Coeur d'Alene Federal Building - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Posted by: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
N 47° 40.474 W 116° 46.860
11T E 516438 N 5280154
Quick Description: Historic federal building in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Location: Idaho, United States
Date Posted: 10/9/2007 7:15:29 PM
Waymark Code: WM2C2E
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member deano1943
Views: 175

Long Description:
The Federal Building is a prominent building in Coeur d'Alene, a city located in the north Idaho panhandle on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene. This area is rich in history and it represents the major themes of western settlement in Idaho. Missionary activity began when Jesuit priests arrived in the Coeur d'Alene area in the 1840s, founding the Mission of the Sacred Heart. They were followed by Mormon farmers in the 1850s. The Nez Pierce Indians were subdued through treaties in the 1860s, and subsequently through battles in the 1870s. The town of Coeur d'Alene was first known in the 1880s as Fort Sherman, a military camp established for protecting farmers and miners from further Indian uprisings.

For the next twenty years, until railroads connected Coeur d'Alene to Spokane and Minneapolis in the late 1890s, the panhandle region was relatively isolated. Coeur d'Alene was incorporated in 1906 as a city of "the second class". This action represented the tremendous growth in the city and throughout Idaho. The state's population grew from 7,453 voters in the territory in 1863, to 17,804 in 1870, and 161,772 in 1900. It subsequently doubled between 1900 and 1912. During this same time (1900-1912), the population in Coeur d'Alene, the state's third largest city, increased from 588 to 7,201. (The national average growth rate during this period was 82.7 percent.)

Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County's economy in the early 1900s was based on an expanding lumber industry and irrigated agriculture. It prospered until 1920. By this time, the city had become a distribution center with two state (later federal) road systems. Four railway lines entered the city, including the electric Interurban which carried passengers and mail between Spokane. A steamer line also operated, providing marine mail service to St. Joe at the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Major industries grew to include transportation, recreation, and government. Because of the city's prominence in the panhandle, Coeur d'Alene was selected in 1911 as the site for a new federal courthouse to serve the new judicial district which encompassed Idaho's three northern panhandle counties--Shohone, Bonner and Kootenai.


In February 1911, a local newspaper reported that Congressman Hammar had successfully introduced a House bill creating the new federal judicial district. The Senate passed the bill in 1910. A federal allocation for the new courthouse of $100,000 was granted executive approval when President William Taft signed the bill on February 23, 1911. Nearly a year later, on February 5, 1912 the site of the Federal Building was acquired for $13,200.

However prestigious were the plans for the Federal Building, they appear to have been secondary to other local concerns. Headline subjects in Coeur d'Alene's newspaper from 1911-1912 included the construction of a new depot for the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad; plans for the new city hall and a municipal water system; corruption regarding street and utility construction bids; statewide prohibition efforts of anti-saloon forces; national questions regarding Arizona and New Mexico statehood; and increased pre-war tensions in Europe in 1912 after Italy declared war on Turkey. The unexpected death of Idaho's powerful Senator, W. B. Heyburn, occurred in late October of 1912. This event may have effected the state's political standing in securing additional construction funds for the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building. During World War I the federal government suspended all building appropriations. The plans for the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building as well as all other federal construction projects were postponed. The delay of federal projects led to an era dating from the late 1920s to World War II when two federal buildings, including the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building, and fourteen post offices where constructed in Idaho.

The program for the Coeur d'Alene building was not resumed until the late-1920s. Even at this time local news accounts of the building's construction appear minor. Concerns of local citizens were predominately economic. Unlike most of the country, which began suffering the Great Depression with the market crash of 1929, Idaho's economy began to suffer in 1920. Regional economic problems were caused by increased land and equipment prices, and declining agriculture sales and profits. This agricultural depression effected all parts of the state's economy. (In 1920, 27 banks in Idaho went bankrupt.) This state wide depression lasted through World War II. During this period in the state's history, federal construction and building projects--including those of the WPA, CCC, and National Park Service--began to take on significance because of their effect on the state's economy, as well as its architectural heritage.


The architect for the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building is not indicated in available resources. Because of the construction date it is assumed that the design is attributed to the Department of the Treasury's Superintendent of Buildings, Louis A. Simon. Regardless of the individual designer within the Department, the plans for the building reflect an interest by federal architects in using classicism as the dominant federal style. According to the architectural assessment of Jennifer Atteberry in "Building Idaho," the U.S. Department of the Treasury began using standardized plans for post offices "in an effort to save architectural cost and to categorize the building needs by size of community. Partly as a result of this scheme and partly as a result of the depression, buildings constructed for the small communities in states like Idaho were plainer than their counterparts elsewhere."

From 1915 to 1930 the Department of Treasury implemented policies to standardize public building plans with four classifications of character. The Coeur d'Alene Federal Building was designed as a Class III. This class was characterized as having brick veneer with terra cotta or stone trim, fireproof floors, wood windows and doors, and limited use of marble or more expensive finishes. Ornament was simple and limited to public spaces. The resulting building design is described as "Adamesque". This style, a revival of late Georgian classicism, was initated by two English architects--Robert Adam and Sir William Chambers--in the mid and late eighteenth century. It was based on Palladian principals of proportion, and introduced a sense of grandeur to British (and later American) architecture. The Adamesque style is characterized by use of pilasters, pediments, symmetrical compositions of Palladian windows and segmentel fan-light transoms, refined (smooth rather than rusticated) quoining, decorative friezes and panels, a prominent use of brick and stone, and decorative cast iron metalwork. Building interiors typically featured plaster walls and classically detailed plaster ceilings and trim. The building elements of the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building suggest a simple, commercial interpretation of the late Georgian style. At the time of construction, a local newspaper described its exterior of "vart-colored brick...and stone and terra cotta trimmings" as presenting "a very pleasing effect to the eye."

Because of the state's unusual geography, the historical architectural context of Coeur d'Alene extended thirty miles west, to Spokane and the state of Washington. Prominent architects working in Coeur d'Alene in the early twentieth century included local practitioner George T. Williams, architect for the Coeur d'Alene City Hall (1907) and the Masonic Temple (1909); Preusse and Zittel, Spokane architects and designers of the Kootenai County Courthouse (1925); Spokane architects Lewis R. Stritesky and Francis P. Rooney, designers of St. Thomas Church in Coeur d'Alene (1911); and Kirtland Cutter, reknown throughout the Northwest for his eclectic Craftsman styled residences, and rustic park designs such as Yellowstone Lodge.

Architectural trends in Idaho have been characterized as including a use of indigenous building materials, and a design aesthetic of plainness and spaciousness, austerity and pragmatism. The simplified neo-Classicism of the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building fits well within this aesthetic context.


W. D. Lovell of Minneapolis initially was declared the general contractor after submitting a bid of $190,000 in 1927. However, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, the work began in August of 1927 with L. L. Welch of Welch and Fritz of San Diego as the general contractor. Construction costs were estimated as $266,000 in October, 1927. Construction took approximately fifteen months and was completed by the end of 1928.

Upon completion the building housed a variety of federal agencies. Original building tenants, in addition to Coeur d'Alene's Main Post Office and the federal courts, included the U.S. Forestry Service and the Bureau of Entomology, and the federal land office.


Because of its architectural qualities and association with politics and government, the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 16, 1977. It is one of only two individually listed federal buildings in Idaho; the other is the Pocatello Federal Building which is no longer in the General Service Administration's inventory. Five individual post office buildings are also listed in the Register, and ten others in a multiple property nomination. The Bonner's Ferry Post Office is one of these ten. It is a Classic Revival building similar in scale and detail to the Coeur d'Alene Federal Building. It too was designed by Louis S. Simon and constructed in 1938.

The Coeur d'Alene Federal Building was the subject of more recent history in September, 1986 when a bomb was planted outside the building by members of the right wing terrorist group, Aryan Nation. The explosion, however, did little damage to the building." ~ GSA website
Street address:
4th and Lakeside
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

County / Borough / Parish: Kootenai County

Year listed: 1977

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Architecture/Engineering

Periods of significance: 1925-1949

Historic function: Government

Current function: Government

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Privately owned?: Not Listed

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

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