Posts Tagged ‘Jefferson market library’

Looking down Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village

January 19, 2015

Sixth Avenue at West 10th Street looks about the same today, right? Well, except for the notorious women’s prison building hiding behind the Jefferson Market Courthouse turned Library.


Walter Brightwell painted this scene, according to Artnet, naming it “Looking Down Sixth Avenue Towards the Jefferson Market Library Building.”

The painting looks like it was done in the 1940s, but interestingly, Jefferson Market didn’t became a NYPL library branch until the 1960s.

The old man and the heron on a Village fountain

September 26, 2013

JeffersonmarketfountainIs it possible to get tired of looking at the Jefferson Market building on Sixth Avenue and 9th Street in the center of Greenwich Village?

Constructed as a courthouse in 1877 and remodeled into a neighborhood library branch since the 1960s, it holds so many enchanting architectural surprises.

The castle-like exterior features “steeply sloping roofs, gables, pinnacles, Venetian Gothic embellishments, and an intricate tower and clock,” as the AIA Guide to New York City puts it.

Inside are wonderful gems as well: beautiful stained glass windows, lovely woodwork, and a grand spiral staircase.

JeffersonmarketfountainpelicanBut there’s one little treasure located where the building comes together under the clock tower that’s easy to miss.

It’s a small, Gothic-style water fountain with a basin, a lion’s head spout, and two curious reliefs.

One is of a pelican heron amid reeds and grass, a frog snared inside its beak. The second depicts an old man sitting beside a tree.

The old man looks like he’s taking a rest after a long journey. His hat hangs on a branch and his walking cane at his side.


He looks weary, and he’s contemplating something. But who is he?

The West Village courthouse inspired by a castle

July 1, 2013

The fantastical Jefferson Market building—with its turrets, gables, stained glass, and incredible clock tower—started out in 1877 as a courthouse and jail (with a notorious women’s prison in a long-gone building behind it).

It flirted with demolition in the 1950s before being recycled into a branch of the New York Public Library.


This is all old news to fans of gothic-inspired New York architecture. But what isn’t as well-known is that the building was apparently inspired by a German castle—called Neuschwanstein, former home of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II.


The AIA Guide to New York City calls Jefferson Market a “mock Neuscshwansteinian assemblage,” while New York Architecture has compiled some information on the castle, described as “neo-late romanesque.”

Hmm, see a resemblance?

Stained glass beauty at Jefferson Market Library

December 14, 2012

Jeffmarketstainedglass2When you gaze at the castle-like exterior, it’s hard to imagine that this 1870s Romanesque courthouse-turned-library branch could be any lovelier on the inside.

It is. Head up the grand spiral staircase and into the main reading room. The whole way, you’ll be struck by enormous stained glass windows as beautiful as those in any church.

Designed by Charles Booth (who also created stained glass at Grace Church on Broadway and 10th Street), they mostly feature geometric patterns.

Then there are these Pre-Raphaelite beauties, forever illuminating that breathtaking staircase.


The women’s prison in the middle of the Village

March 14, 2011

It’s doubtful that today’s Greenwich Village residents would allow the city to put up a fortress-like jail behind Jefferson Market, the 19th century courthouse-turned-library at Sixth and Greenwich Avenues.

But the Village was different in the 1930s. When city officials decided to replace an old jail that was part of Jefferson Market, they weren’t met with NIMBY opposition.

So in 1932, the Women’s House of Detention opened.

Modern and bright (WPA murals lined the walls), it focused on reforming the inmates, often charged with prostitution.

There were some illustrious inmates, held for other crimes, like Ethel Rosenberg, Angela Davis, and Valerie Solanas, who shot Andy Warhol in 1968.

Longtime Village residents still miss the street theater: Inmates on higher floors catcalled men on the street and cussed out visiting boyfriends and husbands on the sidewalk below.

By the 1960s, it was overcrowded and as unsafe as the jail it replaced. Closed in 1971 (inmates were shipped off the Rikers Island), the building was bulldozed in 1974.

A lovely garden was planted in its place.

A Village kid’s library card

June 11, 2008

Completed in 1877, Jefferson Market served as a courthouse with an adjacent jail. (The infamous Women’s House of Detention, a separate structure, was next door.) By 1927, “Old Jeff” was no longer used for law enforcement. In the 1950s it was slated for demolition; in 1967 it was made over into a New York Public Library branch still heavily used today.

If it had been torn down, a white brick apartment building called the “Jefferson” would likely be standing in its place. But that didn’t happen, and in fact, renovations to preserve the Victorian Gothic gem are set for 2009. See an earlier post with a 1940 photo of Jefferson Market here.

The three-year-old owner of this temporary kid’s card, issued in 1974 (no barcodes back then!), did not know that the children’s room on the first floor had once been a police court.