US Post Office & Court House (49)
501 Main Street
The planning for a new post office and courthouse began in 1925, when it became apparent that the 1870s post office and its annex, built in 1910, were inadequate to serve the needs of the growing city. In the late 1920s, the federal government appropriated millions of dollars for the construction of public buildings throughout the United States. Existing buildings, including magnificent private residences, were razed before construction began.
Many architects’ pick as Knoxville’s prettiest building, the 1932 courthouse is often mistakenly assumed to be a New Deal project. In 1930, Knoxville architects Baumann and Baumann were selected to design the building. Construction began in 1932 and finished in 1934. This Art Deco building cost $1 million to construct at the height of the Depression.
It was built of Tennessee marble, its distinctive pink hue is most evident on rainy days. The stylized eagles that adorn the pediment were carved by Albert Milani, an Italian immigrant who worked at Candoro Marble Company and was Knoxville’s best-known sculptor of the 20th century.
It was primarily a central postal facility with rooms on the basement level for the administration offices. The first floor was the main post office lobby with service windows, 1,500 bronze mailboxes, and a mail-sorting facility. The second floor includes an elaborate courtroom, used for many high-profile federal cases involving everything from bootlegging to civil rights, now employed by the state supreme court. The building served as Knoxville’s main post office until the 1980s and still houses the downtown branch.
The post-office lawn provided a setting for an amusing scene in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Suttree, set around 1950. The nomadic “Goat Man” is grazing his goats on the lawn. When a policeman attempts to intervene, the Goat Man professes to be unable to control his flock.