Tales from the 10th

How the Court Enlisted Congress to Secure Its Home in the Byron White Courthouse

November 02, 2021 Tina Howell Season 2022 Episode 2
Tales from the 10th
How the Court Enlisted Congress to Secure Its Home in the Byron White Courthouse
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode, the Honorable Judge Bobby R. Baldock shares the story of the Byron White Courthouse in downtown Denver, home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Learn about how the Court enlisted Congress to secure the space and undertook a remarkable renovation. 

Please note :
After the initial recording of this episode, Judge Baldock desired to clarify three points for our listeners: 

  1. The year construction of the Byron White Courthouse was completed was 1916
  2. Senator Stevens was from Alaska not Arizona
  3. The special bench desired for the remodel of the historical courtroom was found within the Ninth Circuit Court in Montana

The two brochures Judge Baldock talked about are locate here:
Byron White United State Courthouse Brochure 1
Byron White United State Courthouse Brochure 2

Visit the Historical Society Website for more information.


Leah C. Schwartz, Judge Bobby R. Baldock, Tina Howell


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  00:00

I'm Judge Bobby Baldock, and you're listening to the Tales from the 10th.


Leah C. Schwartz  00:07

Hello, and welcome to Tales from the 10th, a podcast about the rich history, culture and contributions of the 10th Circuit Courts. I'm your host, Leah Schwartz, a Wyoming lawyer, and former 10th circuit law clerk.

Tina Howell:
And I'm producer Tina Howell, the Emerging Technologies Librarian and for the 10th Circuit.

Leah C. Schwartz
On today's episode, we'll be hearing the story of the Byron White Courthouse in Denver, home to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. An impressive building in its own right listed on the National Register for Historic Places, the Courthouse also serves as the backdrop for many of the tails on this podcast, making it the perfect subject for this first episode. And as we'll hear the Judges had to fight for this courthouse knocking heads along the way, not only with the General Services Administration, but also the Post Office. We are so fortunate to have Judge Bobby Baldock joining us today to share this story. Without further delay, here's Judge Bobby Baldock on the fight for the Byron White courthouse.  

For those who have maybe never had a chance to visit the actual building, can you describe the physical space? Maybe maybe starting with where the building is located in Denver?

Judge Bobby R. Baldock  01:20

Yes, the building takes up a whole city block, its address is 1823. Stout Street. The construction of that building started in 1910. I believe it wasn't finished in 1960. So that building is truly a rock. I mean, it's it's there and it's there to stay. The outside facade is the Roman type columns. And let me read to you, TJ O'Donnell said This building belongs to the type of architect which might be called Roman, adopted in the practical, which has stood the test of time, it is stated that there are to be no more of them. I hope that this is not true. Because I believe that this great nation of ours can afford to appeal to the imagination of its people. And that such structures as this, arouse and prove a continuing stimulus to virtue that's signed by TJ O'Donnell, February the 21st 1916. It also has a list because it was a post office, the Pony Express riders. It is made out of marble, and it's Colorado marble, the same marble that was used, I believe, in the Lincoln Memorial. And it's beautiful.


Leah C. Schwartz  02:46

I remember as a law clerk going in feeling a mix of awe and intimidation a little bit. What's the feeling you get Judge when you go into the building?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  02:57

The same every time I go into that building. I can say it's a marvelous building. It's a great home for the Tenth Circuit. And I take a great deal of pride and thanking the the taxpayers and Congress for giving us that home. But I too Leah, I feel the intimidation and awe every time I go into that building.


Leah C. Schwartz  03:21

I'm glad it's not just me. Judge you mentioned that the building I think was constructed in 1910. And it had to have stood out a little bit at that time. It stands out today. But even more so then. Why do you think the folks living in Denver in the early 1900s wanted to see a structure of this size and scale and grandeur in the middle of downtown Denver?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  03:48

Denver was growing leaps and bounds because of the history of the minerals that were found there. Or gold and silver, the growth of the city, they needed a post office, when they built that post office it was by itself. There weren't big buildings around it. And I mean it stuck out and it was a beautiful post office because that's what it was. And it was downtown centrally located so that all the the businesspeople mail was easily retrieved. You just have to see the structure and be in it and around it. To see the mass of the building the facade. It's beautiful.


Leah C. Schwartz  04:32

So, you mentioned it was first used as a post office with some other federal agencies also housed there. And then it was also a courthouse early on. And if I understand my facts right, I think the Post Office ended up assuming exclusive control of the buildings sometime in the mid-1960s. How did that happen? 


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  04:54

Well, the district courthouse always stayed there in the 60s. The Tenth Circuit moved out for whatever reason; we do not know. And it began the hold court and the Byron Rogers building, which was just across the street. But that's also where the federal district court of Colorado where those courts met. So that when the Tenth Circuit had cases like every, five or six weeks, they had to do it in the courtrooms that the district courts used. And so, it put the district court out of being able to do their work in order for the Tenth Circuit to do its work. And when I came on the court, that's where we actually held our hearings. And that was the beginning of the insistence that we as the Tenth Circuit, did not have a home.


Leah C. Schwartz  05:49

We've been looking through some old Rocky Mountain News articles. One of the articles describes the Post Office's acquisition of the building as a quote unquote, divorce settlement, where, where the post office ended up owning the structure, really by it was using most of the space. But the post office didn't pay anything for the structure, which became a significant point later on, because as you're saying, the Judges are feeling the pressure of some loss of space. One of the articles has a quote by Judge Holloway saying space was at a premium. It was difficult to get arguments scheduled. How did it come to be that ultimately the building was eyed as a place the court wanted to return to? How did that come to be? And what role did you play in making that happen?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  06:49

You hit the genesis of the story then about how the building became that of the Tenth Circuit. There were four of us who came on the Court in the same year. And at that time, Judge Holloway had just taken over the Chief Judgeship from Judge Seth, Judge Tacha and I, when we came on, they didn't have any place to put us because our courtrooms were still over across the street in the Byron Rogers building. Literally, Deanell and I became suitemates, in which was not much bigger than a closet. I mean, they had a table in between us. And she said at one end, and I sat at the other, we just farmed our clerks out anywhere where they could find a place to sit. We early on became complainer's, this, and of course, Judge Seymour who had been there since 1979 I believe she was very cognizant of the fact that we had no space Judge Porfilio, he came on to the court from the district court of Colorado, and he was aware of what it meant to put the Judges in Colorado out of space while we did our work.  He knew we needed a home. The old expression, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We were the complainers and we got appointed as the committee to see what could be done. So, the head of the committee was Judge Seymour and Judge Tacha and I and Judge Porfilio became the other three members of the committee.


Leah C. Schwartz  08:24

You were called the committee of four, right?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  08:28

Yeah, some people thought we were more not better known as the committee of death. Because we, we were on a mission. That's all I can say. And so, we were asking the GSA, because we had heard that the post office was maybe going to build a new building. So, we asked, well could we have it? Well, we were told, but no, we couldn't have the building. Judge Anderson, he called Deanell one night, he told Deanell, he says, do you know what's going on in DC right now? And she said no, what's going on? And he said, Well, they're doing the markups. Possibly now would be a good time for the committee to become involved about asking Congress. Could we have that building?


Leah C. Schwartz  09:17

Just for our listeners? Can you explain Deanell is Deanell?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  09:21

Tacha, Chief, she later became Chief Judge Tacha for the Tenth Circuit. So, you got to remember that the Tenth Circuit, the six states that are in the 10th circuit, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Utah. Now at that time, our senators from our six states were probably the most powerful senators in the United States Senate at that time, had Orrin Hatch in Utah. Boren in Oklahoma, Domenici in New Mexico. Simpson in Wyoming and Armstrong in Colorado and Dole Kansas now. Well, and of course, Jeff being was the senator, the senator from New Mexico, plus, the senator from Arizona [correction: Alaska], Senator Stephen was a roommate of Chief Judge Holloway in undergrad. So, we had some pretty powerful senators in regards to that. And they learned of our plight, wanting a home. And I mean, this was done not in months or years, this was done in days. That's what amazed people like that. And the post office owned that building. So, we're going to have to take it away from them, get the AO on board, and the bill got passed, December the 11th of 1987.


Leah C. Schwartz  10:52

Because the post office didn't want to give up the building, right? 


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  10:55



Leah C. Schwartz  10:55

Even though even though they were planning to build another post office building, they wanted something for it. Do you remember what they had asked for?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  11:04

 $30 million. That's what they wanted was $30 million. Well, make a long story short, I think it ended up around $11 or 12 million, is how they resolved it and GSA just say, this is where it's going to be. Once we knew that Congress had approved that being our home through the GSA, we came back, we had to actually give them the legislation, because they wouldn't believe us that we that the building, that was our our building now through the GSA. Once we knew that it was going to be our home, they changed the name of the committee, we were then called the restoration committee. So, we no longer became the the committee to have four main guys. But we became the restoration committee, and our planning with the architect, the Michael Barber, Architecture company, Denver, they really included us. and we included ourselves in every detail of the construction and remodeling them.


Leah C. Schwartz  12:15

So, the renovation had to change this place from post office to functioning courthouse and only a courthouse is that right? Okay.


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  12:25

Behind where the post office boxes were, was just huge open space. And you can understand why the post office needed that space to be able to sort mail. So, from behind that all the way to the back wall. We designed two courtrooms, the very backside belongs to the clerk's office and all the people that work. And the ceiling of the two courtrooms were two huge college glass structures. And you got to remember, in 1910, to 19, there was no air conditioning. So, these structures were designed that you could kind of crank open. And that was how they circulated air through these big open spaces. So that people just didn't die from heat exhaustion. It never worked. But anyway, that was the design of it. Well, in our remodeling, we left them the way they were. But we used again, a tile, it would kind of be a sphere that would allow the light to come in. So that even if electricity went off the lawyers could still see, and we could still see and and listen to the overall arguments. And that again to is is just beautiful.


Leah C. Schwartz  13:41

It is, it is, and it really warms the space to and just in terms of the feeling of having that natural light in there. I'd read somewhere that I mean, there was such care taken to restore and try to replicate when restoration was wasn't possible. Everything in the building including light fixtures. I'd read that one person involved in the restoration actually found an original light fixture at a Colorado thrift shop.


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  14:14

You're right. Fortunately, we were able to gather some photos, even back at that time that we could actually see what the light fixtures look like. The story about supposedly finding that yeah, that that may have actually happened. We had to have competition because that kind of material wasn't being sold anymore in to put it pretty much back like it was, they even scraped the paint down to the original paint. And that's how the walls where we don't have wall covering, how the walls got back to the natural painting. In this building the work that went into it was originally done. For example, the Tenth Circuit court that was remodeled in in the 1920s. For the after the Tenth Circuit came into being, they had a courtroom is a huge courtroom. Well, of course in the GSA came in and put another level floor on it. And we were at court one day and they came over hurriedly to get the committee. And it scared us to death, we thought somebody had really gotten hurt or something. But when they were working on the ceiling, where they had made a false ceiling, they knocked that ceiling down around that whole room were names of law givers and the workers, they knew how much this building meant to us. You would have thought that they had discovered King Tutt’s Tomb, they were excited, elated. And the court also was given a mini library. This is on the second floor and the woodwork in it. It was done by craftsmen. I mean, truly, it was a beautiful little bitty library. I mean, the carvings are still there, they're fantastic. 


Leah C. Schwartz  16:09

Is that the room with the eagle Judge above the doors?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  16:12

Yes, that's the one which they tell the story which that when the eagle holding the the arrows and the palm, that when the Eagles head is facing toward the arrows, the United States is a time of war or conflict, when it's facing the olive branch, then it's a time of peace. And that's all hand carved, my goodness, and then the courtroom, what we call the historical courtroom, I found in Judge Seth's chambers, a picture that showed the five Judges at that time, and what that courtroom looks like. So, we were actually able to give a photo showing what the bench looks like. Our benches at the judges set behind were actually rebuilt. And we found that that bench, in I believe it was Montana used by the federal court, and we asked the Tenth Circuit [correction: Ninth Circuit], we could have it. They told us No.


Leah C. Schwartz  17:11

Sounds like this is a theme.


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  17:13

Anyway. We had the picture, and the carpenters came in and rebuilt that looks just like it.


Leah C. Schwartz  17:22

Hearing about the renovation, it strikes me that this must have been a very expensive endeavor. Do you know what the budget with the budget ultimately was?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  17:31

Yes, when they did the prospectus, we got the building back in the complete remodeling. The cost of remodeling as near as both Michael Barber and the GSA could figure it out was going to be somewhere between $28 and $32 million. The GSA just screamed and hollered about the cost of it in time, you have to remember I believe it was 1988 or 89. We had the building. We were working on remodeling; they were complaining about the costs. If you remember, there was a huge earthquake in San Francisco, highways collapse and matter of fact it was supposed to be the start of the World Series that year. I mean, it just did millions of dollars’ worth of damage to that city and to those people, but the home of the Ninth Circuit, their courthouse was in San Francisco, and that earthquake, it didn't destroy that building, it moved it kind of caddywhompus office its Foundation. And of course, they were going to put it back but then they had to comply with all the new codes and had to be built on these big springs so that the next earthquake the building would just shake but wouldn't get knocked off its foundation, the estimated cost of doing that for the Ninth Circuit was $119 million if I remember correctly, and after that, we never heard any complaints about our building only gonna cost between $28 and $30 million. 


Leah C. Schwartz  19:04

It is a good thing that an additional $30 million did not need to be paid to purchase the building before those costs were incurred.


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  19:13

That's right. Well, from memory, the estimated value of that building after what we remodel, it was in the $200 plus million dollars. If we had to replace that I bet it would be $500 million now. So...


Leah C. Schwartz  19:29

Truly a bargain really all told. And thanks to the Committee of Four because without your work, that legislation would not have come about which set the process by which the structure would be appraised, and the post office would need to honor that. Right? 


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  19:47



Leah C. Schwartz  19:48

Do you feel that there's a significance to courthouses?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  19:53

I think the answer to that is, yes and for several reasons. In years gone by courtrooms were built largely. And I can remember when I started practicing law in 1960. That was a place of people going and just I mean, they had no, what's the old, they had no dog in that hunt, they just went to watch to see how the courts work out. I remember seeing lady sitting behind the bar knitting and listening to the jury trial as it was going on. And so, number one, the availability to the public to come and see justice at work. That's the reason why courtrooms are open to the public, is that you can go and watch. I think from the lawyer standpoint, at the appellate level, not at the district court level, but at the appellate level the lawyers get to be face to face with the judges who are going to be hearing that. And it's important for them to be able to tell their story.


Leah C. Schwartz  20:58

Since our podcast is about stories or tales, I'm wondering what you feel the moral of the story is when it comes to the Byron White courthouse?


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  21:08

Well, the moral of the story is that justice and the law of this country is in good shape. And that it's still available for people to see and to observe, and even to complain if they need be. And that building it. We know that right now. It's going to last for a long time and people in the future are going to get to see the beauty.


Leah C. Schwartz  21:33

That's right. And maybe they'll even be able to hear some of your comments today, Judge. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and share what you know about the courthouse and in life in general. It's been an honor to chat with you.


Judge Bobby R. Baldock  21:49

It's been my deep pleasure and thank you for your kindness.


Leah C. Schwartz  21:53

Today's episode was produced and edited by Tina Howell and contains original music by Brent Cohen. Special thanks to Stacey Guillon, Greg Kerwin, Diane Bauersfeld, Judge Baldock and Linda Brown. I'm Leah Schwartz. See you next time