The Historic Custom House has been in continuous operation as an inspection station and customs house since it opened in 1933, but it had fallen into serious disrepair. Rather than demolish the building, the General Services Administration chose to rehabilitate and enlarge it in accordance with the Secretary of Interiors Standards for Historic Preservation. Thank goodness! In rehabilitating the historic building and giving it a new purpose, GSA proved again that we protect our future by preserving our past.
Previous alterations and ongoing maintenance efforts of the Custom House in 1948, 1960, and 1973 had resulted in the loss of nearly all the historic integrity of the interior and had obscured many of the exterior features. This time GSA got it right, removing non-historic and unsightly additions and restoring the surviving historic exterior elements, including the stucco, windows, doors, terracotta features, wrought iron railings, roofing, and stucco. The interior was completely remodeled to allow it to meet the current functional requirements of the client, protecting the building’s future by giving it a new mission.. A second story addition to the north wing allowed for the introduction of southbound pedestrian processing.
The Historic Custom House was constructed as part of a significant expansion of the U.S. Federal government in the decades following World War I. It is a prime example of how the Office of the Architect of the Treasury, under the supervision of James A. Wetmore, adapted standardized forms to fit the needs of a particular sites. The Customs House demonstrates how a geographical stylistic idiom – in this case Spanish Colonial Revival – was applied to that form, and today it is the largest surviving example of this adapted standard form in California. The 20,000 pedestrians that pass over, through and around this building every day are testimony to the continuing success of that adapted form.