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Sidney L. Christie Federal Building (U.S. Post Office and Courthouse)

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U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
1904–1907, Parker and Thomas. 1916–1919, James A. Wetmore. 1935–1937, Robert I. Willett and Meanor and Handloser. South side of 5th Ave. between 8th and 9th sts.

“We will construct buildings of the classic style of architecture, as the old Greeks and Romans did.” So decreed James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department in 1903. Coupled with the Tarsney Act, passed in 1893, which allowed federal buildings to be designed by private architecture firms selected in competition, Taylor's edict ended the Romanesque–Queen Anne hegemony that had prevailed in designs emanating from the Treasury Department.

Two West Virginia buildings, one in Wheeling (see WH17), the other in Huntington, manifested this new, double-edged architectural policy. Although designed by different architects—the Huntington building by a distinguished Baltimore firm, the Wheeling example by an equally well-regarded Washington partnership—the two buildings had similar programmatic requirements, and originally they were strikingly alike in form, size, arrangement, and detail. At Huntington, a surround almost baroque in its exuberance frames the main entrance on 9th Street. Above, the three central bays are defined by engaged Ionic columns, between which two-story arched windows light the courtroom.

The original structure consists of the five-bay 9th Street facade and the first four bays extending westward along 5th Avenue. In 1917 an addition extended the side elevation from four to eleven bays, and in 1937 a second addition gave it the present length of eighteen bays. Both additions emulated the original design. Even though from certain angles the structure appears extruded, it remains a grand architectural expression of the majesty of the law as seen through early-twentieth-century American eyes. Whether the old Greeks or Romans would have recognized it is less certain. The building ceased to be used as a post office in 1977, but it remains in use as a federal courthouse and office building.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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