GSA’s Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse, an Important Early Chapter in Historic Preservation

New Haven Courthouse Then.
Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse in New Haven Connecticut then.

In the 1960s, the New Haven Redevelopment Agency announced plans to demolish buildings located on the east side of the nationally significant New Haven Green and replace them with a modern office tower.  One of these buildings was the elegant marble post office, designed by prominent architect James Gamble Rogers as a direct result of the City Beautiful movement.  The federal building’s importance was reflected in its 1914 cornerstone laying ceremony, at which President Taft gave the keynote address, and a copper box containing pictures of the historic buildings surrounding the green was placed in the cornerstone.  When the building was completed in 1919, Architectural Record wrote, “Its elegance and repose, due to careful proportioning and to extreme restraint in the scheme of architectural embellishment, endow it with a distinction adequate to its purpose and clearly express the dignity and grandeur appropriate to a public building.”

 Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut today.
Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut today.

A half century later, when urban renewal plans called for the building’s destruction, federal judges and citizens joined together to advocate for its preservation.   The proposed federal center design was ultimately abandoned and the government approved funds to restore the historic neoclassical structure.  In 1979, GSA acquired the building and three years later began its rehabilitation for the federal judiciary. It was rededicated in 1985, and continues to serve as the Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse.