Third Judicial District Courthouse

View Larger Map
The Jefferson Market Branch, New York Public Library, still familiar to New Yorkers as Jefferson Market Courthouse, is located at 425 6th Avenue (SW corner of West 10th St) in Greenwich Village, New York City on a triangular plot formed by Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street. The building was originally built as the Third Judicial District Courthouse between the years 1874-1877 from a design by architects Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux. Faced with demolition, public outcry led to its reuse as a branch of the New York Public Library.

A tall octagonal wooden fire lookout tower was the first building on the Third Judicial District Courthouse site, built circa 1833, located in the center of the merchants' sheds at the Jefferson Market that had been established at this site in 1832 and named for the late President. Court sessions were held in the Jefferson Assembly Rooms that rose above the market sheds.
The wood tower and the market structures were swept away for a new courthouse, an adjacent jail building that stood on the corner of West 10th Street and Greenwich Avenue and new coordinated market housing (built in 1883). Of the carefully massed picturesque group, only the former Courthouse now remains. Its polychrome materials— red brick, black stone, white granite, variegated roof slates— are typical of the "Ruskinian gothic" aesthetic of Calvert Vaux's first ranges for the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the 1880s a panel of American architects voted the complex the fourth most beautiful buildings in America. The eclectic ensemble was inspired by Venetian Gothic details and featured stained glass windows and a four-sided clock tower.

The forbidding New York Women's House of Detention with Art Deco details that had replaced the structures along Greenwich Avenue in 1932 was razed in 1973-74 and its site planted as a volunteer-run community garden and local recycling center called the Jefferson Market Greening.

The Jefferson Market Courthouse ceased to be used as a courthouse in 1945. The Third Judicial District Courthouse building remained vacant and was slated for demolition, but local residents led by Margot Gayle who enlisted E. E. Cummings and Lewis Mumford saved the richly decorated brick structure by persuading the city to reuse the building as a public library. The interior was redesigned by Giorgio Cavaglieri: 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".
In the summer of 1987 a Michigan man by the name of Ed Bogans climbed the tower and was briefly detained by police. In 1996 "Ol' Jeff", the fire bell, silent in the Tower for 135 years, regained its voice with Margot Gayle's help, thanks to Cynthia Crane and Marilyn Dorato. It strikes the hours from 9am to 9pm. On April 13, 1997, the New York Times wrote: "The bell has newly and unexpectedly connected the community surrounding the building on Avenue of the Americas at 10th Street, helping to put the concept of village back in Greenwich Village; it serves as a powerful, an hourly, reminder of the values of architectural preservation."
During the annual Halloween Parade, a large spider is seen moving up and down the tower.
There are annual Third Judicial District Courthouse tours of the tower, typically on Open House New York day in October.