The faded cornerstone of the old police building

At the turn of the last century, when the newly consolidated New York needed a bigger, more modern police headquarters, city officials pulled out all the stops to build something glorious.

The result was a Beaux Arts beauty dominating slender Centre Street in what used to be Little Italy: a granite central pavilion and Corinthian columns topped by a gilded dome and an allegorical statue representing the five boroughs.

Completed in 1909, the new building was designed to “impress both officer and prisoner…with the majesty of the law,” according to a 1978 Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

The NYPD moved out of 240 Centre Street into newer, much uglier headquarters in the 1970s. But if you walked by the former police building today, you’d probably have no idea of its history.

Since 1988, 240 Centre Street has been a luxury condo, and it seems as if the developers did everything possible to erase anything relating to the police department on the facade.

Only the cornerstone, unveiled in May 1905 by Mayor George McClellan in a grand ceremony that featured a police band and mounted troops, provides a faded, chipped-away clue to the building’s former use.

[Second photo: Streeteasy]

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19 Responses to “The faded cornerstone of the old police building”

  1. The faded cornerstone of the old police building – New York city blog Says:

    […] [Second photo: Streeteasy] Source link […]

  2. Bill cashman Says:

    Look up and you’ll see an specific reminder of 249 centre street’s former use….”POLICE DEPARTMENT”

  3. R. Brian Ferguson Says:

    I was told by a retired police officer that there is a time capsule in that cornerstone, including Teddy Roosevelt’s service revolver.

  4. Ty Says:

    Take him downtown and book him

  5. tipandjaminwonderland Says:

    Not long after arriving in New York City I stumbled across this structure. I had read about “Broken Windows” and how the police took small vices seriously. Seeing the name above the pillars I was under the impression this was still in use and wondered if it required such a grand building to hold those who were charged with petty crimes!

  6. richardlowellparker Says:

    I lived in the neighborhood and one day as I was passing the building there was a very old wooden wheelchair someone had taken from inside the building and left on the the sidewalk. Of course I took that home. Another time someone had dumped a few dozen very large and very dead rats into the space in between the building and the sidewalk. I only went inside the building after it was converted into condos and the lobby was so golden and so magnificent, I concluded that no matter how much money I had, I could not live there.

  7. Ty Says:

    Today’s police architecture looks like a fortress against us rather than for us.

  8. alaspooryorick Says:

    My kids attended PS 130 on Baxter Street. If you walked on Centre Market Street in the 1990’s, you passed 3 or 4 stores (including John Jovino) selling police equipment. We called it “the gun street.” One of the dealers invited us inside and we toured their impressive stock of guns and related equipment.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I think all or most of Gun Row is gone. Centre Market Street is looking very upscale, but I too remember how it looked in the 1990s, with the gun signs.

  9. Shayne Davidson Says:

    If only walls could speak!

  10. Tom B Says:

    I wanted to see this building when in Little Italy. There was a friendly doorman who told me about the current status. Very expensive. I believe Cindy Crawford or Julia Roberts lived there. I also heard there are tunnels going under the street to businesses.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      When I first stumbled upon it many years ago, I was blown away. Unfortunately I have not encountered any friendly doormen; usually when I ask a doorman if I can take photos of a lobby, they’re happy to let me. Security is tight here!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      As for the tunnel, yes, that’s the rumor; it went from the police building to the bar across the street, now O’Neills.

      • Brian Ferguson Says:

        On the tunnel: Big Bill Devery, the last “Chief of Police,” whose motto was “Hear, see, and say nothing; eat, drink and pay nothing” did much of his business from the bar across the street. Now O’Nieal’s, (Aniello de la Croce was called “Neil”). That is the last (?) bar remaining with the built out woodwork of the old German breweries, now more famous for its location in Sex and the City. But anyway, the rumor was of a tunnel from there to police HQ for Devery. Supposedly a myth. I got down to the wine cellar of O’Neial’s, and it looks like half a tunnel, walled up, to me.

        Across Centre on Grand, in 1857, was a shoe store where the first Metropolitan Police officer was killed in the line of duty (a burglary), just weeks after the Bowery Boy Dead Rabbit Riot. The shooter was a militia captain from Palermo. This was later (1890s) seen as NY’s first “Mafia” killing, even though the term Mafia had not been invented yet, even in Sicily.

  11. David H Lippman Says:

    The punch line on this building is a good one. That tower at the very top was built to accommodate a Maxim gun — and a machine-gun later, to enable the Police Department to defend their headquarters against angry mobs.

    • Ty Says:

      That reminds of the armories which were were built to assemble troops after the draft riots of 1865. Complain if you will but about these times but our village is a bit more civilized now than it was back then.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        They were actually built in 1877 and thereafter, across the nation, in the wake of incredible union-related violence that in turn followed the Great Depression of 1876, which is, of course, forgotten today.

        But the violence was unbelievable, with militiamen shooting down striking workers.

        Also, the draft riots in New York were in 1863…the worst incident of violence in American urban history, I believe, to this day, including Watts in 1965 and Detroit in 1967.

        Interesting that both of the latter riots owed their ending in a great deal to their baseball teams’ success: the 1965 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the World Champion 1968 Detroit Tigers.

  12. trilby1895 Says:

    Thank the Powers-That-Be for preventing “developers” aka “destroyers” from destroying this magnificent building.

  13. The most beautiful police station in Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] old NYPD headquarters on Centre Street is pretty spectacular. And I’m a fan of the understated elegance of the Fifth Precinct on […]

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