Posts Tagged ‘WPA murals in New York City’

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.

Harlem’s beautiful old courthouse

April 27, 2009

Any chance this could be part of next year’s Open House New York? Built in 1891 on East 121st Street and Sylvan Place (between Third and Lexington), “Harlem Court House,” as an inscription on the facade calls it, served as a municipal court covering East Harlem until 1961.


It’s a Romanesque Revival gem with Victorian touches, like the pinnacles and gabled roof. Inside are holding cells, a gorgeous marble and iron spiral staircase, and WPA murals, among other treasures, according to the Department of Citywide Services.

The courthouse is now the Harlem Community Justice Center. A virtual tour is offered by the New York Correction History Society.