Manhattan Municipal Building

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Manhattan Municipal Building
Municipal Building - New York City.jpg
Manhattan Municipal Building is located in New York City
Manhattan Municipal Building
Location Manhattan, New York
Coordinates 40°42′46.67″N 74°0′13.99″W / 40.7129639°N 74.0038861°W / 40.7129639; -74.0038861Coordinates: 40°42′46.67″N 74°0′13.99″W / 40.7129639°N 74.0038861°W / 40.7129639; -74.0038861
Built 1907–1914[2][3]
Architect William M. Kendall
Architectural style Renaissance, Other
Governing body City of New York
NRHP Reference # 72000879[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 18, 1972
Designated NYCL February 1, 1966

The David N. Dinkins Municipal Building, originally the Municipal Building and then the Manhattan Municipal Building,[4] at 1 Centre Street in Manhattan, New York City, is a 40-story building built to accommodate increased governmental space demands after the 1898 consolidation of the city's five boroughs. Construction began in 1907 and ended in 1914,[2][3] marking the end of the City Beautiful movement in New York. William M. Kendall[2] of the noted architectural firm McKim, Mead & White designed the building, which was the first to incorporate a subway station – the Chambers Street station, served by the J Z trains – into its base.

Enormously influential in the civic construction of other American cities, the building's architectural style has been "variously described as Roman Imperial, Italian Renaissance, French Renaissance, or Beaux-Arts."[5] It served as the prototype for the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, and the Wrigley Building in Chicago, in addition to the Seven Sisters of Stalin-era Soviet architecture.

Located at the intersection of Chambers and Centre Streets, the Municipal Building stands 580 feet (180 m) tall and is one of the largest governmental buildings in the world.

At present, the Municipal Building is home to "over 2,000 employees from a dozen municipal agencies in nearly 1 million square feet of office space."[6]

The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966,[3] and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. On October 14, 2015, the building was renamed after former mayor David N. Dinkins.[7]


Under construction, c. 1912
Chambers Street and the Municipal Building by Colin Campbell Cooper, c.1922

In the 1884 annual report of the City of New York, Mayor Franklin Edson declared that more space was badly needed for governmental functions. But he also noted that City Hall was not expandable because its "style of architecture was such that without marring its present symmetry, it couldn't be enlarged to the required extent."

The City's agencies rented space in various buildings strewn all the way from Downtown Manhattan up to Midtown Manhattan, with the number of such arrangements increasing by the year. The government, desiring to cut down the amount of rent paid to private landlords, held several design competitions for a new, massive building that would be suitable to house many agencies under one roof. Mayor Abram Hewitt appointed a commission to study suitable plans and plots of land in 1888, and four competitions were held between that year and 1907. The final competition was held by the Commissioner of Bridges, who had already secured a new plot of land to be used for a new trolley hub at the Manhattan base of Brooklyn Bridge. Twelve architectural firms entered the last competition, and the winning entry was received from William Mitchell Kendall,[8] a young partner of McKim, Mead & White, which had been urged to enter the contest by Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr..[8] McKim, Mead was at the time the largest architectural firm in the world, with a staff numbering over 100. Despite their standing in the architectural community, the Manhattan Municipal Building would be their first skyscraper.

The building was first occupied in January 1913, and the majority of the building's offices were opened to the public by 1916.

Art and architecture[edit]

The gilded statue of Civic Fame at the top
Guastavino ceiling tiles on the south arcade
The central arch, inspired by the Roman Arch of Constantine

The building features various types of sculpture and relief.[6] The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services reports:

The central arch is decorated with sculpture in the Roman manner as was used in the Arch of Constantine. Over the side arches are rectangular allegorical panels. At the left (north), Civic Duty is represented by a woman personifying the City, accompanied by a child holding the seal of the city. On the right of the arch (south), Civic Pride shows the female personification of the city receiving tribute from her citizens. Adolph Weinman, the sculptor of Civic Fame, also designed the shields that were used in the elevators, on the molding above the colonnade and again on the false colonnade above the 22nd floor. They represent New Amsterdam, the Province of New York (under English rule), the City of New York, the County of New York and the State of New York.[6]

The central arch is large enough that automobile traffic once went through it, although in modern times the shortened Chambers Street no longer continues through to the eastern side. A screen of Corinthian columns flanks the arch.[3]

The terra-cotta vault was modeled on the entrance of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and the south arcade has a ceiling of white Guastavino tiles.[3]

The facade of the building was restored in 1990 by Wank Adams Slavin.[2]

Civic Fame[edit]

At the top of the Municipal Building is the statue Civic Fame, installed in March 1913. The statue is a gilded copper figure, made from about 500 pieces of hammered copper.[9][10] The statue is variously reported to be supported on an iron skeleton[9] and made over a steel frame.[10]

The statue was designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman (1870-1952).[9][10] It was commissioned by New York City at a cost of $9,000[11] to celebrate the consolidation of the five boroughs into the City of New York.[9] The figure—described as "graceful and unusually charming"—is barefoot and balances upon a globe.[10][11] She carries various symbolic items: a shield bearing the New York City coat of arms, a branch of leaves, and a mural crown, which she holds aloft.[9][10] The mural crown has five crenellations or turrets, which evoke city walls and represent the five boroughs.[9][10] The crown also includes dolphins as a symbol of "New York's maritime setting."[9] It is 25 feet (7.6 m) tall[9] and is reported to be either 580 feet (180 m)[9] or 582 feet (177 m) above street level.[10] Audrey Munson (1891–1996) posed for the figure.[9][12] Munson also posed for a very large number of other important allegorical Beaux-Arts sculptures in New York, including those at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, New York Public Library, Manhattan Bridge, and USS Maine National Monument at Columbus Circle.[13][14]

The statue has been variously described as the largest or second-largest statue in Manhattan, depending on whether the larger Statue of Liberty is considered as being in Manhattan.[10][15] It is similar in style to the Statue of Liberty.[9]

According to the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services, "the left arm of the statue fell off and went through a skylight on the 26th floor of the Municipal Building" (then a cafeteria) in 1936, which led to the first renovation of the statue.[9] In 1991, while the facade was undergoing renovations, Civic Fame, then suffering from exposure after eight decades atop the Municipal Building, was also restored by the city government.[9][11] The statue was removed, "regilded with 23.5-karat golf leaf, and hoisted back into position by helicopter."[11]

In addition to Civic Fame, Weinman also sculpted the allegorical bas-relief panels at the base of the building,[3] as well as much of the building's other ornamentation, "including a series of medallions, patterns, coats of arms, and several major groups of figures" which represent various concepts: Civic Pride, Progress, Guidance (to the left of the entrance), Executive Power (right of the entrance), and Prudence.[9]


A view of the building from above with Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in the background.

The following New York City public offices are located in the Manhattan Municipal Building:[6]

The Office of the City Clerk was formerly housed in the Municipal Building; about 16,000 weddings were performed annually at the former Manhattan Marriage Bureau in the Municipal Building,[16] in civil ceremonies lasting about four minutes, before the City Clerk's Office relocated to nearby 141 Worth Street in 2009.[6][17][18]

In popular culture[edit]


  • The Manhattan Municipal Building appears in a key scene of the 1996 film One Fine Day, in which Jack Taylor (George Clooney) spots Manny Feldstein (Joe Grifasi) and chases him to the roof.[19]
  • In the film "Crocodile" Dundee (1986), muggers inside the Municipal Building entrance to the station pull a knife on the title character (Paul Hogan) and his girlfriend Sue (Linda Kozlowski); Dundee responds by saying of the muggers' knife, "That's not a knife." Pulling a larger knife of his own, he then says, "That‍ '​s a knife."[20]
  • In the film The Professional (1994), antagonist Stansfield, played by actor Gary Oldman, works for the DEA at the building, in office 1402.[21]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Staff (2006-03-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c d White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot (2000). AIA Guide to New York City (4th ed.). New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0-8129-3107-5. , p.71
  3. ^ a b c d e f New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Postal, Matthew A. (ed. and text); Dolkart, Andrew S. (text). (2009) Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.) New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.33
  4. ^ The Municipal Building, New York Architecture.
  5. ^ Sarah Bradford Landau & Carl W. Condit, Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913 (Yale University Press, 1999), p. 374.
  6. ^ a b c d e Manhattan Municipal Building, New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (accessed September 27, 2015).
  7. ^ Ngo, Emily. "NYC Municipal Building renamed for former Mayor Dinkins" Newsday (October 15, 2015)
  8. ^ a b Willis, Carol. "Municipal Building" in Jackson, Kenneth T. (ed.), (2010) The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd edition). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2, p. 863-864
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Civic Fame, New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (accessed September 27, 2015).
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Marina Harrison & Lucy D. Rosenfeld, Artwalks in New York: Delightful Discoveries of Public Art and Gardens in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island (NYU Press: 3d ed. 2004), pp. 22-23 (reporting that Civic Fame is "surprisingly, ... the largest statue in Manhattan. (No, the Statue of Liberty is not in Manhattan).").
  11. ^ a b c d Sam Roberts, A History of New York in 101 Objects (Simon & Schuster, 2014), p. 122.
  12. ^ "The Big Apple: Audrey Munson". 2004-07-05. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  13. ^ Norman Taylor, Cinematic Perspectives on Digital Culture: Consorting with the Machine (Palgrave Macmillan: 2012), pp. 162-63.
  14. ^ Diane Rozas & Anita Bourne Gottehrer American Venus: The Extraordinary Life of Audrey Munson, Model and Muse (Balcony Press, 1999).
  15. ^ Axel Nesme, "On Stevensian Transitoriness" in Wallace Stevens, New York, and Modernism (eds. Lisa Goldfarb & Bart Eeckhout: Routledge, 2012) ("His gigantic gilded statue, Civic Fame, still the second largest figurative statue in Manhattan").
  16. ^ Del Signore, John (January 8, 2009). "Manhattan Marriage Bureau Gets Makeover". Gothamist. Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  17. ^ New City Clerk's Office and Marriage Bureau Opens for Business on January 12, Office of the New York City Clerk (January 7, 2009).
  18. ^ Chung, Jen (October 5, 2008). "Manhattan Marriage Bureau Gets Ready to Move". Gothamist. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  19. ^ Katz (1995), p.300.
  20. ^ Katz (1995), pp.298-99.
  21. ^ Léon, The Professional (1994), On the Set of New York (accessed September 27, 2015).


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Hudson Terminal
Largest office building in the world
by floor area
Succeeded by
Equitable Building (Manhattan)