History of the Jose V. Toledo Federal Building

There is a building in Old San Juan that was constructed for the purpose of a courthouse and a post office, and today serves as the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. The building’s name is the Jose V. Toledo Federal Building and United States Courthouse. Further back in the history of this site, the courthouse also provided office space for government offices, and looking even further back, it was the site of Spanish fortifications, giving this site and building a rich and fascinating heritage.

In 1639 the Bastion de San Justo del Muelle was constructed on the site by the Spanish, and the construction remained on the site until 1897. A custom house was also constructed here in the 1830s. In 1898 Puerto Rico was taken over by the United States Government. After establishing their presence in Puerto Rico, they saw the need to create government buildings and in 1900 plans were drawn up to fulfill this need. During the years 1906 to 1908, the designing phase of the project of the first complex took place, which was overseen by James Knox Taylor from the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Department of Treasury. The first federal building in Puerto Rico was subsequently constructed between the years 1911 and 1914. Architect Louis Simon supervised the design and construction of an addition to the building that began in 1938, with construction being completed in the year 1940. Jose Victor Toledo was a chief judge in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico from 1970 until he passed away in 1980, and in 1999, the building was renamed after him. In 1986 the structure was recognized and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The three storey structure of the Jose V. Toledo Federal Building and United States Courthouse is a magnificent blend of the standard federal building design and Spanish Colonial Revival. It features classical details and form, finished off with a Spanish tile roof. The interior is spectacular, as the raised basement features beautiful granite, and the two upper floors display brick construction, completed by stucco. Wrought iron was used to create the balusters and the grilles in front of the windows. The entrance lobby is especially noteworthy as it not only features marble finishes and an imperial staircase constructed from white marble but cast iron grilles for ventilators and salt glazed bricks were used in the public corridors.

The General Services Administration began renovations to the building in 1996, and while conducting an archaeological exploration of the site, they found no less than sixteen thousand artifacts. They restored the exterior of the Jose V. Toledo Federal Building to the original appearance it had in 1940, and also reconstructed the eaves that were taken down in 1958. It was also reinforced to survive earthquakes, and Puerto Rico now has a wonderful functional courthouse and attraction in Old San Juan.