San Diego – The new U.S. Federal Courthouse at 301 W. Broadway is nearing completion. The building was designed by Michael Palladino, a principal designer of Richard Meier & Partners, and rises 16 stories (320 feet). The building replaced the historically designated Hotel San Diego, which was built by sugar magnate John D. Spreckles, an important figure in San Diego’s history in 1914. While the Hotel San Diego had yet to be restored in the manner of other historic Broadway buildings, it nevertheless activated the street level experience with retail storefronts and a hotel lobby entrance, as well as providing affordable housing. The General Services Administration, likely constrained by security and safety requirements, ignored community pleas that the building be spared or incorporated into the new structure. The demolition of the Hotel San Diego earned the GSA an Onion Award in the San Diego Architectural Foundations 2008 annual presentation of accolades and pans (Onion = pan).
However, the GSA has its own semi-annual awards program and in 2010 honored the new court house building with its “On-the-Boards Urbanism Citation” stating “[t]he soon-to-be-completed U.S. Courthouse in San Diego, California, was sited to provide users and visitors with a large and sunlight-filled public plaza.” The $368 million building was one of 11 out of 115 GSA projects selected for recognition by a jury of “nine highly regarded professionals from the private sector, with New York-based architect Billie Tsien chairing the group.” (See also R. Showley, Coming federal courthouse wins design award, UT San Diego 1/22/2011)
While its overall form is attractive if not stunning, it remains to be seen how it will translate at the street level. The building presents a narrow street front profile at Broadway where previously existed a full block of retail space. Will the public plaza offset the loss of retail storefront activity to create a pleasant pedestrian experience? The West end of Broadway suffers from a dirth of retail but not public plazas (101 W. Broadway, existing Federal Building plaza, and a new Horton Plaza Park in 2014). While courthouse buildings are obviously more limited than mixed use buildings in what can be done to enliven their street front, by comparison, the relatively recent-built (1996) County Hall of Justice across the street (330 W. Broadway), presents the pedestrian with wide column lined steps and an outdoor seating area for its food court (no pun intended – see photo below). It thus rather artfully maximizes activity at the street front given its single use purpose. (See photo below)
Renderings from GSA (public domain as per U.S. government source)
Photos by Author