U.S. Courthouse, Harrisonburg, VA

The Harrisonburg United States Post Office and Court House is located at the northeast corner of North Main and East Elizabeth Streets in the historic commercial and institutional center of the city of Harrisonburg. The building contains five floors, including a full basement and penthouse, and rises to a height of nearly sixty feet above grade. It is cruciform in plan, measuring approximately 104 feet wide from north to south by 142 feet long from east to west. Its masonry exterior features Classical/Colonial Revival detailing with Flemish-bond brickwork accented with white marble belt courses, engaged pilaster capitals, frieze bands, and cornices. The exterior cladding of the foundation walls, water tables, and entrance steps are white granite, and all first- and second-floor window bays typically feature green stone sills and apron spandrels.

The building's primary facade fronts west onto North Main Street. It is symmetrically arranged with the buildings main entrance centrally located within one of five recessed segmental brick arches at the first floor level. The entrance bay features replacement aluminum doors within the original wood frame and decorative wood surround, and a ten-light arched transom. Large ten-over-fifteen double hung wood windows with arched heads are located in the flanking recesses. Second and third floor windows typically feature six-over-six double hung wood units. The most distinctive architectural component of the west elevation is a two-story colonnade, referred to in the original construction drawings as the "loggia", over the main entrance and accessible from the second floor. The loggia is executed entirely in grey-veined white marble with a coffered ceiling, pediment, and six Doric columns. Decorative wrought iron railings span between the massive columns, and the floor is covered with approximately one-inch thick slate pavers. The slate pavers have been identified as being supplied by the Virginia Greenstone Co. of Lynchburg, Virginia.

Secondary elevations are also comprised of brick masonry with white marble belt courses, frieze bands, and cornices. First floor windows at the north, south, and east elevations typically feature original eight-over-twelve double hung arched head wood units. Brick pilasters with marble capitals typically divide the upper-story bays. Second- and third-floor windows at these elevations typically feature six-over-six, double-hung, flat-head, wood units. Green stone spandrel panels are set below each window opening at the first and second floors. A large one story loading dock featuring Flemish-bond brick walls and concrete loading platform is attached to the east elevation. The concrete framing walls of the original, smaller loading dock are visible within the existing loading dock.

The building and its rear fenced parking lot occupy approximately 0.7 acres. The property is bounded to the south by East Elizabeth Street, to the west by North Main Street, and to the east by North Federal Street. The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church is located to the north of the building at 154 North Main Street. Small landscaped areas flank the original stone entrance steps at the front of the building. Along North Main Street, there is also a concrete and interlocking brick sidewalk and a steel flagpole set on a concrete base near the northwest corner of the property. The flagpole appears to be original and is included on the 1939 architectural drawings. The main stone entry stair is centered on the west facade and leads to the North Main Street sidewalk. On the East Elizabeth Street (south) side of the building there is a landscaped area between the building and public sidewalk with stone entry stair and an adjoining concrete handicapped ramp near the west end of the facade. Also on the south side of the building are two electrical transformers set on concrete pads. Behind the building to the east, there is an asphalt parking lot delineated by a chain link fence. To the north, there is a stone retaining wall with miscellaneous ground cover, shrubs, and a few established trees.

Although the interior floor plans have been slightly modified from their original configurations, the general layout of the building still reflects the original post office and court house functional program. The first floor was designed to house post office operations and originally included a large workroom with access to the rear loading dock as well as offices for the Postmaster and Assistant Postmaster. Much of the original workroom has been built out as offices for the US Attorney's Office, but it remains an open space along the south and east elevations. The catwalks above, from which Postal Inspectors once kept an eye on workers below, remain intact. Within the main public lobby along the west side of the first floor, the original mail boxes have been removed as have the sales counters looking into the workroom space, but the lobby itself retains much of its original finishes including terrazzo floors, black structural glass baseboards, polished marble wainscot, plaster walls and cornices, built-in desks with black structural glass writing surfaces, bulletin boards, building directories, and bronze sconces. The east wall of the lobby also contains an original New Deal-era mural.

In 1941, artist William H. Calfee was commissioned through the Federal Works Agency, Public Buildings Administration, Section of Fine Arts to paint the mural that adorns the lobby. The Federal Works Agency was the successor agency to the better-known Works Progress Administration and administered various types of Depression-era employment and infrastructure projects. Calfee was a well-known Washington, D.C.-based artist who received commissions for several federal art projects throughout his career. From 1937 to 1943, Calfee created seven murals for post offices in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Calfee's proposal for the Harrisonburg mural was unanimously selected by a jury during a regional competition sponsored by the Federal Works Agency. The five foot tall, approximately seventy-foot long mural is entitled "Country Fair, Trading, Courthouse Square." Painted with tempura on canvas, it depicts a montage of contemporary life in Harrisonburg in the early 1940s, emphasizing its importance as the market and trading center of Rockingham County. The centerpiece of the mural is a depiction of an ornate fountain that then stood and continues to stand in front of the Rockingham County Courthouse and is an important community landmark. The mural was completed and installed in 1943. The mural panels were restored by Hiram H. Hoelzer, a New York artist, c. 1970.

The second floor appears to have been originally partitioned to accommodate various federal offices and still serves in that capacity despite some extensive modifications to the floor plan. In c. 1997, a new courtroom was added as part of general renovations which included a substantial reconfiguration of the north and central portions of the second floor, resulting in the disruption of the original circular corridor configuration at this floor.

The building's historic courtroom is located in the center of the third floor with various support rooms and offices arranged around an original U-shaped corridor. The two-story courtroom space remains largely as it was designed originally with only a few apparent modifications such as replacement pendant lighting, replacement clerestory windows, and new carpeting (likely over the original cork floor). Many of the original architectural features still survive in place including wood door surrounds and wainscot, an ornamental plaster "apse" wall behind the judge's bench, a decorative plaster and acoustic tile ceiling grid, rope stanchions, as well as the original quarter-sawn oak furniture (judge's bench, clerk's desk, and jury box) and the original court recorder's lamp. Most of the original finishes and features also survive intact in the courtroom lobby including terrazzo floors, wood doors, marble wainscot and door surrounds, a vaulted plaster ceiling, and pendant lighting fixtures. The original two-tone cork flooring remains visible in the vestibule between courtroom and courtroom lobby.

Typical office space throughout the second and third floors remain essentially as designed with some modifications. Wood door surrounds, window trim, and chair rails survive intact in many of these rooms. Suspended tile ceilings have been introduced throughout most of these spaces, however, along with replacement fluorescent pendant lighting. New partitions and doorways have been added in some cases as well, and carpeting covers most of the original pine floors. Corridors at the second and third floors remain largely as designed, possessing their original terrazzo floors, stone baseboards, wood doors and surrounds, and some mechanical features such as original fire extinguisher cabinets. Original corridors have typically received suspended tile ceilings with integral fluorescent lighting. A non-historic corridor at the eastern portion of the second floor has finishes contextual with the historic portions of the building featuring wood baseboards and a mixture of carpeting and exposed wood floors.

Remarkably, most toilet rooms throughout the building remain largely as constructed. Original multi-fixture toilet rooms for each gender remain in the basement and on the second and third floors. An additional male toilet room with shower remains on the second floor. Additional single fixture toilet rooms with original finishes remain in select second and third floor locations. The materials palette present in these toilet rooms includes white structural glass partitions with steel support brackets and stall doors and brown tile floor. Original urinals, toilets, and sinks are often present as are original accessories such as toilet paper holders and towel bars. One handicapped accessible single-fixture toilet room has been added to each the second and third floors, featuring contemporary finishes.

The Harrisonburg United States Post Office and Court House has served as a distinctive civic and architectural focal point for the city of Harrisonburg since initial construction was completed in 1940. Although the building was designed primarily by consulting architect Rudolph Stanley-Brown, it was one of the many federal building projects supervised by Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury Department from 1933 to 1944. Despite some modifications, the building has retained a high degree of architectural integrity at its primary exterior facades as well as its significant interior spaces, including the main Post Office Lobby and the third floor Courtroom. Large WPA-sponsored canvas murals, painted by artist William Calfee in 1942, still adorn the Post Office Lobby. The building survives as an important example of Virginia's carefully designed, architecturally diverse, Classical/Colonial Revival public buildings constructed during the first half of the 20th century.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
U.S. Courthouse, Harrisonburg, VA Improvement
1939 1940 Original Construction Rudolph Stanley-Brown
1954 1955 Construction of additional postal lockboxes in Main Lobby
1962 1962 Conversion of heating system from coal to gas-burning
1963 1964 Expansion and renovation of Loading Dock
1969 1970 Addition of air conditioning; lighting alterations
1969 1970 Replacement of exterior double-leaf entry doors with aluminum single-leaf
1969 1970 Addition of aluminum partitions to main lobby
1970 1970 Mural restoration including plaster substrate replacement Hiram H. Hoelzer
1978 1978 Replacement of third floor courtroom clerestory windows Hayes, Seay, Mattern & Mattern
1992 1992 Addition of fire stair with EIFS cladding adj. to NE corner of building
1996 1998 Second floor alterations including new courtroom MGA Partners
1996 2000 Addition of new freight elevator tower adj. to NE corner of building MGA Partners
1998 1998 Parking lot improvements, new handicapped ramp
2002 2002 Buildout of former postal workroom at first floor for US Attorney's Office
2005 2007 Facade repairs and cleaning RMF Engineering, Inc.
2005 2007 Work at entry stairs: stone unit replacement, railing refurbishmt. RMF Engineering, Inc,
2005 2007 Work at 2nd floor loggia: drainage, paver re-setting, railing refurbishment RMF Engineering, Inc.
2006 2006 Buildout of additional first floor workroom space for US Attorney's Office
2009 2009 Replacement of Courtroom clerestory windows
2013 2013 Roof replacement with PVC
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13