Manhattan Appellate Courthouse
27 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10013
Date Built: 1900
Architect: James Brown Lord
The Manhattan Appellate Courthouse is home to the Appellate Division, First Department
of the New York State Supreme Court. The court hosts over 3,000 appeals and more
than 7,000 motions a year, making it one of the busiest appellate courts in the
United States. The main work of the Court involves appeals from the Supreme Court,
the Surrogate's Court, and the Family Court in New York and Bronx Counties. It is
one of the most important courts in New York State and has enormous significance
to the legal community. It is an anchor for Madison Square, which is surrounded
by early twentieth century classical style buildings.
Appellate Division was established in 1894 as one of the last of a series of reforms
of the judicial system in the later nineteenth century. The right of appeals was
extended and this court was to handle the appeals and relieve some of the work load
of the State Supreme Court.
The court was located in rented office space on Fifth Avenue and 19th Street in
1896 when plans were made for a new building to respond to the increasing number
of appeals for the court to hear. The justices themselves selected the site for
the building at Madison Square for their courthouse. They were George C. Barrett,
Charles C. Van Brunt. William Rumsey, Edward Patterson, and Morgan J. O'Brien. The
site was in a residential neighborhood in Midtown, probably close to the justices'
homes. The other courts were situated in Lower Manhattan in the Civic Center. The
Congressman who owned the site sold it to the City for $370,000. The architect James
Brown Lord was given the then unheard of sum of $700,000 to construct the courthouse.
Responding to the "City Beautiful" movement, Lord was instructed to use a large
percentage of the construction budget for decoration. Despite spending a third of
the total cost on decorative features, like statues and murals, he managed to complete
the building under budget by over $60,000.
This spectacular marble-faced Beaux Arts style courthouse
is three-stories high. The front facade on 25th Street, is dominated by an imposing
triangular pedimented entrance portico supported by six Corinthian columns. The
Madison Avenue facade is no less striking, with a two-story flat cornice supported
by four fluted Corinthian columns. A five-story addition was built in the 1950's
which was designed to harmonize with the historic courthouse. Around the same time
the statue of Mohammed was removed at the request of representatives of various
Muslim nations, responding to the Islamic canon which forbids the representations
of humans in sculpture or painting.
The building is most well known for the unique blending of art and architecture,
a major principle of the Beaux Arts movement. On the outside, there are about 30
figures by 16 sculptors, the most sculptors to work on a single building in the
United States. The artists were well-known in their field, like Daniel Chester French
and Karl Bitter, who were selected by the architect and a panel of their peers.
The marble sculptures, which weren't finished until 1901,
represent allegorical figures such as Wisdom, Peace, Justice and figures in legal
history, such as Moses, Confucius, and Justinian. Exterior sculpture and other exterior
and interior decorative work represented over 50% of the total cost of the building.
On the inside, ten famous artists created murals for the main hall and the courtroom.
The main hall has an ornate coffered ceiling, a bronze and glass chandelier, Siena
marble walls divided by Corinthian pilasters and massive, original, Herter Brothers
furniture. The murals depict legal themes. The courtroom has a stained glass dome
set into the gilded coffered ceiling. Like the main hall, there are spectacular
marble walls, murals, and original furniture.
The exterior of the courthouse was designated a New
York City Landmark in 1966, and the interior in 1981. The courthouse is also listed
in the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Photos by: Ralph Selitzer, DCAS
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