Friday, October 26, 2012

Iwalked New York City’s Jefferson Market Library

Iwalked New York City’s Jefferson Market Library - The Jefferson Market Library, with its Victorian Gothic style 172-foot pyramidal turret, was voted as one of the five most beautiful buildings in America in 1885. The largest tower features a four-sided clock and stained glass windows throughout. The building is largely reminiscent of the 19th century Neuschwanstein castle in Germany that was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria. It is constructed primarily of red brick from Philadelphia and a lighter-colored stone quarried from Ohio.

Jefferson Market Library
Jefferson Market Library
The site of the Jefferson Market Library began as a marketplace in 1833 that was named for the third President of the United States. Alongside this marketplace was a wooden fire lookout tower, also constructed in 1833. From here sentinels would signal to the masses below a fire’s locale based upon the number times a bell atop the tower was rung.

This tower was replaced by the construction of the Third Judicial District Courthouse which was built based upon designs of Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux. A majority of the oversight fell upon Wither’s shoulders though as Vaux was in the final stages of work on a handful of other significant projects including Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History. The courthouse was constructed over a period of 1874-1877 at a cost of $360,000.

The Third District Courthouse, formally known as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, was the site of a series of famous trials over the years. In 1906, millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw was tried here for the murder of famed architect Stanford White (best known for his designs of the second Madison Square Garden and Washington Square Arch). White was allegedly having an affair with Thaw’s wife and was ironically murdered within White’s Madison Square Garden during a chorus song of “I Could Love a Million Girls” from the musical Mam’zelle Champagne.
In 1927, actress Mae West was arrested and arraigned here on obscenity charges for her role in the Broadway play Sex. West was sentenced to a fine of $500, one day in women’s detention, and nine days of labor on Roosevelt Island. Her sentence would, however, be reduced to eight days for “good behavior.”

The Women’s House of Detention where Mae West would serve time was known as being a bit of a thuggish facility that contained windows opening along 6th Avenue. It was not uncommon for pedestrians walking by this facility to be harassed by occasional curses and obscene gestures.

In 1945 the Jefferson Market Courthouse officially closed its doors and the building remained vacant for a number of years. The building near faced demolition in the 1950s before a group of activists including E.E. Cummings fought to preserve the historic structure. In 1967 the Jefferson Market Courthouse was officially unveiled as the new Jefferson Market Library. Today visitors can envision the existing Reference Room as a former holding area for prisoners, or imagine how the Children’s Room may have looked in its days as the police court.

  • Website:
  • Address: 425 6th Avenue, New York City, NY
  • Cost: Free