A Poem in Marble, a Place on the Map: Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, Colorado


[Music] [Music] – >>It was in terrible shape.
It has been abused, misused, it just, it was a tragedy. >>That they gutted entirely the Circuit Court of Appeals courtroom,
tore the marble out, ruined it. >>In our historic courtroom, the post office had hung a floor, had poked holes in the ceiling and hung a floor
so they actually made a two-story level. >>On those circular panels, it was red, white, and blue. It looked a little like a birthday cake. >>The big, generous hallways that were 20-30 feet wide get cut down into a slimy,
little place where you walk between office boxes and cubicles, whatnot. Narrator: By the 1980s, the once majestic Denver Post Office and U.S. Courthouse
was the victim of three decades of crude renovations. Heartless attempts to modernize and expand,
these renovations proved as inadequate as they were destructive. >>We had outgrown the available space, the number of judges was increasing,
there were more senior judges staying active within the court and the court was looking for space. I don’t think we want to go in that building. It’s too old, it’s not really suitable as a courthouse,
let’s build us a new building. Narrator: Denver was having growing pains, again. >>Denver was founded as a flash in the pan, some golden sand was found in Cherry Creek in the South Platte
in the summer of 1858, and this gave birth to one of the great mass migrations in U.S. history. It had a quick start and then a bust. Narrator: The problem was that the railroad passed Denver by
due to what the editor of the Rocky Mountain News called a few hills west of town. Railroad engineers called it a two mile high barrier of mountains,
but Denver was desperate to be in touch. So it turned to plan “B”, the pony express. >>Now the idea was to deliver first class mail only, as quickly as possible;
you know, money, letters, important things like that. So it was done by individual horsemen, Buffalo Bill Cody was one of them;
young, slender guys who could ride fast on very fast horses. Narrator: In 1870, Denver’s dream came true.
The railroad finally arrived. Two decades later, the queen city of the plains was thriving
with a post office, a courthouse, and visions of real grandeur. >>Denver’s mayor Spear went to Chicago,
saw the world’s fair in 1893 and was impressed with how Chicago had transformed this marshy lakefront
into a city beautiful and these classical beautiful cities. Well he comes back to Denver with this vision dancing in his head,
this dream of how beautiful and wonderful cities could be and begins to transform Denver, which was a very dusty,
drab, ordinary, unplanned, kind of chaotic boomtown. Narrator: Denver’s quest was to be the center of power
in the New American West. But there was one mark of legitimacy it lacked,
a big, new Federal building. [Music] >>There was a design competition. Twelve architects competed in the competition
and Tracy Swartwout in Litchfield won the competition. Swartwout was a student of McKim, Mead and White, worked in their office in New York,
and this was their first big commission. Narrator: The Federal building, which served mainly as a post office,
but it would also contain courtrooms and other governmental offices. >>The idea, in particular of Mayor Spear in his city beautiful dream of giving it the glory that was Greece the grandeur that was Rome – right here in Denver, Colorado was a beautiful near classical building as that courthouse is,
a Greek temple made of Colorado, glistening white Colorado Yule marble. Narrator: The building’s monumental proportions and classical design
would make Denver a true outpost of Western civilization. >>This is a symbolic building not only for the United States,
but for the State of Colorado and really for the Rocky Mountain Region, because it’s one of the few neoclassical structures of such stature
in the Rocky Mountain Area. >>Ionic columns, short spans between columns, just the exuberant use of marble,
the carvings, the way the stone was incised. Everything was pretty true to what a Greek temple might have been in Athens. Narrator: Yet it was uniquely American. – >>The column capitals incorporate eagles, the United States Capitol
and other symbols of our American justice system. >>There is a list of other post offices where the letters
that began here would be sent across the country. It also includes some Latin inscriptions, quotations from original Roman Laws
and various invitations to sit and rest for a while, but not to rest for too long. – >>Denver is always noted for the Rocky Mountains and the wildlife and the
outdoor activities for Colorado and along the side entrances to the facility, we have marble sculptures of the big horn sheep
that are known throughout the Rocky Mountains. >>They were commissioned in 1936. They were commissioned by a lady named Gladys Fisher,
a Denver native who was prominent in local sculpture during the ’30s. >>The white marble that’s been quarried out of Marble, Colorado, has also been known for its popularity with a lot of sculptors from the past
and some of the more notable items that have been, the Lincoln Memorial and also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. – Narrator: The interior of the building featured four principle spaces,
the Post Office lobby, the District Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Law library. >>The first floor lobby was originally the main Post Office for Denver, and in honor of the history of the Postal Service,
they carved the names of various Pony Express riders in the wall. Narrator: Finally, Denver had its place on the national map.
Now it needed to prove it was world class. [Music] Narrator: By the late 1950s, the court had grown and times had changed. Building residents needed more office space and other modern amenities. A heavy handed remodeling project ravaged the building,
but by the 1980s, even that wasn’t enough. >>The building was obviously inadequate for the court as it was growing
and the Byron Rogers, as it came to be called, courthouse was built, which came online in 1965, later in the year,
and we all moved to that building. Narrator: In 1973, the old Denver Post Office and U.S. Courthouse
was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was listed as a Denver landmark in 1974, but its fate remained uncertain. In 1988, the General Services Administration acquired the derelict building,
with a goal of restoring it to serve the needs of a 21st century judiciary. >>The commitment of GSA to that kind of historic preservation
really speaks volumes about the commitment of government, generally, to remembering our historic links and how powerful they are
as reminders of who we are today. >>The GSA requested qualifications from architects
and based on that they held interviews. Narrator: The winner was Denver’s own Michael Barber Architecture. At $28 million, the renovation would be both cost effective
and sensitive to the building’s architectural integrity. The price per square foot was $115, roughly half the cost for a new courthouse. >>There was a tremendous investment, at the time,
obviously $28 million seemed like an awful lot of money. As a matter of fact, at one point in the project,
we had to go back to get an additional $10 million, but I think anybody who looks at this building today knows that that was a bargain. Narrator: In 1991, the building was closed for renovations. The architects worked closely with the judges’ restoration committee.>>They spent a lot of time talking to us about what our needs were in terms of space and then they took that and interpreted it in accordance with
the history of this building in a really sensitive and great way and so when we sat down with them, we’d come for a meeting,
as I recall, they’d show us these plans and we’d say, wow! >>I changed my view altogether and got very excited about it
to the point that I had my own hardhat and I used to come over here every day, morning and evening,
to check on the progress. Narrator: The exterior was completely cleaned and the marble repaired. Fortunately the quarry that had closed after the building was first constructed
had now re-opened. >>But the big changes were on the public floors, the first and second floor,
where there was a post office, a functioning post office and that was converted into the courtrooms and the public gallery. Narrator: Five new courtrooms were created, four appellate and one district,
including the ceremonial En Banc courtroom, where all judges can sit together to decide difficult cases. >>When I became Chief Judge and walked out in the middle of that En Banc courtroom,
that was awesome. I mean that bench, as you know, is very large and the courtroom
is just a magnificent place. Narrator: The main corridor of the second floor was also restored. >>They understand, I think, almost without realizing it
that they’re in a special place doing a special thing. >>And as you go through the velvet curtains down there
and look up at the inscriptions on the walls, you think about all those who occupied those chairs before you
and the really enormous responsibility that is entrusted to us to carry forward that legacy. Narrator: An historic law library was converted into a smaller courtroom.>>This is my favorite because it’s so small and it’s intimate and when you’re sitting on the bench and the lawyers are right here,
it’s a different kind of experience than in the big courtrooms. >>When you see the decor of the books, you see the closeness of the judges
and the closeness of the attorneys – it gives you a sense that justice is being done
and the law is being followed in this courtroom. Narrator: An unusual semi-circular grand jury room overlooking the courtyard
was converted into a judge’s meeting room. All building systems were brought into compliance
with current safety and ADA accessibility standards. The emergency stairs and the sunlit law clerk’s quarters
required an especially innovative design. >>There was a lot of research projects along the way
to fit modern technology with a historic building. >>I think this building is one of the great examples of
how you can use an old building and meet new needs. We were able to completely equip it for technology
and yet keep this wonderful grandeur of an old courthouse. >>I think we are space providers, but we also have a good fortune to have
a wonderful stock or portfolio of properties and many of those are historical. We are able to maintain and manage just tremendous projects and properties. I think all of us are proud to have a property like this in our inventory, and obviously the community knows that, the industry knows that
and our customers know that. Narrator: Within GSA, the Center for Historic Buildings develops preservation policy and provides agency wide guidance
on how GSA can best preserve, modernize, and reuse the historic federal buildings in its inventory. – Narrator: On August 10th, 1994,
the courthouse was re-dedicated the Byron R. White Courthouse, in honor of the first Colorado native
ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court. A man hailed by President Kennedy as the ideal, new frontier judge. – It really does seem to me that this building
was destined to be named Justice White and that he fits the building as well as the building fits him ; but durable, tough, granite, solid, honest, no frills,
western, love of history, public service, commitment, the common man, modest. He was the most famous athlete of his time. He was on the cover of Time Magazine and Life and was an All American. He went on to become a Rhodes Scholar and then he went to the war, and like everything else, he didn’t just go to the war,
he showed that courage and that exceptional devotion to duty. Then he went to law school, and once again, he didn’t just go to law school,
he graduated first in his class, on the Law Review, at Yale, he at the same time was playing professional football,
and not just playing professional football, but he was drafted #1 and Justice White is the only justice ever to be elected to the
Pro Football Hall of Fame, the only justice ever to have played pro football, you know? Then he worked for President Kennedy in his campaign,
became the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, and then at age 43, was appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Narrator: With the renovation of the Justice Byron White Courthouse complete,
the building became as celebrated as its namesake. >>There’s been a number of awards and there’s also a regional historical society has presented awards to this facility for preserving the historic intent of the facility. >>The next project, honor award project, is also historic preservation restoration,
the Byron White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, Colorado. >>The highest award that this facility has achieved for design
and historical renovation was the Presidential Design Award and that was quite an honor. – >>I know that it is true that all of the court feels that this building
is the public’s building and that to the fullest extent possible, we want to make it not only open to the public, but friendly to the public. Narrator: The building also continues its legacy as the backdrop
for many important cases. >>This is a special building. I’ve been in courthouses all around the country. Many of them are very beautiful.
Many of them are very modern. But when I come home, I feel like I’m in a courthouse again. >>I watch lawyers and school children and visitors from the public
fairly closely to see what their reaction is to these rooms, because there are very few buildings left that are able to maintain
the incredible, awe inspiring atmosphere that you find in this courthouse, and whether it’s a small child or a very practiced lawyer,
they stop and they look around and there is sort of a quiet that sets in
before we go to the business of the day. >>I think with all of the aluminum and steel in downtown Denver,
it was important that we regain a sense of the past. I love this building. And I think it has helped to restore a sense of where Denver was
and how it has changed.

3 thoughts on “A Poem in Marble, a Place on the Map: Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, Colorado

  1. You may want to update the captioning: It's not the South "Plat, " it's the South "Platte."

  2. Overall, it was very nicely done. But, in addition to the error in the name of the river in Denver, there was at least one more spelling error: It's not the glory of "Greese," the name of the country is "Greece."

    One more thing is that the captions often obscured the name and title of the people who were being interviewed.

    This is such a nice presentation – I hope you can correct these problems.

  3. Thank you for catching the typos. We have corrected them and reloaded. Glad you enjoyed the video.

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