North Dakota’s few Art Deco and Moderne courthouses are sophisticated designs and built of impressive materials. Perhaps the two finest examples are the Stark County Courthouse (SK4) in Dickinson and this impeccably preserved PWA-funded courthouse. The restrained, balanced composition has wings that project just slightly forward from the center section, Indiana limestone clads the building’s steel frame, and an array of stone, metal, wood, and marble decorates the building. Rainbow granite from St. Cloud, Minnesota, is around the entrance, which is flanked by full-height, recessed fluted pilasters topped by medallions. Aluminum embellishes the front doors, stair rails, and exterior grilles. The windows are grouped in sets of four, with carved limestone spandrels. Inside the courthouse, the corridor is sheathed with Montana travertine wainscot and has terrazzo floors, and Tennessee gray marble pilasters enrich the second floor corridor. The judge’s bench is a composite of Brazilian rosewood and rare African zebrawood inlays. Benches are African walnut with red birch inlays. When construction of the courthouse began in 1938, numerous delays in shipping the range of exotic materials held up completion until late 1940. News stories in the Grand Forks Herald proclaimed the dedication as “one of the greatest events in county history.”
The Walsh County Courthouse is a master achievement of Grand Forks architect Wells, who is known mainly for pragmatic architectural engineering work in a vein far from the lavish Art Deco styling of this elaborate courthouse. Based on this courthouse, Wells seems to have been familiar with the design tenets of the 1925 Paris Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne. Given the timing and circumstances of the Great Depression, the Walsh County Courthouse may have been his single, best opportunity to demonstrate his understanding of Art Deco themes, motifs, and materials. This monumental and formal courthouse has been exceptionally well cared for through the years.