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Originally published Friday, September 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

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Site of Seattle's federal courthouse, ca. 1939

Local architects and contractors could have used such a federal plum during the Great Depression, but it was not to be.

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The Seattle Times Historical Archive is a searchable database of Seattle Times newspapers from 1900 through 1984. The archive reveals pages as they were originally published, with stories, photos and advertising.

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IN ITS APRIL 22, 1940, edition, The Seattle Times feature "Strolling Around the Town" visited the work on Seattle's new U.S. District Courthouse. The writer described the workmen pouring concrete for the elevator's penthouse 12 stories above the street. There, they "paused, mopped their brows and surveyed the flag they had hoisted on a temporary pole." It was the informal "topping off" of the U.S. Justice Department's modern addition to Seattle.

The feds' modern box is covered for the most part in terra cotta tiles with a reflecting color that the contractor, N.P. Severin of Chicago, described as light peach-bloom. The austere structure's ornamental and color choices were, of course, its architect's, Louis A. Simon, who, like the $3 million that paid for our first modern box, came to us from the other Washington.

Local architects and contractors could have used such a federal plum during the Great Depression, but it was not to be.

The federal funding was announced in the summer of 1936, and groundbreaking began in the summer of 1939 when U.S. District Judge John C. Bowen, shovel in hand, decided to "start the dirt flying." Work went fast, and by late October of 1940, the FBI and many other federal workers were ready to move in.

City Light was soon shamed into clearing the block of its weathered utility poles, which were described as "a 'disgrace' to the sightlines of the new building." The earnest fuss over the new courthouse was also expressed on the front lawn. The Times strolled by again in the summer of 1941 and described what is still, 70 years later, an inviting green expanse as "stuffed with red-white-and-blue shields upon which appeared the words: 'U.S. PROPERTY KEEP OFF THE GRASS.' "

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