In 1911 the government purchased a site that was originally a sandstone hill for the location of the Bellingham Federal Building and had to excavate four feet below the sidewalk. Construction on the three-story detached building, ultimately costing $284,000 an immense amount of money for the time, began in 1912. Initially, the Post Office occupied both the building’s basement and the first floor while the second floor held a range of activities such as the U.S. District Court, Department of Justice, Customs, and the U.S. Marshall’s office. The third floor was partitioned into offices for other governmental agencies including the Mount Baker National Forest.
Architecturally, the building is of the same Second Italian Renaissance Revival style that inspired the design of Old Main for the Normal School. The Federal Building has a long list of features that are typical of the Italian Renaissance architecture. For example, it has a steel frame covered with stone masonry. Other examples include the unpolished exterior of the first floor masonry, the round arches, bas-relief medallions, carved lion’s heads on the keystones, and decorated cornices. The square hipped roof is reminiscent of an Italian piazza. The building is in excellent condition, practically unchanged.
Apparently, there was a small controversy over the Federal Building’s design and Bellingham’s postmaster, Hugh Eldridge, is believed to have made several modifications to the original concept. When the Federal Building was completed on May 1, 1913 it was thought to be the only structure of its kind in the United States with the main entrance at sidewalk level rather than at the top of a flight of stone steps. The building is still used for Federal purposes. The Post Office inhabits its original home on the first floor.
For more information see the Federal Building National Register of Historic Places Nomination.