The Theodore Levin United States Courthouse (also known as the Detroit Federal Building) is a large high-rise courthouse and office building located at 231 West Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Detroit, Michigan. The structure occupies an entire block, girdled by Shelby Street (east), Washington Boulevard (west), West Fort Street (south), and West Lafayette Boulevard (north). The building is named after the late Theodore Levin, a lawyer and United States District Court judge.
Construction began in 1932 and finished in 1934. It stands at 10 stories in height, with its top floor at 50 metres (150 feet) from the first floor entrance, with the roof being 56.1 metres, or 184 feet (56 m) in height from the top of the roof to the streets below. The building was designed in the Art Deco and art moderne styles of architecture, incorporating granite and limestone into the structure. The main façade is limestone, above a polished black stone.
Inside the building, there is an open-center court above the second floor. The building contains relief sculptures of eagles and emblems above the entrance, which symbolize the building's governmental function (as a courthouse).
The seventh floor contains the lavishly decorated, Romanesque style Chief Judge's Courtroom, one of the building's most notable features. At the request of Chief Judge Arthur Tuttle, the courtroom from the previous building (built in 1897) was disassembled and stored during construction, then reassembled in the new building.
Before the courthouse was constructed in 1932, the site was the former home of Fort Lernoult (later Fort Shelby) and the 1897 U.S. Post Office, Courthouse and Custom House. The old, original Detroit Customs House and Federal Court building was located on the northwest corner of Griswold and Larned Streets. It was a three-story Renaissance Revival style structure completed in 1861 for $162,000. The old Customs House was finally demolished in 1964, and the site is now a parking garage.
In the 1880s, plans were developed to demolish the old 1861 Customs House and construct a new and larger facility. However, public objections and ground soil conditions forced the government to select a new site. The block bounded by Lafayette Boulevard, Fort Street, Wayne Street (now Washington Boulevard) and Shelby Street, was purchased for $400,000 in 1887. Excavation for the new Post Office and Courthouse began in June 1890 and the building was occupied in late 1897. Construction costs exceeded $1,000,000. The massive rock-faced ashlar granite building was designed by Philadelphia architect James H. Windrim. A soaring clock tower with a tiled pyramid roof dominated the Fort Street facade.
Federal authorization and planning for the present building occurred during the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The Detroit Federal Building/U.S. Courthouse was designed Robert O. Derrick, under the auspices of James A. Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect for the Department of the Treasury. The building's overall impression is one of Neo-Classical Revival with Modernistic traits. Demolition of the 1897 building began in late 1931. Construction began in October 1932 and the completed building opened in April 23, 1934. The budget for construction was over $5.5 million. Parts of the remains from the 1897 Courthouse can be found in the US District Courtroom, Room 733.
The exterior of the building features several ornamental bas-relief sculptural groupings executed by noted Detroit architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. Parducci designed the sculptural panels and medallions to depict various agencies and activities of the then-current federal government.
On November 2, 1994, the U.S. Congress approved an act to designate the courthouse as the "Theodore Levin United States Courthouse". A ceremony was held in the Spring of 1995 to officially announce the designation and to present new building signs on the Lafayette Boulevard and Fort Street elevations.