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BUILDING JUSTICE: FEDERAL COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTURE IN THE AMERICAN WEST

    

In the American West, where settlement was often hasty and erratic, many of the earliest federal courts had to be housed in rented facilities or in hurriedly built, low-cost structures.

            On the East Coast, where towns and cities had been founded before the federal court system was established, it was relatively simple to determine where to locate the courthouses. In the West, however, communities vied fiercely with each other for the construction of federal buildings, which would lend an air of prosperity and indicate that their surroundings were not mere boom towns, but permanent seats of industry and commerce. Many cities lobbied Congress for appropriations for federal buildings, and Tucson actually purchased and donated the site for its federal courthouse.

            While local and state government buildings were often designed by regionally based architects, from the 1830s to the 1940s most federal structures were designed by architects in the Department of the Treasury. Civic leaders often fought for the inclusion of local detail and the use of local building materials in federal courthouse construction. But the new communities of the West usually accepted the federal architect's design, because the consistency of styles clearly announced the federal presence in the struggling new cities.

 

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