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Storied Structure: Thoughtful Details Beautify Building Exterior

In nearly every depiction of the city of Columbus, you see the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center. Even though the distinctive white rectangular building has been home to the Supreme Court of Ohio since 2004, it's still a mystery to many passersby. Here are highlights of the gorgeous features on the outside the building. But there’s nothing like seeing it in person. Try a visit in the summer and fall, which are superb times to walk around the exterior of this striking and historic piece of architecture.

  • Image of the exterior of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center as seen from the steps of COSI along the Scioto Mile

    The Moyer Judicial Center identifies the city of Columbus. It’s even the backdrop for many local newscasts. This popular view of downtown from across the Scioto River captures the 14-story building in the foreground of notable city skyscrapers – the 32-story Vern Riffe Center for the Government and the Arts (green-topped building on the right), the Huntington Center (center), and the historic LeVeque Tower (to the left), completed in 1927.

  • A closer image of the exterior of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center as seen from the east side of the Scioto River

    The regal structure, completed in 1933 and called the State Office Building or State Departments Building, reflected three purposes through its design. The lower stories, which jut out from the main core, indicated public hearing rooms and meeting spaces. The elegant center of the building was designated as the office spaces. And sitting atop that section was the State Library, which is hinted at first with its taller, extended windows. The upper floors were set back from the main building, representing a “crowning motif,” according to a Supreme Court of Ohio book about the building. As you move closer to the building, now the Supreme Court's home, there is so much more to take in.

  • Image of a sculpture that appears to hold a sun carved on the south end of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

    Two figures stand tall at each end of the judicial center on its east side. At the south end (pictured) stands a sculpture who appears to hold a sun. She symbolizes Ohio’s “spiritual and intellectual forces.” To the north stands a mythical-looking marble person displaying a gear to represent Ohio’s “material and physical resources” – such as farming and industry.

  • Image of three carvings: an artist's palette, brushes, and a musical instrument; owls perched in front of books; and bottles and a microscope

    Near the south sculpture’s base, you’ll see three carvings. The first shows an artist’s palette, brushes, and a musical instrument. These stand for the arts. In the center, two owls perch in front of books and aside a quill to represent education. And the third panel depicts bottles and a microscope to indicate the sciences. The quote reads, “Education and morality constitute the force and majesty of free government.”

  • Image of a set of carvings depicting decorative leaves, a dove above a ship, an oil lamp with rays of light, and more decorative leaves

    Near the head of each figure, between the second and third floor windows, are a set of six more carved panels. Pictured (from left) are decorative leaves, a dove above a ship, an oil lamp with rays of light, and more decorative leaves. Building documents indicate that the dove refers to religion and the oil lamp symbolizes education. Alongside these carvings, outside of the frame, are a carving of fire, representing home, and one with bees and a hive, symbolizing industry.

  • Image of two carvings: the first is of two men wearing wide-brimmed hats - one carrying a pitchfork and bucket - another holding a cow on a lede. In front of them stands a sheep. Above are the words 'Live Stock'; the second is of two men wearing caps working at a printing press. Above is the word 'Printing'

    Larger panels, etched across the full length of the building on the same side, were described recently by a Court employee as “hidden gems.” These 14 intricate carvings portray Ohio industries. Represented are quarrying, fishing, petroleum, ceramics, fruit culture, aeronautics, transportation, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, mining, livestock (pictured left), printing (pictured right), and founding.

  • Image of north plaza of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center with several iron tables and chairs; alonside this is an image of a newspaper article of the appeals court's decision resulting from a taxpayer lawsuit related to the use of Georgia marble in the construction of the building

    While walking around the Court’s exterior, the building’s white surface stands out. The smooth, distinctive material is marble from Georgia. That choice landed the state of Ohio in court. A taxpayer connected to a Cleveland sandstone company sued, arguing the plan to use Georgia marble should be halted because the building must be constructed with Ohio materials. The trial and appellate courts disagreed and concluded that Ohio materials weren’t mandated in the law that authorized the construction. The courts found the commission overseeing the project “was given full discretion as to the character of the building” and could choose materials that best suited the design ideals.

  • Image of a carving of a squirrel on the west side of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center. Below the carving is the word 'Vision'

    Like the east side of the Moyer Judicial Center, the west façade is decorated with a series of large carvings running much of the length of the building. These have prompted a question from one keen observer: “Why is there a squirrel?” The squirrel represents vision. That’s one of six attributes of good citizenship displayed in these carvings. The others are loyalty, service, devotion, wisdom, and integrity. The carvings show open hands for service, and an owl with outstretched wings for wisdom, for example.

  • Image of the west side of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center showing three large windows surrounded by intricate metal grill work and the United States and Ohio flags

    Gazing upward at the building on this side, note the attention to detail in the metal grill work surrounding the windows. So many design elements throughout the building reflect meticulous concern about small details that might have otherwise been presented as mundane, functional features. There’s a dollar sign (inset), a lamp of knowledge, the scales of justice, a steam shovel, and more. Because many of these items don’t appear elsewhere on the building, the Court civic education staff theorize that they might symbolize the executive branch agency offices – such as commerce, education, attorney general, and transportation.

  • Image of vertical fluted, column-looking sections of the exterior of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judical Center engraved with stars and the year 1803

    Alongside the doorways to enter on this side are vertical column-looking sections that are “fluted,” meaning grooves or channels are cut into the marble. They rise up to a year engraved at the top. Shown here is “1803,” which is the year Ohio gained statehood. Next to the fluted sections are 16 engraved stars, which represent each of the states in the United States at the time Ohio became a state.

  • Image of an ornate, bronze door featuring a carving of a Viking ship and the name 'Eric Leif', and an image of a buffalo head door handle

    The central doors going into the building on this side are 2,000-pound structures. There are three sets of doors, composed of bronze, that trace numerous historical moments from early American history to the times closer to the building’s construction. For example, carvings etched into the metal depict the arrival of Europeans to the shores of the continent – such as this Viking ship with the name “Eric Leif,” referring to Leif Ericson (sometimes, Erikson), thought to be the first European to land in North America. The handle for each of these doors is cast to look like a buffalo head (inset).

  • Image of an intricate carving of pioneers of the Northwest Territory; on either side are additional carvings depicting Campus Martius and Fort Washington

    Periodically around the building are depictions of moments related to battles, treaties, and trade. This one represents the pioneers of the Northwest Territory, marking European settlers’ move westward. Campus Martius (left) housed and protected settlers in Marietta, the first permanent American settlement in the territory. Fort Washington (right) was built in the area that became Cincinnati. Also memorialized on the building are Ohioans who served in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, and World War I.

  • Image of the colorful mosaic tiles above the main entrance to the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

    The main entrance to the building on the east side is recessed within the structure. When stepping into the entry area before going inside, you encounter barrel-vaulted ceilings decorated with three panels of mosaic pieces. These tiles, especially the gold and silver ones, were slightly tilted to add texture and sparkle.

  • Image of the cornerstone of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center with 'A.D. 1931' carved on it

    At one corner of the building, a ceremony was held to lay a cornerstone on April 25, 1931. Among the historic time-capsule materials placed in the cornerstone: Ohio and U.S. flags; legislative documents providing for the building’s construction; biographies of the five building commission members, two governors, and the architects; the ceremony invitation and program; and copies of Ohio’s newspapers.

  • Image of the large stainless steel gavel located in the south reflecting pool of the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center

    No story about the gorgeous exterior of the Supreme Court could end without mention of one of its most iconic and recognizable features – the gavel. The stainless steel sculpture was installed in 2008, and local news media routinely report live from in front of the gavel about any court or legal happenings. It’s also a favorite spot for new lawyers wanting to capture the moment after being sworn into the practice of law, and for graduation shots in general. And it’s a lovely location to relax for lunch on the plaza. (Sculptor: Andrew F. Scott)

To explore the many visual treasures inside the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, call 614.387.9223 or email The Supreme Court of Ohio’s civic education staff can answer questions about self-guided and guided tours. For a virtual visit of other parts of the building that have been featured, check out CNO’s earlier “Storied Structure” slideshows:

To learn more about the Supreme Court’s civic education programs and Visitor Education Center, which is packed with interactive exhibits explaining the structure and significance of Ohio courts, call 614.387.9223 or email


Photography/Design: Ely Margolis
Web: Erika Lemke