The Walter E. Hoffman U.S. District Courthouse is a trapezoidal-shaped building located on an irregular-shaped lot covering a two-city block area. The building is four stories in height,plus a basement. The primary (west) elevation fronts directly onto Granby Street and is 311 feet wide. The north elevation, facing Brambleton Avenue, is 218 feet wide. The south elevation, facing Bute Street, is the smallest side at 140 feet wide, and the east elevation, facing Monticello Avenue, is the longest at 321 feet wide.
The building illustrates many significant characteristics of the Art Deco style that were popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Its streamlined, elegant, and rectilinear designs and polished materials are mixed with simplified classical features that are typical of government buildings of this period.
The stepped-back, simplified ziggurat massing of the building establishes a long east-west horizontal axis with smaller, vertical axes at the main and secondary entrances. The second through fourth stories are stepped back from the partially basement and first story. The exterior walls terminate with a decorative parapet at both the first story and roof. The form and massing combined with two types of carved ornament also serve to distinguish the separate services of post office and courthouse.
All of the exterior elevations of the building are clad in light gray limestone wall panels set above a substantial base of polished black granite, approximately seven feet in height. Ordered fenestration, typically paired one-over-one aluminum-framed windows, organizes all facades. At the basement level, the original paired metal windows with metal louvers provide natural light and ventilation.
The building's main entrance is located on the west elevation, with three secondary entrances (now fire exits) on the west and east elevations. The full-height main entrance bay projects beyond the main facade and extends to the penthouse level on the roof. The secondary entrances are alike in design, and rise three stories in height. The architectural features at these entrances are similar to the main entrance, but are smaller in scale and simpler in decoration. All of the entrances feature simple aluminum-framed plate glass doors with brass hardware in a distinctive Art Deco design.
On the north elevation, the first and last bays project as one-story wings. The original loading dock platform and canopy for the postal area, located between the one-story wings, was removed in 1985. The area was infilled using replicated materials, features, and design motifs from adjoining facades: carved stone banding, aluminum double-hung windows, and polished black granite base. A new ramp with polished black granite walls has been installed to provide barrier-free access to the building. The upper part of the north elevation is flanked on either end by two full-height limestone-clad towers that handle furnace exhaust.
An interior court originally featured three skylights which provided natural light to the first floor postal workroom below. These have been removed and the openings infilled with a flat roof slab. These skylights were originally designed to provide natural light to the first floor postal workroom.
Since the postal function was removed in 1983, the building functions only as a courthouse, with several of the historic courtrooms largely intact on the third floor. Although additional courtrooms have been added, all have been executed with a high level of craftsmanship, featuring solid wood full-height paneling and carved wood details. Many secondary spaces throughout the building have been rehabilitated and renovated over the years, but were carefully fitted with replications of the original wood details: solid wood base, chairrail, window sills and stools, door casings, and paneled doors. In many cases the original materials were cleaned or refinished and reinstalled. In many of the secondary spaces and hallways, modern dropped ceilings and fluorescent lighting have been added, concealing the original plaster ceiling.
The first and third floors are historically the most elaborate with a lavish application of marbles, terrazzo, and ornamental cast aluminum finishes. The first floor L-shaped Main Lobby features full-height marble wall panels in a "crotch mahogany" or butterfly pattern. The marble floor is presented in a herringbone design with alternating tones of pink and rose marble, edged with a green marble border. Three of the six original oblong writing tables, made of marble and cast aluminum, remain in the north/south portion of the Main Lobby.
The original main courtroom on the third floor (USDC Courtroom #1), and adjoining Courtroom Lobby and Judge's Chambers, are equally lavish. Cream-colored mansota marble lines the walls of the Courtroom Lobby; the Main Courtroom, largely intact, features a mansota marble wainscot and classically detailed acoustic stone walls and pilasters.
The original, utilitarian postal workroom and offices on the first and second floors have been carefully rehabilitated for judicial offices and courtrooms. The basement houses the major machinery and provides storage space. The building has been adapted for barrier-free use and dead-end corridors were eliminated to comply with fire codes.
The organization of the site and its landscape treatment is typical of freestanding urban buildings. The building is approached from Granby Street, with reserved parking on the Bute Street and Brambleton Avenue sides. The building retains its original pink granite curbs and steps. The landscaping has been confined to a narrow strip between the building and the sidewalk on the east and west elevations. Minimal plantings remain on the south elevation, originally designed as an open grass panel surrounded by an oval grove walk and a ring of plantings.