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Medford federal building, built amid controversy, celebrates centennial

May 12, 2016
Medford US courthouse 2016 b

The use of non-local bricks created controversy during the construction of the federal courthouse in Medford.

by Rebecca Nielsen, Historic Preservation Program Specialist

One hundred years ago this month, May 8, 1916 to be exact, the Medford Federal Building opened to rave reviews. The Medford Mail Tribune called it “substantial,” “modern,” and “very attractive.” The $110,000 brick American Renaissance Revival style building housed the post office (it moved out in the 1960s), a courtroom, legal offices and chambers, and an office for Crater Lake National Park.

Three days short of its centennial last week the public celebrated the milestone with a noontime courtroom ceremony, speakers and an open house.

There were controversies over building a federal building in Medford. Post office receipts confirmed the city’s rapid growth. Once the funds were appropriated by Congress in 1910, location was a big issue. Residents speculated on which side of the river the government would build. There were complaints during construction about the bricklayers waking people too early, the bricks not being local yellow Willamina bricks, and the stone coming from Auburn, Wash., instead of Oregon. (The original design called for terra cotta instead of stone.)

“Few cities of the size of Medford have a more imposing federal building,” the local paper boasted (although Pendleton had a federal building of the same design completed a few months after Medford). Medford US courthouse 1939

In 1939, an addition to the back of the building was added. It doubled the size of the symmetrical plan with arched windows and stone balustrade and cornice and it cost $230,000.

Today’s building, renamed the James A. Redden U.S. Courthouse in 1997, retains most of its original exterior, and inside you can view the original courtroom. Another historic feature is the recently restored original woodwork and original terrazzo flooring that can be found on the second floor.

For more information visit the website of GSA’s Center for Historic Buildings

Rebecca Nielsen is a historic preservation program specialist with the US General Services Administration.

Medford US courthouse 2016

The U.S. federal building in Medford in 2016.

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