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.
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.
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.
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.
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.