Architecture and Design

Why focus on historic border inspection stations?

Historic U.S. border inspection stations were a breakthrough in the way border stations and customs houses were planned, designed, and built. They represent an important and distinguishable group of property types related by function, location, chronological era, and design characteristics. Common design elements drew from three basic plans that varied according to the specific size and function of the station. These plans resulted from recommendations by the experts from the Customs and Immigration Bureaus who toured the country, talking to working customs and immigration agents about what they needed to best do their jobs. These stations were built as part of an unprecedented federal construction program that put many Americans back to work in the depths of the Depression, and saw the creation of some of the country's most iconic buildings.

The 48 stations built between 1931 and 1943 were data- and purpose-driven, standardized to meet immigration and customs agents' needs. But they were far from anonymous boxes. Whenever possible, a border inspection station design reflected regional culture and American values. Car culture had transformed the American experience. Where once immigrants might have first seen the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from a boat, immigrants traveling by car often had their first glimpse of America at a border inspection station.

Border Station Design Background

Example of a Type 3 border stations building, Noyes MN
This is an example of a Type 3 border inspection station building, designed for high levels of traffic and activity.
Estimated total cost: $78,000

Border inspection stations were developed and designed by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, either James Wetmore (tenure: 1915-1933) or Louis A. Simon (tenure: 1933-1939), depending on the construction date.

The Treasury Department's designs for individual stations often reflected the region and climate where they were located. Many incorporated architectural styles reflecting the country’s diverse heritage, including Spanish Colonial Revival and Pueblo Revival in the Southwest, Log Cabin in the Northwest, and Georgian or Colonial Revival in the Northeast.

Last Reviewed: 2019-02-26