The Surrogate Court Building

The Surrogate's Courthouse
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.

The Surrogate's Courthouse
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.

The Surrogate's Courthouse
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.

NYC LandmarkSurrogate Court is a designated New York City Landmark.







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