March 2023
New Direction for an Iconic Building
The Federal repurposes glory of old federal courtroom

Ty Fitzmorris and Newt Lynn have a long history of creating appealing spaces for the community as the founders of The Raven Café 18 years ago and The Peregrine Book Company 11 years ago, and have since renovated buildings to establish Grey Dog Guitars, Chris Fleming Guitars (all on North Cortez Street) and the Natural History Institute on Marina Street.

Newt left Prescott in 2008 for graduate school in New Orleans, but as Ty’s projects grew in scale and scope, Ty invited him back as COO of Deppeana LLC to oversee the existing projects and begin to conceptualize new ones. When the LLC bought the city’s historic federal building, including the Prescott Main US Post Office and courthouse, at 101 W. Goodwin St. in June 2021, the partners knew they had a big job ahead of them in restoring and repurposing much of its 25,778 square feet. Completed in 1931 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Beaux Arts-style building is constructed largely of the same material as the Yavapai County Courthouse, known as Mint Wash granodiorite.

The interior of the post office on the first floor is familiar to many, but it’s the second floor that few remember when it was a working courtroom. Repairs to that space, which they’ve dubbed The Federal, have taken up much of their efforts, and they are already using it as a rental event space.

Newt spoke with Associate Editor Abby Brill about why they took on the project, the challenges and rewards of the renovation and plans for the coming year. The company is working to connect the community through an appealing space and advance the arts.

“My background’s in architectural preservation, I went to graduate school for that very thing,” Lynn said. “One of the things that really motivated us to buy the building was the fact that it was such an intact example of this period architecture. And it was here, right in the heart of downtown Prescott.”

Lynn said the company took on the project in part to preserve the space, rather than see it turned into condos or some other private use.

“We just really felt like it was a space that needed to stay open to the public,” Lynn said. “We wanted to keep the post office downtown, we really thought that it was an important nexus for the downtown community. There are people who've had their post-office boxes here going back generations …. So we moved upstairs. It was still largely intact, but it had been remodeled a couple of times over the years. So there were dropped ceilings, and carpet, all the things that were done in the ’70s to buildings. But underneath those layers was the original post office.”

Some space is rented as offices, and restoration work includes the original patterned cork floors and turning the courtroom area into a stage space, including a new sprinkler system to bring it up to code. Since then The Federal has hosted recordings by the affiliated sound-production company Raven Productions, as well as rentals for events. They’ve opened it up for Acker Night performances in December and a Prescott Chamber of Commerce event, for instance.

Interior of The Federal features restored cork floor. Photo by Newt Lynn

“We actually had a group that came in from out of state that specialized in cork-floor restorations,” Lynn said. “They came in and really worked hard, and being able to save it to the extent that what they did really excited us with the way it came out. Our goal with the room was just to leave it intact, we didn't want to change anything. We tried to imagine all these different scenarios that we could play with to make that happen. At the end of the day it’s made the most sense to kind of move all the furniture and everything out of there. We took the benches out, and we built the stage to try to accommodate as many different uses as we could conceive. There are so many things you can do with it, and we’re just trying to make it as adaptable as we possibly can.” The project recently won a Governor's Award for Historic Preservation.

That includes some redesign to rid it of sound “gremlins” and maximize useful space — which includes a covered-over staircase they’ve restored, hidden windows, and a concealed mezzanine that reminds Lynn of the one in Being John Malkovich. There’s also a full basement with terrazzo and marble floors that will be used for office rentals.

Community use makes the most sense for the space, says Lynn, rather than putting in a restaurant or other operating business. “It’s just really been trying to keep it a very community-forward and available space,” Lynn said. “People have been really excited, because so many have never seen the inside of this room. If you had seen it prior to 2013, you probably didn’t want to be in that room — you were either in a lot of trouble or somebody you knew was. This is like an anchor point for this part of the square. And then we’ve got everything that’s going on along North Cortez right now.”

The LLC has also bought several buildings at the end of Cortez near Sheldon Street and are renovating them to create a “cohesive collection of buildings.” The partners are not ready to share everything planned for those spaces yet, especially as they consider the cost of renovations. They are instead focusing on The Federal.

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor.

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