by Tom Castaldi
The E. Ross Adair Federal Building became a reality when the Indiana Legislature appealed to Congress in 1873 for the establishment of a federal courthouse and post office to be located in Fort Wayne. Walpole Colerick, Congressman from Fort Wayne, championed the request and at first could only secure an approval for the U.S. District Court to hold two terms here. Court business was held in existing city and county facilities. Finally, in 1882, Colerick succeeded in securing the funds to purchase land and a year after the southeast corner of Berry and Clinton was purchased as a building site.
Lawyer and judge Robert Lowry next entered Congress and was finally able to obtain approval for the funds to construct a federal building in Fort Wayne. William Moellering, general contractor for the federal courthouse and post office, brought the project in for $6000 under the original estimate of $221,000.
|c. early 1950s|
It was a noble looking structure made of Michigan bluff sandstone and included a bastion tower with a turret that soared 115 feet above the street. The Postal Service occupied the 1st floor, since there was but one U.S. District Court for all of Indiana and that was located in Indianapolis, a court room with its solid cherry benches and tables occupied the 2nd floor along with other federal agencies. The first federal court proceeding was held in Fort Wayne in 1903.
The federal court in Fort Wayne conducted business in two terms during 1922. By 1928 the federal court in Indiana was divided into two districts. The Northern District was divided into three divisions with courts sitting in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Hammond, with Lafayette becoming a sub division in 1954.
United States Courthouse
A U.S. Courthouse came about as population grew and Fort Wayne needed a new space. During the Hoover presidency, Congress passed the Public Buildings Act of 1926, which made possible the purchase of land. Architect Guy Mahurin was selected to design the building and was aided by Benjamin Morris of New York on the plans for the new federal building. Morris previously had designed the Lincoln Life Building located immediately across the street. Ralph Sollitt & Sons, a South Bend, Indiana firm, was named General Contractor in 1931.
Guy Mahurin, mindful of cost concerns, found that the project came in lower than expected. He upgraded his design to include the plaza that graces the front of the building and added marble floors. The exterior features quarried Bedford stone while the interior of the three-story structure is a celebration of art in stone and aluminum. The lobby walls are St. Venetian Golden Vein marble with molded door and window surrounds and fluted pilasters. Mahurin designed the 2nd floor courtroom to be luxurious yet deliberately lacking in extravagant ornamentation. He meant it to impress one with its apparent dignity and reflect the majesty of the law. Over the years, the interior space has been renovated to accommodate different needs. On the third floor were the offices of the IRS, the weather bureau and the petit jury room with its access from the 2nd floor courtroom.
In 1980 the post office moved into new quarters on South Clinton and in 1980 the General Services Administration acquired the building and re-designated it in 1985 as “Federal Building, United States Courthouse.” Remodeling was necessary to serve the requirements of a federal court, with an eye on maintaining its architectural grandeur and integrity. A two year long, $7 million renovation took place in the mid 1980s. The architectural firm of SchenkelShultz took on the imposing project with Hagerman Construction as the general contractor. On October 28, 1988, a renovated structure was rededicated to the public.
On June 30, 1999, the Fort Wayne Federal Building was renamed to honor E. Ross Adair who served twenty years as Indiana’s Fourth District Congressman and Ambassador to Ethiopia. The name was officially changed to the E. Ross Adair Federal Building and United States Courthouse. A ceremony was held on October 27, 2000 to commemorate the renaming of the Fort Wayne Federal Building .
As a part of a 75 year celebration, the Honorable William C. Lee authored a well illustrated and informative book to commemorate the occasion titled, Fort Wayne Architectural Landmark.
Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail” – January 2009 No. 51Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi and retired Essex Vice President, hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM, and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM.