Although New York is different from Europe with its thousands of ancient monuments, architectural masterpieces and interesting sightseeing places, there is still much to see and admire here. One such attraction is a building with more than a hundred years of history, namely – the Bronx Borough Courthouse. It may sound ridiculous compared to the age of monuments on the European continent, but still, it is one of the most famous architectural monuments of New York and American justice. It is located on Grand Concord Street and impresses with its grandiosity, elegance and unique style. Although it now stands empty, its history will not leave anyone indifferent. In this article, bronx-future.com examines the history of the building, its architectural features and significance for New York.
The Bronx at the beginning of the 20th century
As noted by hdc.org, the question of what the Bronx was like at the end of the 19th century is challenging to answer. It was an agricultural area, an urban suburb close to the Harlem River and the main part of New York. A number of towns, small settlements and enterprises were located here, such as the Motta metallurgical plant. However, civilization slowly but stubbornly moved here. Thus, roads were built, the Harlem commuter rail line was developed and electric lighting appeared in Fordham at first. Different parts of the Bronx were attached to New York in 1874 and then in 1895. In 1888, Third Avenue reached 169th Street. Since then, the urbanization of the area has accelerated.
At that time, the future place of the Courthouse on the corner of 161 Street and Third Avenue was a wasteland. Is it possible to imagine this? According to historians, there was a large square with a canopy and a watering hole in the center. On the edges of this square, there were small inconspicuous buildings made of wood and brick, which served as commercial establishments, hotels and boarding houses. The Morrisania town hall was located to the south of this square. It was used as a police station and for other administrative purposes.
Therefore, the Bronx at the end of the 19th century was an area where urbanization was still slow. Everything changed after 1904 with the subway building. From this time, the population began to grow rapidly and reached the number of 500,000 people. That’s why the old building on the corner of 158th Street and 3rd Avenue, which was a court and a police station at the same time, was no longer sufficient.
The history of the Courthouse
The city authorities understood the need for a court building and took some practical steps to solve the problem. Initially, its construction was agreed upon. In 1904, the city allocated 800,000 dollars for this matter. The architect was Michael J. Garvin originated from the Bronx. The building style was Beaux-Arts for a public structure. The purpose was to serve the courts of various districts. Later, it became a symbol of the Bronx borough and a sign of the development of this area. It was the last part of the city to actively expand at the beginning of the 20th century, after the subway building.
The construction process was planned for 2-3 years. Thus, the building must have been completed in 1907-1908. Due to various misunderstandings and additional work, the construction continued until 1915. Therefore, it took more than ten years and cost the city two million dollars. The delays caused both mocking and indignation. District President Louis F. Haffen was charged with corruption and fired. The architect was acquitted and the private contractor was criticized. Other reasons for the delays and high costs were inflation, the shoddy work that had to be done and political disputes over the release of additional funds beyond the initial $800,000. Ironically, the delay in completing the Courthouse coincided with a very important event. The Bronx became a county. Although the interior was incomplete and the furniture was sparse, the Courthouse was officially opened on January 6, 1914, as a symbol of the new powers and responsibilities of the Bronx. In addition to the court, the prosecutor’s office was located here.
The statue in the building’s decoration
A beautiful sculpture was installed on the facade of the building. It was carved in 1910 from pink marble at the John M. Ross Quarry in Tennessee and was an allegorical reflection of Justice. The block from which the statue was carved was 8, 5 and 8 feet in length, width, and height, respectively. There was also another block used as a pedestal. Its dimensions were slightly smaller and comprised 6 by 4 feet.
Use of the building and its fate
After the construction, there were 3 courtrooms, an office where the coroner could work (an employee of the police or other service who investigates death) and cells for prisoners. Fifteen years later, in the 1930s, a new courthouse was built with a larger courtroom. Therefore, most of the work was transferred there and the Bronx Borough Courthouse was left as an auxiliary facility. This continued until the 1970s (more precisely, until 1977) when the premises ceased to be used. The city tried to sell it at auction and the Bronx NGO No Longer Empty began collecting funds to repair it and use it to improve life in the borough. The city, which was governed at the time by Rudolph William Louis Giuliani III, Rudy Giuliani, refused to help the public and still held auctions. At one of them, which took place in 1996, the building was sold for $130,000. However, the buyer was unable to pay, so a second auction was held in 1998. The building was purchased by local Bronx builder Henry Weinstein for $300,000. Since then, the building has been under reconstruction.
Exhibition of 2015
This situation, as we have already mentioned, lasted until 2015. During the time that passed from the day of purchase, the developer tried to reconstruct and sell the building. For various reasons, it did not work out, as well as renting it out to a fitness club or other institution. In 2015, an art exhibition of 26 artists, including locals, was held inside it. It was also planned to hold more than 20 events here, including a master class on urban gardening, walking tours, a fashion show and other interesting events. After that, the building was again covered with a net.
Thus, the Bronx Borough Courthouse is an old building that currently stands empty. Today, it is an important symbol of justice and the legal system in the United States. It reflects not only architectural skill and beauty but also the high ideals on which American democracy and the rule of law are based. The building attracts tourists from all over the world who seek to see this unique combination of history, architecture and justice. Even though the building has more than a century of history, it still remains relevant and significant for our time. What do you think about its further use?