Woodbury County Courthouse
620 Douglas Street
Sioux City, Iowa 51101
Open to the public during normal business hours.
William L. Steele, 1915-18
Purcell & Elmslie, Associated Architects
Alfonso Ianelli, sculptor
John Norton, muralist
Paul D. Cook, structural engineer
B.A. Broom, mechanical engineer
Without a doubt, the grandest Prairie School building ever built. William LaBarthe Steele, who had worked in Sullivan’s office, felt the need of assistance in carrying out this commission, and called on fellow Sullivan alumni Purcell and Elmslie. The Courthouse occupies one quarter of a city block, and its form illustrates the program of the building: the lower part is devoted to the court rooms and offices visited by the public, while the tower is given over to private offices for county employees.
The exterior is an expansion on the post-and-lintel design of Purcell & Elmslie’s Merchants Bank of Winona. Constructed of Roman brick with granite sills and trim, it incorporates two large scuptural groupings by Alfonso Ianelli, who had been recommended to Purcell by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. The interior is a stunning symphony of ornament, in which Elmslie takes on Beaux Arts classicism on its own terms. The entire tower is supported by four groupings of three columns at each corner. An art glass dome crowns the public space; natural light is admitted through windows at the base of the tower. By contrast to the rotunda, the court rooms are sober and business-like.
One of the groupings of columns under a corner of the tower.
Part of the terra cotta ornament that frames the art glass dome.
A small column in the stairwell that supports the balcony.
A view from the balcony showing terra cotta ornament, tile and tile mosaic.
The clock, located on the eastern balcony. The words in the mural on either side are part of the Iowa State Motto: "Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain."
Mosaics surrounding a fountain. Not functioning at the time of this photo, the fountain has more recently been filled with small rock, the sort one would find in an aquarium.
This historic postcard image courtesy of Phillip Pecord.
Placed in the National Register of Historic Places, 1973;
Declared a National Historic Landmark, 1996.
• Brooks, H. Allen. The Prairie Style: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978, p. 11
• Gebhard, David, and Mansheim, Gerald: Buildings of Iowa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 500-01.
• Larson, et al. Prairie School Architecture in Minnesota Iowa Wisconsin. St.Paul, Minn.:Minnesota Museum of Art, 1982, p. 11
• Wilson, Richard Guy, and Robinson, Sidney K. The Prairie School in Iowa. Ames, Iowa: The Iowa State University Press, 1977, p. 122-25.
Image of exterior courtesy of the Iowa Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, via Iowa State University.