U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Building History

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was the first monumental structure in Oklahoma City and served as an anchor for future federal development. Plans for the construction of the building began in 1903 when Congress appropriated funds for a downtown facility. Due to the region's rapid growth, original funding was insufficient and additional money was allotted in 1906, 1908, and 1910. The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was the first federal building constructed in Oklahoma, which became a state only five years prior to the building's 1912 completion.

Two important cases were decided in this building. James "Machine Gun" Kelly, a notorious outlaw of the Prohibition era, was found guilty of kidnapping Oklahoma City oilman and millionaire Charles Urschel. Kelly was sentenced in 1933 to life in prison and sent to Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. Kelly's trial was the first in the nation to allow sound and picture equipment in a federal courtroom. In 1949, the case of McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education was heard. The court's decision desegregated graduate schools in Oklahoma.

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is part of a Federal complex that included a separate courthouse constructed in 1959 and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. In April 1995, a terrorist bomb destroyed the Murrah building causing tragic injuries and fatalities. Portions of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, most notably the tower, were damaged by concussions from the blast. Repairs were made to windows, ceiling tiles, and lights. Today, the site of the bombing is the Oklahoma City National Memorial. A new federal building is located several blocks north of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. In 1992, the U.S. General Services Administration completed a restoration of significant interior spaces. The restoration was recognized with awards from the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office and the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Although the post office relocated in 1966, the building continues to function in its historic capacity as a federal courthouse and office building.

Architecture

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is a landmark building in Oklahoma City. It was designed by James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. The building was constructed in 1912 in the Beaux Arts Classicism style. This style of architecture was commonly used for important public buildings from the end of the nineteenth century until the early years of the twentieth century. The building's symmetry, monumental form, balustrade, and pilasters (attached columns) are characteristic of Beaux Arts Classicism. The original portion of the building is three stories tall and faced with limestone. Pediments, arched openings, and shallow balconies are other notable components of the facade. The roof is covered with red tiles.

The original building was enlarged on two separate occasions. In 1919, an addition that doubled the building size was constructed on the west side of the original building. The Office of the Supervising Architect was once again responsible for the design, which was executed in the Beaux Arts Classicism style to blend with the original portion of the building. The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was enlarged again in 1932 when another addition was completed. Both additions were carried out by James A. Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury. This second addition, located on the western end of the 1919 portion, once again respected the Beaux Arts Classicism of the earlier portions. As part of the 1932 expansion, a centrally placed tower was added over the 1919 addition. The tower features stylized decorative motifs that are characteristic of Art Deco architecture, which emphasizes the verticality of the design and incorporates Classical forms while minimizing ornate elements.

The interior is as impressive as the exterior. In 1992, the U.S. General Services Administration restored major public spaces to their original splendor. The lobby, which runs the length of the building, contains a barrel-vaulted ceiling with arched openings that contain geometric, metal grilles. Also in the lobby, the patterned tile floor, green-and-gold starburst ceiling stencils, brass chandeliers, and bronze elevator doors were restored. Elaborate ceilings in the courtrooms, some of which contain skylights with grilles, were refurbished. An ornamental painted ceiling was added to the ninth-floor courtroom. Although the ceiling was shown as part of the architect's original design, it was not executed during construction in 1932.

Two murals near the main entrance were painted in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration program. Covered up during modernization work, the murals have since been restored. One depicts a Postal Service Pony Express rider seal, and the other is an image of the Great Seal of the United States.

The first floor lobby contains two paintings by James D. Butler that were installed in 1993. "Sunset Near the Chisholm Trail" symbolizes the cowboy heritage and agricultural significance of Oklahoma. "A View Near Tahlequah, Cherokee County" symbolizes the state's Native American legacy and natural beauty.

Significant Events

1903: Initial plans made for a post office building in the Oklahoma Territory

1907: Oklahoma statehood

1912: U.S. Post Office and Courthouse completed

1919: First Addition to the original building completed

1932: Second addition, including the Art Deco tower, completed

1933: James "Machine Gun" Kelly trial 1949 McLaurin v. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education case decided

1974: U.S. Post Office and Courthouse listed in the National Register of Historic Places

1992: Restoration of the building completed

1995: Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombed

Building Facts

Location: 215 Dean A. McGee Avenue

Architects: James Knox Taylor; James A. Wetmore

Construction dates: 1912; 1919; 1932

Restoration: 1992

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Architectural Style: Beaux Arts Classicism with Art Deco Tower

Primary Material: Limestone

Prominent Features: Art Deco Tower; Restored First-Floor Lobby

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The United States Post Office and Court House building in Oklahoma city, Oklahoma reflects three periods of construction. The original structure was built in 1912; an addition built to the west in 1919; and a three story addition built in 1932 which completed the west elevation. The original portion of the building with is two additions exhibits the Beaux Arts style of architecture. Also in 1932 an Art Deco tower was built over the center of the 1919 addition. The building is a three story Beaux Arts building of limestone with a centrally placed nine-story Art Deco tower. The primary elevation runs the length of a city block and consists of a two-story central pavilion, with projecting pavilions on each end. The third story is recessed and concealed behind a limestone balustrade. The central pavilion is a series of twenty-one window bays separated by flat engaged pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The projecting pavilions at each end consist of three large window bays, separated by engaged columns with Corinthian capitals and terminating at the corners with flat engaged corner pilasters, also with Corinthian capitals. A simple entablature with projecting cornice, surmounted by a limestone balustrade, runs the entire length of the primary elevations. The main entry is a central set of three double height arched doorways, separated by flat engaged pilasters and flanked by a slightly projecting bays with niches adjacent to the entries. Second floor windows have balustraded false balconies. A nine-story Art Deco tower rises in the center of the elevation, almost giving the appearance of a second building. The limestone tower, which rises about six floors above the roofline of the classical facade, consists of two rectilinear towers connected by a recessed three bay elevation with modest detailing. The tower extends to the rear with a simple unenriched walls, consisting of window bays separated by a vertical flat pilaster type projection running the full height of the building, creating a feeling of verticality. Granite steps and cheek walls lead to the main entry. Original bronze light standards sit on the on the granite cheek walls. The three main entry doorways are arched with large ornamental brass grilles filing out the limestone arches. The limestone arches have molded imposts and carved cartouches at the keystone. Within the the slightly projecting bays flanking the main entries are deep ornamental niches at the first floor level. The pilasters support a unembellished entablature across the entire elevation. A limestone balustrade sits above a bracketed denticulate cornice. The limestone clad third floor level is set back and is not easily visible. The pompeian Red Mission tile roof is visible from the street. The east elevation is the original, 1912, main entry. Nine bays are delineated by rounded Corinthian pilasters with terra cotta capitals. All first floor windows are set within arched openings. The second floor windows are set within limestone surrounds and ornamented by bracketed balconies with limestone balusters. The entablature on the east elevation exhibits the words "UNITED STATES POST OFFICE" carved above the main entry. The cornice, balustrade, and third floor level are the same here as on the south elevation with the entry that is similar to the main entry on the south. The west elevation was built in 1932 when the west extension was added. It caries through the Beaux Arts style. The interior of the building features three reconstructed original courtrooms. The second floor courtroom is a reconstruction of the original 1912 courtroom with its barrel vaulted ceiling and free-standing pilasters. The sixth floor courtroom retains many original features, however, its ceiling was restored and even enhanced by executing original 1932 plans which had never been fully implemented. Perhaps the most striking area of the building is the main lobby on the first floor. The lobby runs the entire east-west length of the building and connects to a short north-south corridor at the east side which was the original 1912 lobby. Combining elements of the three periods of construction, the lobby was restored to its original appearance in 1992. The lobby exhibits ceramic tile floors with marble wainscot and pilasters, and an elaborate painted, stenciled ceiling which had been obscured over the years.

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The United States Post Office and Court House in Oklahoma City is significant because it is an early symbol of the Federal presence in the state of Oklahoma, and because it is representative of the Beaux Arts style of architecture. It was also the first monumental structure in the city and continues to be a strong visual, architectural element in the downtown area. The building reflects three periods of construction. The original structure was completed in 1912. It was a U-shaped building with the main entry on the east at Robinson Street (currently). In 1919 an addition extended the building to the west. The addition reoriented the main entrance to the south on Dean H. McGee Avenue, where it currently remains. In 1932 a three-story addition at Harvey Street completed the west facade. Also in that year a nine-story Art Deco styled tower was added at the center of the older structure over the 1919 portion of the building. The Modernistic style was a departure from the original Beaux Arts design.

The original portion of the United States Post Office and Court House was constructed in 1912, only five years after Oklahoma was admitted to the Union. It was the first Federal building to be constructed in the new state. It originally served as a Post Office and Court House. Many Federal agencies have been housed in this structure. Significant cases have been tried here, such as the Urschel kidnapping trial which resulted in life imprisonment for James "Machine Gun" Kelley; and the McLaurin v. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education case which helped desegregate graduate schools in the 1940s. The Postal Service moved out in 1966, and the building has continued to serve as a courthouse. At the present time, the building only functions as a courthouse with related offices.

The original structure (1912 and 1919) is an excellent example of the Beaux Arts style, with its pilasters, arched openings and symmetrical plan. The Beaux Arts style reached its zenith between 1890 and 1915 and many Federal buildings of the period exhibited this style. The 1919 addition carefully reflects the original design elements. The 1932 nine-story tower, is an example of the Art Deco architectural style. The Art Deco style is perhaps best characterized by verticality and rectilinear ornamentation. Exhibiting chevron and zig-zag motifs, the 1932 tower is a good representation of the Art Deco style.

This building was part of a geographically contiguous three-building Federal complex, consisting of the original Post Office and Court House, a 1959 Court House building and the high rise, Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. In April 1995, a terrorist bomb exploded in the complex at the Murrah Building, causing the destruction of the Murrah building with great loss of life, and injury. There was damage to the Post Office and Court House building , primarily from the concussion of the blast, especially in the tower area which projects above the roofline of the 1959 Court House.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1912 1912 Original Construction Taylor, James Knox