Harlem Courthouse

Harlem Courthouse
170 East 121st Street
New York, NY 10035

Date Built: 1891-1893

Architect: Thom and Wilson

"One of the most impressive buildings in East Harlem …"
-- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Harlem Courthouse, located at the corner of East 121st Street and Sylvan Place, is one of the most impressive buildings in East Harlem.

This building was built between 1891 and 1893 for use by the Municipal and Magistrate's Courts, and was said to be one of the City’s earliest county seats. The building included the Fifth District Prison, a jail with temporary holding cells. Its original function as a court ended in 1961 in the reorganization of the state court system. Public justice functions returned to the building in 2001 with the opening of a Community Justice Center.

This vibrant Romanesque Revival style courthouse has elements of the Victorian Gothic, most notably in its pinnacles, multiple steep gables and polychromy. Romanesque Revival characteristics include the blocky massing, and typical round arched door and window openings. The four-story masonry structure has a granite base with a red brick facade trimmed with bluestone and terra cotta. The five-story corner tower is topped by eight small gables with two clocks below.

A marble and iron spiral staircase leads from the lobby to the top of the tower. Other interior features include marble mosaic floors and oak door and window trim. The double-height third-floor courtroom has a vaulted ceiling, oak paneling and trim, and federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals by David Karfunkle.

The firm of Thom & Wilson designed the courthouse. Arthur M. Thom & James W. Wilson were prolific residential architects, designing row houses on the Upper East Side and the fanciful Moorish style Hampton Apartments on Perry Street in Greenwich Village. In 1894, with John E. Schaarschmidt, they designed the Criminal Courthouse on Centre Street and Franklin, which is no longer standing.

Today, as the Harlem Community Justice Center, the building provides a variety of Civil Court functions, hearing Family, Housing and Small Claims matters. The surrounding neighborhood contains a public school, a housing development and an art park. Together, they form a neighborhood version of a Civic Center.

The Harlem Court House was designated a New York City Landmark on August 2, 1967.