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United States Bullion Depository
The United States Bullion Depository at the Fort Knox Military Reservation was built by the Treasury Department to house a major portion of the nation’s gold reserves. “As safe as Fort Knox,” has entered American slang to signify security (to the ultimate degree) of any person, place, or thing. The architect of record is Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, but Kentucky architect Henry Lawrence Casner most likely designed the stone-clad fortress. Not only was he was an expert in poured concrete Art Deco buildings, but state law required that a state-licensed architect be in charge of all federal projects in Kentucky. The cost of the 1936 building was $560,000.
Constructed of monolithic poured concrete, the Depository is famously secure. Newspapers announced that 4,200 cubic yards of concrete were poured over 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel that was so tightly coiled it was impossible to insert one’s hands between the layers. Due to its classified status there are no photographs or plans of the building interior, but it was described in government publications as having been designed for maximum internal visibility, with a corridor ringing the interior wall and an observation deck between the vault and the interior roof. The vault roof is independent of the building roof. The vault door, the exact materials of which are kept secret, is reported to weigh over 20 tons.
The Depository sits on a low knoll and is approached via centrally placed steps that lead first to a terrace and then another set of steps. The entire structure is set on a low podium sheathed in gray granite. The above ground portion of the Depository is a fortress like block measuring 105 x 121 x 42 feet; the second story is recessed. Despite the building’s severe restraint, it has moments of Art Deco elegance. The corners of the Depository are chamfered and the entire building is capped by a low, stepped pyramidal roof. The behemoth concrete structure is clad in gray granite and the rectilinear door and window surrounds are recessed. Polished black granite is used for both the base trim and the main portal surround. A wide band of polished black marble frames the portal, with the words “United States Depository” inscribed in gold. The golden seal of the Department of the Treasury rests at the top of the entry door.
To either side of the portal are three large, rectangular windows; the level above has five windows. There are six symmetrically placed windows on the shorter sides of the building, with four windows on the second floor. There are two doors on the rear of the building large enough for vehicular traffic to bring in bullion and supplies. Octagonal guard boxes stand at the building’s four corners while similar sentry boxes are positioned to either side of the main gate. A narrow band of Greek fretwork is carved into the granite over the windows of these sentry boxes.
The Depository is under the supervision of the Director of the United States Mint, which operates under the United States Department of the Treasury. It is not accessible to the public and may not be photographed.
Gebhard, David. The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Short, C.W., and R. Stanley-Brown. Public Buildings: a survey of architecture of projects constructed by federal and other governmental bodies between the years 1933 and 1939 with the assistance of the Public Works Administration. Washington, D.C: Public Works Administration: United States Government Printing Office, 1939.
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