Photo by: John Castellaneta
The Surrogate's Courthouse
31 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
Date Built: 1899-1907
Architect: John R. Thomas
Surrogate's Courthouse is located on the northwest corner of Chambers and Centre
Streets in downtown Manhattan and houses the Court of the same name.
The building was originally designed for use as a Hall of Records and this
was its original name. The Surrogate's Court was one of the original tenants, with
courtrooms, offices and chambers on the 5th floor. The building was renamed the
Surrogate's Courthouse in 1962.
Planned since 1888 for use as a Hall of Records and home to Surrogate's Court, it
took 8 years to build, from 1899 to 1907, and cost over $7 million. It was designed
by John R. Thomas, who adapted his prize-winning design for a new City Hall which
was never built. When he died, the Tammany Hall architects Horgan & Slattery
took over. The building replaced the old Hall of Records in City Hall Park.
Photo by: Ralph Selitzer, DCAS
Built of Hallowell, Maine granite, the seven-story,
steel-framed structure was intended to be a fire resistant storehouse for the City's
records. The front of the building has a triple arched entrance with eight, thirty-six
foot high granite Corinthian columns above. A tall mansard roof caps the facade.
This Beaux Arts style masterpiece is a major example of the early twentieth century
City Beautiful movement. The idea behind the "City Beautiful" movement was to transform
cities with spectacular, imposing classical buildings and monuments to provide an
uplifting experience for the community. The designer and principal architect, Thomas,
said to be responsible for more public and semipublic buildings than any other architect
in the country, considered this building his masterpiece.
Photo by: Ralph Selitzer, DCAS
Called the most Parisian thing in New York at the time it was built, the grand marble
staircase in the first floor rotunda reflects the architect's appreciation of the
Paris Opera House. Philip Martiny and Henry K. Bush-Brown, both respected,
prize-winning sculptors, produced the 54 sculptures on the exterior. The statues
represent allegorical subjects such as Philosophy and Law, as well as the seasons. The Philip Martiny sculptures on Chambers Street represent
figures in New York City history, including DeWitt Clinton and Peter Stuyvesant.
(When Centre Street was widened in 1961, the Philip Martiny sculptures at that entrance
were moved to the front of the New York County Courthouse at 60 Centre Street.)
William DeLeftwich Dodge, a famous muralist, produced the interior mosaics depicting
the signs of the zodiac. The ornate courtrooms are decorated in gilded plaster and
carved wood paneling in Santo Domingo mahogany and English oak. Other lavish interior
decoration includes chandeliers and detailed bronze door knobs. An enclosed courtyard
in the interior of the building extends from the first to third floors with a skylight
on the fourth floor.
The Surrogate's Courthouse is an anchor for the Civic Center, because of its corner
location across from City Hall Park, its impeccable proportions, and lavish stone
carving. Its records are citywide and it is heavily used by the public from all
five boroughs. The interior is a popular site for filming and can be seen in dozens
of movies and commercials.
Surrogate Court is a designated New York City Landmark.
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