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How to Use the Images


Inquiry Question

Historical Context



Photo 2
Photo 3
Photo 4
Photo 5
Photo 6


Table of

Visual Evidence

Photo 1: U.S. Courthouse, Custom House and Post Office (now Pioneer Courthouse), Portland, Oregon, ca. 1877

[Illustration 1] with link to larger version of photo.
(General Services Administration)

This image was taken from the five-story tower of Portland’s first high school about two years after the federal building’s completion. When the government purchased land for the new federal building in 1869, citizens criticized the site because it was several blocks from what was then the commercial center of Portland on the banks of the Willamette River. However, when fires destroyed areas of the downtown in 1872 and 1873, businesses began relocating away from the river, and thus closer to the site of the federal building. 

As shown here, the original building (before the 1903-5 expansion) measures 118 feet by 66 feet and features a rectangular plan with a symmetrical exterior. The building is wood frame construction faced with sandstone. Each facade of the Italianate structure has a projecting central bay topped by a classical pediment (triangular section formed by a low-pitched gable roof). Pilasters (flat columns attached to a wall) line the second and third stories of the exterior. An octagonal wood cupola (small dome-shaped structure) with arched windows crowns the roof. Later additions increased the size of the building, but closely followed the original style.

Questions for Photo 1

1. Study the photograph carefully. How would you describe Portland during this time period?

2. Why was the location criticized at first? Why did the commercial center of town shift by the time the courthouse was completed?

3. What does the photo indicate about the importance of the new federal building? Based on the written description, try to identify some of the building’s architectural features. Click here for a drawing to help you identify architectural features.

4. What functions were housed in the building when it first opened? (Refer to Reading 2 if necessary.)

* The image on this screen may print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Photo 1.



Comments or Questions

National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.