Sunday, April 11, 2010

Los Angeles Federal Courthouse

312 North Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

The Los Angeles Federal Courthouse was built between 1937 and 1940. Gilbert Stanley Underwood was the architect of the building. He received a B.A. in 1920 from Yale and in 1923 he earned his M.A. from Harvard. He worked for Union Pacific Railroad building train stations such as Union Station in Omaha. Although he was best known for his National Park Lodges, Underwood designed the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, Bryce and Zion Canyon lodges as well as Grand Canyon Lodge among my others. In 1932 he joined the Federal Architects Project or FAP. He designed over 20 post offices, some of which are part of this project, two federal buildings including the L.A. Courthouse, and a building for the State Department. In the late 40’s he retired yet went on to design Jackson Lodge in Wyoming. Gilbert S. Underwood had set the theme for National Park lodges around the United States. He used natural materials and Native American themes to build rustic lodges that reflected the national park in which they were located. The WPA continued to use his motifs in their projects for the national parks as well.

Prior to the L.A. Federal Courthouse that exists today, two others were built, one from 1889-92 and the other from 1906-10. The rapid expansion of Los Angeles in the early 20th century made it necessary to build a third courthouse that could accommodate the courts and federal agencies. When it was built, the courthouse was designed to house a U.S. Post Office as well as the court. The courthouse was built in a mix of Moderne, and Art Deco styles. The simple, terra-cotta veneer finish to the exterior of the building is Moderne but its clean and sharp edges, along with stepped levels, were common among buildings in the1930’s a common example of the Art Deco Style is the Empire State building.

Much of the art in the courthouse is themed with either justice and government or the history of the Los Angeles area. Archibald Garner made a sculpture of "Law" in the lobby of the courthouse. She is sculpted from limestone and was posed holding a tablet that reads “No law is stronger than is the public sentiment where it is to be enforced –Abraham Lincoln” She is standing across from another sculpture of Abraham Lincoln as a young man. James L. Hansen carved Lincoln. Both sculptures were done in a slightly stylized form fitting the themes in the architecture of the building. One the exterior of the building there are two large emblems of eagles what were cast from Henry Lion’s carvings. They were created 1938 after the building was finished and added to the front on either side of the bank of doors. Henry Lion was a native Californian born in Fresno in 1900. He lived in L.A. worked on many public projects in bronze or stone.

There were three murals that were painted in the courthouse. Edward Biberman painted one of the murals. It depicted Native American Life and Spanish rule of the Los Angeles area. This mural was restored after it was removed from the courthouse but was returned once the restoration was finished. Another artist Lucien Labaudt painted two murals in the courthouse “life on the Old Spanish American Ranchos” painted in 1938 and “Aerodynamism” in 1941. Both murals were also removed and have since been returned to the building in 1993 after restoration.

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