U.S. Customhouse



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The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (originally U.S. Custom House) is a building in New York City, built 1902–1907 by the federal government to house the duty collection operations for the port of New York. It is located near the southern tip of Manhattan, next to Battery Park, at 1 Bowling Green. The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House building is now the home of the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian as well as the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and for both exterior and public interior spaces. The Customs House was one of the earliest designations of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, so in 1987 the completion of its preservation, spurred by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who saved the building from demolition in 1979, attracted much public attention: exterior and ceremonial interior spaces were cleaned, restored, and conserved, while old office space was renovated for Federal courtrooms and ancillary offices, for rental offices and meeting rooms, and for a 350-seat auditorium with state of-the art projection facilities. Upgrades of fire-safety, security, telecommunications, and heating, air conditioning, and ventilating systems accompanied alterations.
The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

The U.S. Customhouse building was designed by Minnesotan Cass Gilbert, who later designed the Woolworth Building, which is visible from the building's front steps. The selection of Gilbert to design the U.S. Customhouse building was marked with controversy. Until 1893 federal office buildings were designed by government architects under the Office of the Supervising Architect of the United States Department of the Treasury. In 1893 the Tarsney Act permitted the Supervising Architect to hire private architects following a competition. The Supervising Architect of U.S. Customhouse James Knox Taylor picked Gilbert who earlier had been his partner at the Gilbert & Taylor architect firm in St. Paul, Minnesota. The U.S. Customhouse scandal never quite blew over and in 1913 the Act was repealed. The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House was constructed between 1902 and 1907. It is a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style, where public transactions were conducted under a noble Roman dome. It incorporates Beaux Arts and City Beautiful movement planning principles, combining architecture, engineering, and fine arts. Lavish sculptures, paintings, and decorations by well-known artists of the time, such as Daniel Chester French (the seated groups of the Four Continents on the front steps), Louis St. Gaudens and Albert Jaegers, embellish the facade, the two-story entry portico, the main hall parallel to the facade, the Rotunda, and the Collector's Reception Room. Sculpture was so crucial to the scheme that the figure groups had independent contracts. Above the main cornice are standing sculptures representing the great seafaring nations, representing American seagoing commerce as the modern heir of the Phoenicians. In 1936, during the Great Depression, the Works Projects Administration commissioned murals for the main rotunda from Reginald Marsh (illustration, right).
The U.S. Customhouse building sits on the site of Fort Amsterdam, the fortification constructed by the Dutch West India Company to defend their operations in the Hudson Valley. The fort became the nucleus of the New Amsterdam settlement, and in turn, of New York City.