LOCATION: New York City, New York, USA
OLD USE: Courthouse
NEW USE: Library
Designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux, the Jefferson Market Courthouse was built in the Victorian Gothic style over the years 1875 to 1877. In the 1880s, the building was chosen as the fourth most beautiful building in America. In 1945, the courthouse was shut down due to redistricting. It was then used by a number of agencies including the Police Academy. The building was empty and vacated by 1958.
Community members rallied together to convince New York City to preserve the building rather than follow through with its plans to demolish it and replace it with an apartment building. Margot Gayle (preservationist), Philip Wittenberg (lawyer), Lewis Mumford (historian), E.E. Cummings (poet/playwright), and Maurice Evans (actor) succeeded when Mayor Robert F. Wagner announced in 1961 that the city would convert the building into a public library.
The adaptive reuse project of the courthouse began in 1965 and was completed in 1967. The police court became the Children’s Reading Room, the Civil Court the Adult Reading Room. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977, both under its name as “Third Judicial District Courthouse”.
The old fire bell in the tower began it ring again in 1996 after over 100 years of being silent. That bell, along with the library, has reconnected this community and reinvigorated the idea of “village” for Greenwich Village. What once upheld the laws of the land now provides knowledge and community space for the neighborhood.