which is the most elaborate. The entablature above the third story windows projects slightly from the vertical surface of the building, set off by a limestone stringcourse. A decorative parapet at the top of the building features a carved limestone frieze with a stylized Ionic capital and shield design. The elevation is nine bays wide. The second and eighth bays feature ground floor entrance doors, each with dark gray granite surrounds. Immediately above the doors are circular limestone panels featuring stylized carved eagles. Pairs of bronze light stanchions with granite bases flank each door, each with an embossed chevron and geometric designs. The door surrounds feature stylized carvings that imitate Beaux Arts style classical pilasters. Embossed bronze spandrels separate the second and third story windows.

The most significant interior space is the two-story courtroom that occupies the central portion of the second floor, and its adjacent judges' chambers, library, and restroom. Flat geometric patterns and chevron designs reflect the architectural details of the building's exterior, as do the fluted classical pilasters. The interior of the east doors, which provide the main entry to the courtroom, are covered with leather and trimmed with metal studs. A base of rouge marble rings the room. The laurel paneling is laid in a herringbone pattern. The wood grain of the wainscoting is vertically oriented. The cornice frieze, carved to depict chevrons and stylized leaves, is black walnut. Black walnut insets depicting leaves and berries are located above the doors on the west side of the room. Some of the furnishings are original. Additional original interior details that remain include the flooring, some of which are terrazzo floors and others are marble. The wainscoting, cladding in bathrooms and vestibules, door surrounds in the vestibules and the first floor elevator lobby, stairway treads, and hallway baseboards are original marble. Some lighting fixtures in the stairwells and hallways are also original.

After the first renovation in the 1960s, which converted the former postal facilities into offices, there were additional renovations during the 1970s and 1990s. Between 2003 and 2005, the building was renovated under GSA's Design Excellence program, which provides design assistance to high-quality public buildings by stressing creativity and providing design feedback from peers. The project, which converted the building to a dedicated courthouse facility, included the construction of two new courtrooms, restoration of the historic courtroom, and renovation of the first-floor lobby.

In 2006, The Spirit of Law and Iowa Reports, paintings created by artist Xiaoze Xie under the auspices of GSA's Art in Architecture program, were installed in the Davenport Courthouse. The artist hoped that the paintings, installed in the jury assembly room, would "prompt visitors to consider the connections between history and the present and between ideas and realities."


1891: Construction of original post office at this location

1932-1933: Construction of current building on site

1965: GSA acquires building after Post Office vacates building; first floor renovated

1972, 1977, 1997: Additional alterations to building

2005: Listed in National Register of Historic Places

2005: Completion of building modernization under GSA's Design Excellence program

2006: The Spirit of Law and Iowa Reports installed in jury assembly room

Building Facts

Location: 131 East Fourth Street

Architect: Seth J. Temple

Construction Dates: 1932-1933

Architectural Style: Art Deco

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Primary Materials: Steel, concrete, limestone, and granite

Prominent Features: Limestone and granite cladding; Wood-paneled courtroom; Stylized motifs carved on building facade

U.S. Courthouse, Davenport, Iowa

The U.S. Courthouse is located at 131 East Fourth Street, at the southwest corner of Perry and East Fourth streets in downtown Davenport, Iowa. The construction of the building began in 1932 and was completed in 1933. Designed in the restrained Art Deco style with Classical overtones, the three-story federal building has a structural steel frame with concrete floor slabs. The federal building has a nearly rectangular footprint, which results in a box-like form with a flat roof. The exterior walls are clad in a warm beige Minnesota Kasota Travertine limestone ashlar with a base of dark gray polished granite. The building is detailed with stripped-down Classical elements such as fluted carvings and low relief spandrels, characteristic of the Art Deco style. The exterior is composed of three stages of ashlar masonry, consisting of a simple base of coursed granite, a two-story body of limestone, and a modest, slightly raised entablature of limestone. A projecting stringcourse of limestone defines the entablature. The exterior walls terminate with a decorative parapet featuring a carved limestone frieze in a stylized Ionic capital and shield design, a pattern typical of the Classical style. The parapet wall is capped by limestone coping. The metal sash casement windows on the first story, and casement windows on the second and third stories, are slightly recessed and grouped in pairs or singles. Embossed bronze spandrels appear between the second and third story windows throughout. The diamond-shaped, low-relief pattern of the spandrels is typical of Art Deco ornamentation. The principal facade faces north onto East Fourth Street, and is the most elaborate of the four elevations. This elevation is nine bays wide on the first story, with two entrances. The entrances are flanked by three-story stylized fluted carvings that reference the Classical pilasters of the Beaux Arts style. The fenestration is regularly spaced throughout the north elevation. The east elevation, facing Perry Street, and west elevation, facing a private alley, are nearly identical. Lacking entrances, these elevations are less elaborate than the principal elevation. The detailing surrounding the windows and on the entablature is identical to the front elevation. The west elevation has the same patterning and details as the east elevation, but is one bay smaller. The rear or south elevation, facing a public alley, is utilitarian in character. A recessed loading platform occupies a seven-bay wide area of the elevation, resulting in a U-shaped footprint with two wings. The windows throughout are utilitarian and more modest than the ones on the other elevations. Factory-style windows appear on the first story, and unadorned double-hung windows on the second and third stories. The interior plan has the same classic simplicity as the exterior. Much of the original rich interior detailing has been removed from the building. Sometime after the building was purchased by the General Services Administration, the lobby was completely modernized for new postal facilities and much of the original materials were removed. In the lobby, only the original Napoleon gray marble flooring remains intact. The St. Genevieve marble wainscoting, Tennessee coral rouge marble base, bronze details and plaster friezes that remain in the stairwells and elevator lobbies are singular elements of the original details. Marble wainscot also sheaths the second and third floor corridor walls. The floors of the second and third floor corridors and stairways are clad with Napoleon gray marble. The offices on the second and third floors retain little original trim and detailing. The original American black walnut doors from the public corridors to the offices are mostly intact, although interior office doors have been modified or modernized with solid core wood doors. The original American black walnut chair rail is also present in a few offices on the second and third floor. The main courtroom and judge's chambers retain much of their original detail and finish including the same walnut combined with laurelwood panels. The original postal work room on the first floor has been altered to accommodate partitioned office space and work stations. The site is presented in a straightforward manner: the building occupies nearly the entire lot, with minimal landscaping. A wide band of concrete sidewalk surrounds the building on the north, east and west elevations. A series of small bushes has been planted adjacent to the base of the building on the north elevation. A parking lot occupies the southern end of the lot.

U.S. Courthouse, Davenport, Iowa

The U.S. Courthouse is located at 131 East Fourth Street, occupying half a city block at the southwest corner of Perry and East Fourth streets in downtown Davenport, Iowa. The three-story federal building, constructed between 1932 and 1933, has a structural steel frame with concrete floor slabs. The exterior walls are clad in Minnesota Kasota Travertine limestone with a base of dark gray polished granite.

The site of the present building comprises four parcels of land. Two of these parcels were purchased by the government in 1891, and were used for the construction of the first post office on the site. The original U.S. Post Office was constructed after the U.S. Congress had appropriated funds of $100,000 for the purchase of the site and the construction of a new building. In 1904, Congress approved the installation of a courthouse in the post office building.

Although the original 1891-1892 post office building was expanded with a wing in 1909, more space was needed for postal activities. In 1924, Postmaster Charles S. Lewis called attention to the growing need for a new post office to alleviate the cramped quarters. Lewis made several trips to Washington, D.C. with other concerned citizens to lobby for the new building. It was determined that the present site, with the purchase of the adjacent properties on East Fourth Street, would serve as the best possible site for a new federal building and post office.

A Congressional action on July 3, 1930, appropriated funds for the acquisition of additional land, the demolition of the existing post office and federal building, and the construction of a new building for the total sum of $655,000. The two lots adjacent to the site were purchased from the Mason and Arzberger estates for a total of $74,200.

The contract for the new building was let on April 6, 1932. Six days later the demolition of the existing post office was started. Beginning on April 12, 1932, the new federal building was constructed in just over 500 days. The demolition and new construction were photographically documented by the Works Project Administration (WPA) throughout 1932 and 1933. The building was completed for a total of $500,000, much less than the original $655,000 appropriation. The general contractor was C.G. Girolami & Company from Chicago, Illinois. The building was officially occupied on September 20, 1933, with the post office moving in on September 31 of that year. The dedication ceremonies for the building were held on October 15, 1933.

Davenport's Federal Building and U.S. Post Office was erected under the aegis of James A. Wetmore (1863-1940), Acting Supervising Architect for the Treasury from 1915 to 1933. During his Tenure as the Supervising Architect, Wetmore was responsible for the passage of the 1926 Public Buildings Act that prompted the construction of the $300,000,000 Federal Triangle project and other important federal buildings across the country. Typically working with local design architects, Wetmore's office would oversee the construction project. Wetmore is credited with overseeing the construction of more than 2,000 post offices and other public buildings nationwide.

Architect Seth J. Temple, a prominent local architect of Davenport and eastern Iowa, was hired to design the federal building. Temple worked in connection with the architectural firm of Burnham Brothers of Chicago, the consulting architects selected by Wetmore. The Burnham Brothers firm was founded by architects Hubert Burnham and his brother Daniel Burnham, Jr. The brothers were the sons of renowned Chicago architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham. Temple also consulted with Postmaster Lewis and Assistant Postmaster J.B. Meyer to design the building according to their needs.

Temple, (1867-1949) was born in Winona, Minnesota. After college, Temple received his Ph.D. in 1892 from Columbia University in New York City. It was at this time that Temple became interested in architecture and won a traveling scholarship in 1894 to the American Academy in Rome. He later attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Temple returned to the United States in 1896, accepting an invitation to teach at the University of Illinois School of Architecture in Urbana. After serving as the Professor of Architecture for eight years, he moved to Davenport, Iowa and established the architectural and engineering firm of Temple & Burrowes. A few of the important commissions executed by the firm include significant Davenport buildings such as Davenport Hall, the Union Bank and Office Building, the Black Hawk and Burlington Hotels, and several public schools. In 1925, Temple ended his partnership with Burrowes and continued to practice independently until he was joined by his son, Arthur, in 1940. Temple was active in the American Institute of Architects, inducted as a member in 1907 and was named a fellow in 1913. [From Withey, Henry F. and Elsie Rathburn, "Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased)," (New Age Publishing Company: Los Angeles, 1956): 592-593].

The style of the federal building illustrates the strong rectilinear qualities associated with the Art Deco style of the 1930s, and the later Art Moderne and Modern styles of the 1940s and 1950s. Typical of Art Deco buildings of the period, Temple employs stripped-down Classical elements in the design for the Davenport federal building as a tribute to the Beaux Arts federal buildings of early twentieth century. The federal buildings of this era also continue the monumental scale established by Beaux Arts style precedents. The style of the building reflects a new approach in the design of federal buildings that presents the form, materials and details in a restrained, clean-lined, and modest fashion. This building embodies the public architecture promulgated by the United States government for most of the country's history, and also illustrates the effect of modernism on the established ideals of American public design. Temple's design abstracted the classical tradition, an approach popularized by Philadelphia architect Paul Cret. A newspaper article states that Temple's intentions were to use a "simplicity of treatment to lend dignified expression to the appearance and to create an impression which would be not only immediately but indefinitely favorable" [Sun, October 15, 1933, p. 19].

The General Services Administration acquired the building from the U.S. Post Office in the mid-1960s. In 2005, a modernization project dedicated the building entirely to the U.S. Courts.

Description Architect
1932 1933 Original Construction Seth J. Temple
1977 Miscellaneous Repairs
1978 Building Repairs and Alterations Gollehon, Schemmer & Assoc., Inc.
1978 1978 Teletype Room/Carpet and Sound Treatment
1978 1978 Space Alterations, SSA
1979 Miscellaneous Repairs & Alterations The Schemmer Associates, Inc.
1979 1979 Toilet Repairs
1979 1979 Enclose Stairways
1979 1979 Masonry Repairs and Waterproofing
1979 1979 Replace PO Workroom Floor
1979 1979 Handicap Toilets, Drinking Ftn, Telephone, Ramp
1979 1979 Repair Roof and Flashings
1979 1979 Fire Doors
1979 1980 Space Alterations-Courts
1980 Modernize Elevator
1981 Space Alterations--USPO 1st Floor
1981 Oil-Gas Burners
1981 Replace Sanitary & Sewer Line Pipes & Boiler Valve
1981 1981 Install Catwalk
1982 Exterior Painting
1984 Roof Repairs
1984 Chiller & Cooling Tower Replacement
1984 1985 Install Sprinkler System First Floor
1984 1985 Install Storm Windows & Replace Broken Windows
1984 1985 Repair Boiler No. 2
1984 1985 Lightning Protection
1987 Freight Elevator Replacement Ken Curry Construction, Inc.
1988 Replace Carpet/Drapes-HHS/SSA
1992 Roof Replacement Dana, Larson, Roubal & Associates
1993 Fire Safety Improvements
Last Reviewed: 2018-08-06