AKA: United States Government, Federal Office Building #1, Downtown, Seattle, WA; United States Government, Department of Justice, Federal Courts, Courthouse #1, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - social and civic buildings

Designers: Megrath and Duhamel, General Contractors (firm); United States Government, Department of the Treasury, Office of the Supervising Architect, Taylor, James Knox (firm); Edward J. Duhamel (building contractor); John Megrath (building contractor); James Knox Taylor (architect)

Dates: constructed 1906-1909

3 stories

view all images ( of 5 shown)

301 Union Street
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
The US Government Courthouse, Custom House and Post Office stood on the southeast corner of Union Street and 3rd Avenue


Following a period of rapid economic growth during the 1897-1900 period, Seattle became a significant port for goods being transported to California, Asia and Alaska. This new multipurpose Federal office building reflected the city's increased status as a regional center, and underscored the growth of the national government and its many bureaus and departments,

Building History

The Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury Department, James Knox Taylor (1857-1929), designed this grand, Beaux-Arts Style block for use by the Federal government. It combined various functions into one building, including a US courthouse, custom house and post office. Taylor laid the building out in a U-shape, around a central courtyard facing away from 3rd Avenue. The courtyard enabled daylighting of most offices in the building.

The selection of a site for a US government office building or large facility has often pitted powerful land-owning interests against one another. In the early 1900s, the Federal government was seeking to building this consolidated facility in a part of the downtown that was up and coming commercially, not languishing. An article published in a 1955 issue of the Seattle Sunday Times reviewed the site selection process for the new Federal office building and post office. It was written by C.T. Conover, one of the partners in the real estate firm Crawford and Conover, who won the prize of selling the parcel to the US Treasury Department: "The period from 1900 to 1910 witnessed the greatest growth and expansion of any decade in Seattle's history, inaugurated by the fabulous discover of gold in the Northland. Heretofore the postoffice had been shuttled around from place to place in rented quarters. But Seattle had outgrown her swaddling clothes and in 1901 the United States Treasury Department called for a combined federal building and postoffice. Twn or twelve sites were submitted, including the site of the old Yesler mansion, where the County-City Building now stands, then owned by ex-United States Senator John L. Wilson, who controlled The Post-Intelligencer; Jacob Furth, Seattle's leading banker; Maurice McMicken, a prominent attorney, and others. Crawford and Conover submitted for $174,500 the southeast corner of Third Avenue and Union Street, a collection of properties owned by Julius Redelsheimer, James A. Panting and a third party whose name I do not recall. Months passed without a decision. Finally we had a tip that our site was favored but its selection was jeopardized by the powerful political influences interested in the Yesler site. Lyman J. Gage, one of the outstanding bankers of the period, was then secretary of the Treasury. He certainly would be receptive to a message from Seattle bankers and that day we sent him the following telegram signed by every bank president in the city except Furth, who, of course, was not approached. 'We understand that an uptown site, excellent now and ideal for the future, has been selected for the federal building and postoffice and that the decision is jeopardized by political influences interested in a downtown site. Seattle asks decision on merits and is confident you will make it.' The next day came official acceptance of our site. Came also a bitter blast of rage and disappointment against our firm in the Post-Intelligencer. The sweetness of victory, however, neutralized for us the bitterness of the attack. This selection vastly stimulated the city's northward trend. Frederick & Nelson moved up and many other mercantile and banking interests followed suit. Incidentally, the steps leading up to the entrances of the postoffice were necessitated by the regrading of Third Avenue after the Postoffice was built." (See C.T. Conover, "Postoffice Moves Uptown," Seattle Sunday Times Magazine, 09/30/1951, p. 8.) Conover provided vivid testimony of how influential the construction of the US Government Courthouse, Custom House and Post Office was in stimulating commercial development downtown well to the north of Pioneer Square.

Building Notes

This Federal office building displayed the usual heavy, permanent, templar facade, associated with important commercial and official buildings. It reflected period tastes for Beaux-Arts Classicism. Many large Federal buildings and central post offices built between 1900-1920 had similar characteristics: massive, rectangular forms, cut stone facades, colonnades, balustrades and flat roofs. This building occupied a site with a slight slope descending from east to west. The west, main facade faced 3rd Avenue, its entrance placed centrally and composition divided into bays by engaged Corinthian columns. Two pairs of thick pilasters terminated the colonnade on each end. The Union Street facade had a similar rhythm of pilasters stretching its width.

The exterior was clad in Tenino sandstone quarried by the Hercules Sandstone Company in Tenino, WA. (See "Quarrymen Fight Jones' Claim To Senate," Seattle Sunday Times, 08/23/1908, p. 10.)


The first Federal Building in Seattle, WA, stood on the southeast corner of Union Street and 3rd Avenue, two buildings west of the White-Henry-Stuart Buildings. A new US Post Office replaced this grand Beaux-Arts building in 1959.

PCAD id: 11762