Bronx Borough Courthouse
The Bronx Borough Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Bronx Borough Courthouse occupies the entire irregular five-sided block on which it is situated. The block is bounded by Third Avenue on the south and east, Brook Avenue on the west, and East 161st Street on the north; these streets intersect here in this commercial section of the southeast Bronx. Surrounding the Bronx Borough Courthouse are blocks of low-scale commercial buildings and tenements with ground floor shops.
The four-story granite courthouse building, which may be viewed from all sides, roughly conforms to the shape of the clock, although designed in a symmetrical manner with projecting central pavilions at the north and south elevations. The main entrance facade is oriented to East 161st Street. The two-story base, above a heavy water table, is faced with rusticated stone bands, punctuated by deeply recessed windows and by double-height arched entrances on the north and east elevations. The stone bands and mortar channels form stylized voussoirs above the first story windows, while at the arched entrances these elements form archivolts. Oversized keystones with torch motifs are in the arches.
The upper two stories form an architectural unit, faced with granite laid in smooth courses of alternating twelve-inch and eight-inch blond. Two-story pilasters flank the window bays and form corner piers. The central pavilion on the 161st Street elevation has two window bays flanking monumental columns which frame the recessed central section with arched window opening. In front of the opening is a figure carved in Tennessee marble depicting "Justice," not blindfolded but holding the traditional attributes of a sword and tablet.
The central pavilion on the south elevation facing Third Avenue has two-story piers flanking arched openings at the third floor and rectangular openings at the fourth floor.
A full entablature with triglyph and metope frieze and modillioned cornice encircles the building. Above is a paneled parapet, shielding an attic story, which follows the line of the central pavilions. In the pavilion section on the facade is a panel with the inscription "Bronx Borough Court House" flanked by miniature pavilion sections surmounted by small domes.
The Bronx Borough Courthouse, 1905-15 was designed by Michael J. Garvin, a local architect, in the Beaux-Arts style often used for civic architecture during the early twentieth century. In keeping with Beaux-Arts tradition, it is adorned with a sculptured figure depicting "Justice." Built to serve various borough courts, the courthouse also came to symbolize the county status which the Bronx achieved in 1914.
The Bronx was one of the last sections of New York City to be developed but by 1900 it was the fastest growing borough. A small building at 158th Street and Third Avenue which housed the Civil and Police Courts was inadequate, and a new courthouse was needed for the Municipal and Magistrate's Courts and the Coroner's Office. The site of the present courthouse was chosen and money appropriated in 1904. Construction began early in 1905 and ultimately took ten years. The delays were the subject of much controversy and corruption was charged.
During this period, however, the Bronx achieved independent county status, so the new courthouse was used to accommodate the Supreme, Surrogate's, and County Courts as well as the District Attorney's Office. Although the interior was unfinished, the courthouse was officially opened on January 6, 1914.
Stylistically the Bronx Borough Courthouse is in the Beaux-Arts classical tradition which was so prevalent for civic architecture at the turn of the century and into the 1920s. An analogous example is the Hall of Records and Surrogate's Court (1899-1907) by John R. Thomas and Horgan & Slattery (a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register in 1972) in Manhattan. In their use of forms and materials, architects of such buildings intended to display civic pride and to symbolize the strength and authority of government.
The architect, Michael J. Garvin (1861-?), was a Tammany Hall Democrat who had served as the first commissioner of buildings for the Bronx and as secretary to the borough president. He received his architectural training in the office of Joseph M. Dunn, formerly of Renwick & Sands. In choosing a Beaux-Arts inspired design for the Bronx Borough Courthouse, Garvin was working within a well-defined tradition.
Also within the Beaux-Arts tradition is the use of sculpture to adorn the building. The figure of Justice is by J.E. Roine (1857-?). Born in Nantes, France, he studied with Leopold Morice. Roine worked in New York between 1886 and 1894, then returned to France to work with the American sculptor Louis Richards.
When the new Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse was completed in 1934, the Bronx Borough Courthouse became the Criminal Court of the City of New York-Bronx Branch. This court moved out in 1977.
Haffen, Louis F. Borough of the Bronx, 1898-1909. New York, 1909.
Jenkins, Stephen. The Story of the Bronx, 1639-1912. New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1912.
New York Times, June 15, 1913, sect. 8, p.2; Jan. 1, 1914, sect. 8, p.2; Jan. 6, 1914, p.12.