Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse
NYC Landmark #214
|Location||40 Centre Street|
Manhattan, New York City
|Architect||Cass Gilbert, Cass Gilbert Jr.|
|Architectural style||Classical Revival|
|NRHP reference #||87001596|
|Added to NRHP||September 2, 1987|
|Designated NYCL||March 25, 1975|
The Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse is a Classical Revival courthouse located at 40 Centre Street on Foley Square in the Civic Center neighborhood of lower Manhattan in New York City. The building, designed by Cass Gilbert and his son, Cass Gilbert, Jr., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as U.S. Courthouse.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York hear cases in the courthouse, which is across the street from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York City.
Architecture and design
The six-story courthouse base is marked by a pilastered facade and a colonnade. Built around three interior courtyards, it is rusticated and irregularly shaped, following the outline of the site. Massive granite steps flanked by large pedestals lead up to the main entrance on Foley Square. Gilbert intended the pedestals to bear two monumental sculptural groups, but they were never executed. Ten four-story Corinthian columns form the imposing portico that shelters the entrance, and the frieze is carved with a detailed floral design. The ends of the entablature above are embellished with roundels, designed to resemble ancient coins, on which are carved the heads of four ancient lawgivers: Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, and Moses. The Corinthian capitals crowning the columns of the portico return to top pilasters along the building's other primary facades. Minnesota granite, off-white in color and mottled with peach and gray, was used to finish the exterior elevations of the courthouse.
A 30-story square tower is 590 feet in height and is set back from the base parallel to the front of the building. The tower is set back slightly on the 27th floor, marked by urns at the corners. The roof of the tower is pyramidal, pitched steeply, and made of terra cotta, with a gold leaf, with a small open lantern, also gold-glazed terra cotta, at the top.
The main hall spans the width of the building along its principal elevation. It is very similar in design and ornamentation to the main hall of the United States Supreme Court building, which Gilbert designed at the same time. Variations on the decorative motifs employed within the main hall appear throughout the rest of the interior. Twenty-nine feet in height, it has green- and black-veined white marble floors; the white marble that lines its walls has gold- and cream-colored veining, providing a subtle but attractive contrast of warm and cool tones. Elaborate molding, featuring a meander (Greek key) design, divides the ceiling into rectangular, coffered sections. The coffers are decorated with large plaster rosettes tipped with 22k gold leaf on alternating backgrounds of crimson and peacock blue, with smaller rosettes at the junctions of the coffers.
Richly ornamental bronzework surrounds many of the interior doors, including those of the elevators. This bronze detailing features an unusual combination of metaphorical images related to law and government, including dolphins, an erudite if somewhat obscure symbol of birth and democratic ideals. Among the other motifs are grasshoppers apparently feeding on stalks of wheat, accompanied by the Greek word meta, meaning "to transform", which conveys the idea that change, even conflict, is essential to growth; there are also owls, representing wisdom, and acorns and oak leaves, signifying strength and endurance.
The building contains 35 courtrooms. Sixteen are original to the courthouse: five in the base and eleven in the tower, including the historic United States Court of Appeals courtroom. All have wood-paneled walls with colossal round arches and fluted Ionic pilasters; the Greek key molding seen in the main hall also enframes the ceilings of the tower courtrooms. The Court of Appeals courtroom ceiling also depicts nautical symbols.
Within the tower, at the twenty-fifth floor, a double-height library features large ceiling beams supported by brackets painted with stenciled foliate designs. The library's high, arched windows offer stunning views of the Manhattan skyline.
The courthouse was not unanimously well-received when it was completed. Architecture critic Lewis Mumford called it "the supreme example of pretentiousness, mediocrity, bad design and fake grandeur."
The courthouse has three particularly striking neighbors. Flanking it are two high-rise structures: the Manhattan Municipal Building (1914) by McKim, Mead, and White; and the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse (1994) by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. Adjacent to the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, and also facing Foley Square, is the New York County Courthouse (1926) by Guy Lowell.
Architect Cass Gilbert was commissioned to design a new federal courthouse at Foley Square in 1931. Design work began in 1933. Construction began in July 1932 and lasted three and a half years. It was among the first federal skyscrapers constructed. After Gilbert's death, construction was supervised by his son Cass Gilbert Jr. until its completion in 1936. The courthouse was originally known as the Foley Square Courthouse.
Notable events over the years that have occurred in the courthouse include the espionage conspiracy trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; the guilty plea of Ivan Boesky, who inspired the Gordon Gekko character, to conspiracy charges; and the trial of Martha Stewart.
In 1992, three large historic courtrooms were restored. The courthouse was substantially renovated in 1999. In 2001, the United States Congress passed a bill renaming the building in honor of Thurgood Marshall, who had worked at the courthouse from 1961 to 1965 as a judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals before later being elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States. The legislation was signed into law on August 20, 2001, and the building was rededicated on April 15, 2003.
From November 2006 to January 2013, the Second Circuit left the Marshall Courthouse while the building underwent extensive renovations. During this period, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse (located across the street) temporarily housed the Second Circuit.  The Second Circuit returned to the Marshall Courthouse after renovations were completed. The Courthouse is currently managed by GSA Building Manager Jesse P. Leonard.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867, p.80
- Chad Bray, You Can Go Home Again: Second Circuit To Return to Old Digs, Wall Street Journal (January 2, 2013).
- This article incorporates text from the General Services Administration, which is public domain as a work of the United States federal government.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse.|
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on U.S. General Services Administration
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on CTBUH
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on Emporis
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on Skyscraperpage.com
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on Structurae
- Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on in-arch.net