Architect: Arnold W. Brunner
1905 - 1910
View of Cleveland’s Post Office, Custom House,
and Court House from Public Square, c. 1912

Cleveland Federal Building (1910)

The U.S. Post Office, Custom House, and Court House was the first to be built within the Cleveland Group Plan and occupied one of the city’s most prominent locations, fronting on both the grand mall and Public Square. The acceptance of the Group Plan, however, had necessitated some changes to the building’s design. Originally, the mall side of the structure had bordered an insignificant street. The mall’s creation mandated that a far more significant edifice face the great plaza. Brunner had also been confronted with the divergent requirements of designing both a monumental court house and a practical office building in a single structure. His final design effectively balanced the building’s primary functions, while providing efficient accommodation for lesser departments of the federal government.

The three-and-one-half ton cornerstone was laid on May 20, 1905. It was a day of great civic pride, filled with parades and speeches. Congressman Theodore E. Burton, who in 1912 would sit on the Senate panel investigating the loss of the Titanic, was the keynote speaker. He was extremely popular and well respected among his constituents, and had been instrumental in acquiring congressional support for the project. The granite structure, built at a cost of $3.3 million, was formally dedicated on March 20, 1911.

The building is neoclassic in character. The middle three stories are decorated with colonnades of Corinthian columns which sit above a massive rusticated base incorporating arched windows and entrances whose keystones are adorned with sculptured heads. On the east and west sides, the colonnades become pilasters with the same Corinthian capitals. A fifth floor is concealed behind a monumental balustrade which surmounts all four facades.

Jurisprudence Commerce

The exterior decoration includes two free-standing sculptures by Daniel Chester French located at ground level on the Superior Avenue side. One of the allegorical groupings, entitled “Jurisprudence,” represents the protection provided by the law. The central figure of the other grouping, “Commerce,” is a woman holding a ship and resting her arm on a globe. She is flanked by figures symbolizing “Electricity” and “Steam.” While French is probably best known for his seated figure of Lincoln in the Henry Bacon-designed Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he is also remembered as the sculptor of the 1913 Butt-Millet Memorial Fountain near the south lawn of the White House.

In 1910, the post office occupied the Federal Building’s entire first floor. The outer lobby was decorated in a warm gray Botticino marble, with beautifully marked columns. The elevator doors and post office screens were ornately treated in bronze, and a rich, dull red Levanto marble was used as an accent throughout. The offices of the Postmaster, the Assistant Postmaster and Cashier were located on the floor above and connected with the main floor by private elevators and stairways.

The third floor was devoted entirely to the district and circuit courts. The two large, lavishly decorated courtrooms were graced by large murals painted by Edwin Blashfield and H. Siddons Mowbray. The remainder of the structure was devoted to general office space and finished in a more utilitarian manner. Brunner did choose for some of the more significant offices, however, to create distinguished rooms with more elaborate finishes. In many cases they were decorated with murals chosen specifically to complement the rooms they occupied, such as the mural of “Commerce Paying Tribute to the City of Cleveland” by Kenyon Cox in the office of the Collector of the Port, and Frank Milletís “Mail Delivery” series in the Postmasterís office.

Courtroom, c. 1911 First floor outer lobby Appraiser’s office, c. 1911
Directory uncovered during renovation Lobby, c. 1911 Renovated lobby
Next: Millet’s “Mail Delivery” Murals

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