AKA: William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: Underwood, Gilbert Stanley, Architect (firm); United States Government, Department of the Treasury, Office of the Supervising Architect, Simon, Louis A. (firm); Louis Adolphe Simon (architect); Gilbert Stanley Underwood (architect)

Dates: constructed 1939-1940

10 stories

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1010 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104-1195

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According to the Government Services Administration (GSA), this was the "first single-purpose federal courthouse in the western United States." It originally provided space for federal law enforcement and judicial employees. Some of the departments included the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Secret Service, and the Department of the Treasury's Alcohol Tax Unit, and two court offices, those for the clerk and probation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit began using this building in 1972.

Building History

Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood (1890-1961) consulted for the US Department of the Treasury on Federal government buildings during the 1930s, including post offices in San Francisco, Burbank, Los Angeles and Seattle, courthouses in Los Angeles and Seattle, the US Department of State Building, Washington, DC, and Timberline Lodge in OR. The Seattle courthouse possessed a sober but Modern appearance, symmetrical and geometrical, reflective of Classical precedents as well as contemporary, Art Deco office towers. Its main exterior elevation abstracted the base, column and entablature of a classical temple, communicating a message of monumentality to contemporaries accustomed to Beaux-Arts Classicism. Particularly in its stark fenestration, its design presaged Post-Modern office towers of the 1980s.

Underwood's ten-story building occupied the site of the first Providence Hospital in Seattle, WA, which operated here from 1882 until 1911. The new building provided the US government the opportunity to consolidate dispersed Seattle offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Alcohol Tax Unit, Clerk's Office, Probation Office, and Secret Service. It fulfilled government needs until the mid-1990s, when the courts using the facility outgrew their allotted spaces. At that time, a new courthouse was planned for a site at 700 Stewart Street which was completed in 2004.

An historian writing for the GSA indicated that the Supervising Architect for the Department of the Treasury, Louis A. Simon, (1867-1958), also may have had input on the final design. This writer stated: "The building's final plans were likely approved by Supervising Architect of the Treasury Louis A. Simon, who in the 1930s went to Europe to study emerging Modern design techniques with a goal of incorporating them into new federal architecture. This experience shaped the use of modernized Classicism on hundreds of federal buildings with designs Simon oversaw in the 1930s and 1940s." (See General Services Administration.gov, “William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse, Seattle, WA: Building History,” accessed 09/29/2020.)

The building was renamed the William Kenzo Nakamura United States Courthouse in 2000, for a Seattle soldier, William Kenzo Nakamura (1922-1944) born to Japanese parents, who died in World War II, and was awarded theMedal of Honor posthumously. According to the General Services Administration, Nakamura, whose family was held at the Minidoka Internment camp during World War II, joined the Army during the war, and was "...killed near Castellina Italy on July 4, 1944, while singlehandedly protecting his platoon by his own initiative." (See General Services Administration.gov, “William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse, Seattle, WA: Building History,” accessed 09/29/2020.)

Nakamura joined the US Army in 07/1943, and became part of the all Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team that saw action at Cassino, Anzio and Civitavecchia (among other ferocious battles) during the Allies' 1944 invasion of Italy. Priscilla Long, writing for HistoryLink.org stated: "He enlisted in the army and became a member of what would become one of the most highly decorated regiments in U.S. history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 34th 'Red Bull' Division, U.S. 5th Army. He was the first Army volunteer from Minidoka Relocation Center to be killed in action. On July 4, 1944, Nakamura's platoon was caught in intense machine gun fire from a German machine gun unit. Nakamura crawled by himself toward the fire, throwing hand grenades. His action halted the fire long enough for his platoon to escape. Nakamura himself escaped injury, only to die later the same day, when again he approached machine-gun fire in order to draw it away from his comrades." (See Priscilla Long, HistoryLink.org, "William Kenzo Nakamura receives posthumous Medal of Honor for World War II heroism in ceremony on June 21, 2000," published 08/18/2000, accessed 09/29/2020.)

Nakamura and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team have become legendary for their selflessness, bravery and effectiveness during the battles of liberation in Italy and France during 1944 and 1945. The newspaper of the Japanese-American internees at Manzanar, CA, carried an article discussing a presidential unit citation bestowed on the 442nd's 100th Infantry Battalion: "Fortitude and intrepidity displayed by the officers and men of the 100th Infantry Battalion reflect the finest tradition of the Army of the United States,’ read the presidential citation awarded to the Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion in a War Department release of August 10.” (See LIbrary of Congress.gov, “100th Display Finest Traditions of Army,” Manzanar [CA] Free Press, vol. 6, no. 18, 08/26/1944, p. 1.)

Building Notes

This courthouse was completed in 08/1940, at a price of $1,707,000. By contrast, the second Federal courthouse in Seattle cost $156 million in 2004.

National Register ID Number: 80004003; GSA Building Number: WA0035ZZ.


This reinforced concrete building underwent renovations in 1983-1984 and 2006-2009. In the earlier restoration effort, government contractors replaced worn interior surfaces and improved energy efficiency by removing the original steel windows and installing newer, more thermally insulative ones. The GSA said of this 1980s work: "The interior of the building was renovated in 1983-1984, when the original steel windows were replaced. The public elevator lobbies and major courtrooms retain their original finishes and locations, although interior corridors and office spaces are altered. In 1985, GSA's Art in Architecture program commissioned two oil-on-canvas paintings titled The Effects of Good and Bad Government from artist Caleb Ives Bach." (See General Services Administration.gov, “William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse, Seattle, WA: Building History,” accessed 09/29/2020.)

The US District Court for the Western District of Washington moved out of the building and into its own Stewart Street tower in 2004. This freed up considerable room in Nakamura Building, enabling its spaces to be thoroughly reapportioned and for the wholesale changes to HVAC systems. The Western District Court's departure also allowed for further updating of interior finishes and large-scale improvements achieving greater seismic resilience and energy-efficiency: "A new, secured, underground facility was added and the building was upgraded to meet current seismic standards. The renovation received LEED certification for design, energy efficient building systems, reuse and recycling of existing materials and other measures." (See General Services Administration.gov, “William Kenzo Nakamura U.S. Courthouse, Seattle, WA: Building History,” accessed 09/29/2020.) Work on the building's foundations killed two birds with one stone, providing added security for the garage in the post-September 11, 2001 world and enabling the incorporation of new seismic techniques.

The building contractor for the 2006-2009 renovation Mortenson Construction, said of this project: "The Nakamura Federal Courthouse is a 12-story, facility built in 1939. It is the home of U.S. District Courts, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Marshall Service for the Seattle District. The project included preconstruction and construction services for a complete seismic upgrade; all new building systems; historic rehabilitation of the five courtrooms, law library and judges’ chambers; and tenant improvements for the lower three floors. In February 2008, the GSA added to the project’s scope to include complete restoration of each courtroom’s historic woodwork and benches, extensive lighting revisions, and a tax court build-out. In addition, a new 15,000 SF security entrance pavilion was built underground in front of the existing facility. Construction of the new pavilion required the lowering of the existing building core, including foundations. Unique features of the building include restoration craftsmanship of existing historical finishes and black walnut woodwork throughout the building. The flooring in each courtroom is comprised of a custom-made cork material from Portugal. In addition, each judge chamber differs, as the finishes were personally handpicked by its judge." (See Mortenson.com, “William Kenzo Nakamura Federal Courthouse Renovation,” accessed 09/29/2020.)

National Register of Historic Places (1980-01-08): 80004003 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 2953