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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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Tweed Courthouse
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Tweed Courthouse
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There was not a tremendous amount of investment in other civic buildings in the early decades of the nineteenth century. This was not a period of large-scale civic bureaucracies, and so the civic realm didn't see a responsibility in investing in large-scale buildings.

The first major civic building that was built after City Hall in New York City was the New York County Courthouse, which wasn't begun until the early 1860s. So until then all of the government functions were in either City Hall or in less prominent buildings that were either purchased or built nearby.

But after a debate as to whether City Hall should be replaced, it was decided that rather than replace City Hall, the courts would be moved out of City Hall, and a new building would be erected to the rear of City Hall on Chambers Street. And that was the New York County Courthouse, designed by a prominent architect named John Kellum, which is popularly known today as the Tweed Courthouse. This was a courthouse that was paid for out of a tremendous amount of graft going to Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall political ring. Although tainted by its graft connections, it really was an extraordinary building. It was built entirely out of marble that was quarried in Tuckahoe in Westchester County, what was known in the nineteenth century as white marble, and the building has recently been cleaned and you can see why it was called white marble.

It was designed in the fashionable Italianate style, with impressive deep cornices and sculptural three-dimensional window enframements.

The plan echoes that of City Hall. It has the portico, it has the stairs, it has the arms reaching out, so in a sense it reverses the plan of City Hall to create a sort of mirror image of that building.


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