William J. Nealon Courthouse, Scranton, PA
The William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania, houses the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and a post office. The federal judiciary was organized in 1789 and is made up of district, appeals, and supreme courts. Dating from the 1770s, the U.S. Postal Service was formally established with the 1792 Postal Act.
Scranton is the county seat of Lackawanna County. Originally named Uniontown, the community is located in the Lackawanna River Valley. The anthracite and iron industries began mining in the area by the 1810s and the city became a major industrial center. In 1850, residents renamed the town to honor industrialists George and Selden Scranton.
Scranton's first post office opened in 1811, but utilized rented space until the city's first federally owned post office building was erected in 1894. The Second Empire-style building soon proved to be too small for the city's needs, an issue compounded by the establishment of the U.S. Middle District Federal Court. Following numerous efforts to obtain funding for a new building, the federal government appropriated $2.5 million in 1926. The 1894 building was demolished in 1930. In 1929, Acting Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury James A. Wetmore and his chief of architectural design, Louis A. Simon, completed plans for a new building on the site.
With N.P. Severin Company serving as the general contractor, groundbreaking occurred on May 20, 1930. The new federal building was completed the following year at a cost of $1,004,000, with dedication ceremonies taking place on October 19, 1931. In 1981, the U.S. Postal Service sold the building to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and moved its main office to a new site, though it maintains a small branch in the building. In 1985, GSA began a $4.3 million rehabilitation of damaged historic materials such as doors, light fixtures, and interior finishes. A glass-and-steel atrium and annex were added in 1999. The annex received several awards, including a GSA Design Award Architecture Citation and a Pennsylvania AIA Merit Award.
In 1999, the building was renamed in honor of William J. Nealon, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania from 1976 to 1989. The building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The William J. Nealon Federal Building is a four-story, Art Deco-influenced Neoclassical building executed in limestone and brick with a granite base, green serpentine columns, and terracotta with polychrome accents. Characteristics of Neoclassical style include symmetry, smooth stone surfaces, and colonnades. Art Deco influences are apparent in polychrome (multicolored) ornamental details, low-relief geometrical designs, and decorative forms based on nature.
The elevations facing Washington and Linden Avenues are bilaterally symmetrical with the more ornamental Washington Avenue facade facing Courthouse Square. These elevations are sheathed in a smooth-dressed granite base up to the first story, and limestone blocks from the second to the fourth story. Most of the Washington Avenue facade is recessed at the third and fourth floors with engaged green serpentine columns highlighted by terracotta Corinthian capitals. The entire composition is topped by a polychrome terra- cotta entablature. Metal spandrel panels are below the third-story windows and marble spandrels below the fourth-story windows. Three bronze doors with bronze and cast aluminum grills comprise the entrances at Washington and Linden Avenues.
The entrances on Washington Avenue lead to the elevator lobby, which is the main entrance to the court facilities on the fourth floor. The entry on the Linden Avenue facade leads to the post office lobby on the ground floor. Historic materials include marble, bronze, clay tile, simulated stone, cast iron, oak detailing, and decorative stencils.
Two original courtrooms are on the fourth floor. Each has oak-paneled wainscoting capped by a carved frieze at door height, interrupted by windows and the wall behind the judge's bench. In Courtroom No. 1, behind the judge's bench is a curtained area with oak columns and an entablature with a mural, titled Justice with Peace and Prosperity (artist unknown), installed soon after the building was completed. In Courtroom No. 2, there is a marble panel with bronze grill trim and a drapery surround behind the judge's bench. The plaster ceilings feature a plaster cornice and plaster bands dividing the ceiling into nine panels.
Built in 1999, the annex is a four-story, steel-reinforced masonry building with a facade clad in limestone to match the historic courthouse building. Designed by the architecture and planning firm, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the annex fronts on Washington Avenue. Although its restrained design features no overt references to the classical detailing of the 1931 building, its materials and proportions are similar. The facade is divided into upper and lower halves, but in lieu of a colonnade, the upper half is embellished by a row of large, deeply set windows.
The annex includes two new courtrooms on the fourth floor, and space for additional courtrooms on the second floor. The courtrooms are notable for their spatial design. Each courtroom is organized along an implied axis connecting the jury deliberation room, judge's bench, courtroom entrance, and major features in the public atrium. Fully accessible witness and jury boxes are set to one side. Clerestory windows above the jury box introduce daylight into the courtrooms.
A glass-and-steel atrium connects the 1931 building to the 1999 annex. The atrium is highlighted by an art glass installation by artist Paul Housberg, which was commissioned under GSA's Art in Architecture program. The program empowers the nation's leading artists to create new works of art for federal buildings. The artist worked with GSA staff, project architects, and the community to create artwork integrated into the building's design. Housberg's colored glass wall, entitled Lightfall, consists of backlit twelve-inch by twenty-inch glass blocks.
1930-1931: Building constructed
1981: GSA purchases building from U.S. Postal Service and begins restoration
1999: New atrium and annex constructed
1999: Building renamed in honor of Judge William J. Nealon
Location: 235 North Washington Avenue
Architects: James A. Wetmore; Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Construction Dates: 1930-1931; 1999
Architectural Style: Neoclassical with Art Deco influences; Contemporary (annex)
Landmark Status: Eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places
Primary Materials: Limestone, brick, terracotta, and granite; steel and glass atrium
Prominent Features: Green serpentine stone columns; Decorative terracotta trim with polychrome detailing; Original bronze, marble, and iron interior finishes; Atrium art glass installation
The Scranton Federal Building and Courthouse consists of the original four story building completed in 1931 with the adjacent Annex completed in 1999. The original building is an Art Deco-influenced Classical design executed in limestone and brick with a granite base, green serpentine columns, and terra cotta with polychrome accents. The more ornamented primary façade on North Washington Avenue faces Courthouse square. The original entrance on this facade leads to the elevator lobby, which was originally the main public entrance to the court facilities on the fourth floor. An additional entrance now faces Courthouse square at the adjacent Annex addition. Both the original and Annex entrances lead to the Annex Atrium, through which the public now accesses the fourth floor courtrooms. The side elevation of the original building on Linden Street provides the main entrance to the postal lobby on the ground floor. Interior materials of the original building include marble, bronze, clay tile, simulated stone, cast iron, oak detailing and decorative stencils. Much of the ground floor lobbies are completely intact. The upper floor corridors, judges’ chambers and courtrooms are largely intact, with the exception primarily of courtroom reconfigurations to reorient entrances to the Annex as well as ceiling modifications to accommodate sprinkler, mechanical and lighting systems.
The William J. Nealon Annex was added adjacent to the original building to the southwest. Its architects were Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. The primary façade of the Annex faces North Washington Avenue. According to Ray Foote of GSA the Annex was constructed between 1996 and 1999; the interior of the original building was renovated from 1999 to 2001. Included in the renovation were new lighting systems in the courtrooms, entrances to probation, private corridors were made public, carpets were installed, hardware renovated, and woodwork refinished.
As part of the Annex, a large atrium of metal and glass is located adjacent to the original structure. The metal and glass atrium separates the original building from the main stone and brick mass of the Annex. The atrium is now the primary entrance and circulation core; the original historic exterior elevations facing the atrium are now therefore interior elevations. Openings at these elevations have been modified at some locations to provide access to courtrooms and other spaces from the Annex.
The Scranton Federal Building and Courthouse is significant as a large Federal project built at the high point of Scranton's growth and economic and regional significance prior to the Depression, World War II, and changes in regional transportation systems. It is part of a group of civic and commercial buildings in an historic district centered around the Lackawanna Courthouse on Scranton's public square. Most of these buildings were constructed during the period from the 1880's to the 1930's, the period of Scranton's greatest significance. The Federal Building was completed in 1931. Its architect was James A. Wetmore of the U.S. Treasury, but the building's design indicates the influence of Louis A. Simon, his assistant and a highly regarded designer. The building has retained the historic appearance of its three elevations that front on public rights of way: the primary façade which formerly was the historic courthouse entrance along North Washington Avenue; the side street elevation along Linden Street which serves the Post Office lobby; and the back alley elevation along Forest Court with its loading and service function entrances to the historic building. An annex was constructed to the southwest of the historic courthouse in 1999.