Robert S. Vance Federal Building

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The 5th Avenue façade of the Federal Courthouse Building in August 2008
Courtroom Interior at the Robert S. Vance Federal Building in November 2013

The Robert Smith Vance Federal Building and United States Courthouse, occupying half of a block at 1800 5th Avenue North was originally the main U. S. Post Office for Birmingham. It was designed in the Classical Revival style by the U. S. Treasury Department architectural staff under James A. Wetmore, and dedicated in 1921. Built to a 1916 design, the construction was delayed by World War I. The ornamentation of the building is much simpler than the Beaux-Arts style common before 1920 and served as a precursor to the austere Federal style of the 1930s.

This white Georgia marble building with its long Ionic colonnade was the fifth location of Birmingham's main post office. The 174,000-square-foot size of the building anticipated the needs of the rapidly growing city and reflects the foresight of Oscar Underwood who guided appropriations for the construction through congress. Since its opening it has housed Federal courts alongside its postal operations.

A third floor was added in the 1940s. In 1954 a 14-story tower addition was proposed for construction in the rear courtyard of the building. The tower was to have featured an international-style design and was to have measured 180 feet tall, 180 feet long, and 90 feet wide.

The post office eventually moved to a new facility on the eastern side of downtown and most courts moved to the Hugo Black United States Courthouse in 1987, leaving court offices and administrators as well as suites for Alabama's United States Senators. In 1990 the building was dedicated to the memory of Circuit Court Judge Robert S. Vance who was killed by a mail bomb in December 1989.

In 2009 the General Services Administration obtained $42.5 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to renovate the courthouse building. Work included repairing and replacing windows, repairing and cleaning exterior walls, correcting drainage problems, upgrading heating and air conditioning, roof repairs or replacement and elevator upgrades.

The building's original marble and wood paneled finishes were restored, with new windows and light fixtures fabricated to match their historical counterparts. Skylights were introduced into the remaining courtrooms to allow for natural lighting. Planners expect to reduce energy and water consumption significantly and to qualify for "Silver" certification in the U. S. Green Building Council's "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" (LEED) program.


In 1926 the building housed the following offices:

  • 2-9: U.S. Civil Service
  • 15-21: U.S. Bureau of Mines
  • 23-24: U.S. Internal Revenue Agents
  • 25-26: U.S. Narcotics Agents Office
  • 29: Asset Custodian
  • 30-33: U.S. Ry M.S.
  • 38: U.S. Customs Office
  • 44: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Ind.
  • 206-208: U.S. District Judge
  • 210: U.S. District Judge's library
  • 214-218: U.S. Attorney's office
  • 219-224: U.S. Referees in Bankruptcy
  • 222: Grand Jury
  • 225-228: U.S. Referees in Bankruptcy
  • 231-233: U.S. District Courtroom
  • 234: vacant
  • 238-250: U.S. District Court clerk
  • 241: U.S. Commissioner
  • 252-265: U.S. Marshal
  • 253-257: U.S. Secret Service
  • 260: U.S. Department of Labor
  • 271-275: U.S. Deputy Prohibition Director
  • 276: U.S. Internal Revenue Collector
  • 284: Post Office Inspectors


  • Carter, Lane (December 21, 1954) "Plans for multi-story federal building presented by General Services head" The Birmingham News - via
  • Satterfield, Carolyn Green (1976) Historic Sites of Jefferson County, Alabama. Birmingham: Jefferson County Historical Commission/Gray Printing Company
  • Faulk, Kent (April 4, 2009) "Birmingham, Alabama's Robert Vance federal courthouse will get $42.5 million makeover." The Birmingham News
  • Faulk, Kent (November 22, 2012) "$40.8 million modernization project at Robert S. Vance Federal Building in Birmingham to be completed next year." The Birmingham News

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