Joseph F. Weis Jr. United States Courthouse
The federal building that sits on downtown Pittsburgh’s Grant Street still serves as the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. However, its postal services have since relocated. The massive Stripped Classical building opened in 1934 and occupies an entire city block. The staid and stable design came from the architectural firm of Trowbridge and Livingston which created a building befitting the federal government. It is part of the larger Pittsburgh Central Downtown Historic District, which was created in 1985, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Backstory and Context
As the 1920s progressed and the population of the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County continued to grow, it became readily apparent that the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania, which had been created in 1818, required a new and more modern home. As a result, Pittsburgh native and Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, lobbied for the new courthouse to be built in his hometown. Once the U.S. government decided to build a new federal courthouse in Pittsburgh, it also made the decision to combine it with a large U.S. postal distribution center. Construction on the new courthouse and postal center began in 1931, shortly after the onset of the Great Depression. However, a labor dispute soon thereafter delayed construction, which resumed in June of 1932. The building was completed in 1934 and the first court session was gaveled on November 7 of that year.
Under the control of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department, James Wetmore, the architectural firm of Trowbridge and Livingston built the steel, granite and limestone structure over a set of railroad tracks to expedite mail distribution. The building was divided into two distinct sections, the four-story postal facility and the 11-floor U.S. Courthouse. Their design is intentionally devoid of any unnecessary ornamentation as they adhered to the “form follows function” school of architecture. The exterior features arched entryways with large, sculpted eagles above each, as well as arched windows and bronze and aluminum were used in the doors and window frames.
Inside, the two-story Grant Street lobby was constructed with pink Alabama marble, floors of gray marble and still contains its original, custom glass light fixtures. The courthouse houses five ceremonial, two-story courtrooms on the 6th and 8th floors that feature wood paneled walls, decorative plaster ceilings and ornamental lighting. They also contained Depression Era murals by artists Howard Norton Cook, Stuyvesant van Veen and Kindred McLeary. However, the McLeary piece, entitled “Modern Justice” has been either stolen or misplaced. New works of art have since been added by artists Brian Shure and Lia Cook.
The postal facility ended its distribution operations in 1983 and the building was acquired by the federal government’s General Services Administration the following year. It maintained a post office until services were gradually phased out by 2014. The building underwent a major renovation in 2002-2003 when existing courtrooms were modernized and six new courtrooms and judge’s chambers were added. The exterior was also cleaned of decades of soot and the masonry joints were repointed. The building was renamed the Joseph F. Weis Jr. United States Courthouse to honor Pittsburgh native and decorated World War II veteran, Joseph Weis, in 2105.
"U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Pittsburgh, PA." General Services Administration. Accessed July 27, 2017. https://www.gsa.gov/portal/ext/html/site/hb/category/25431/actionParameter/exploreByBuilding/buildin...#
Bowling, Brain. "Federal courthouse in Pittsburgh to be renamed after late judge." Pittsburgh Tribune Review. November 18, 2015. Accessed August 3, 2017. http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/9379589-74/weis-federal-courthouse
Ove, Torsten. "Post office in federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh will close tomorrow." Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 14, 2014. Accessed August 3, 2017. http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2014/02/14/Post-office-in-federal-courthouse-in-Downtown-Pi...