Building in the Spotlight

Building in the Spotlight: Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House

If you’ve never seen this building, try not to drool.

This is the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. Completed in 1907, designed by Cass Gilbert, it remains a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and City Beautiful movement.

Gilbert (or, as I call him, Ol’ Cassie) was appointed the architect by James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect (an extinct—though probably very enjoyable—government office). As they had founded an architecture firm in Minnesota together, the nomination was a scandal. (Ol’ Cassie is also featured in our article about the Woolworth.)

He's back!

He’s back!

It was particularly controversial since the Tarsney Act, which permitted private businessmen and not just government architects to design government buildings, had been passed only years earlier. The Act would be repealed soon after.

The building, however, is known for its incredible detail and contributions from other artists. In fact, it’s home to quite a few sculptures and paintings by regarded artists like Albert Jaegers. The main façade contains a large sculpture called the Four Continents (wait—what?).

Well, America made the cut

Well, America made the cut

Regardless of whichever continents’ feeling are hurt (it’s probably you, Antarctica), the building is undeniably beautiful. It’s probably for this reason it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, is a National Historic Landmark, and was one of the first designations of the nascent Landmarks Preservation Commission.

You're probably salivating

Salivating yet?

When it was constructed, it was used to house the U.S. Customs Service. Now, it’s home to the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Archives, the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, and offices for the Department of Transportation.

The buildings itself is seven storeys around a steel frame. It guards the end of the Broadway and faces Bowling Green—the oldest public park in NYC. It features beautiful Corinthian columns and a large frieze.

Inside, the most decorations can be found on the lower floors of the building, as is typical of the style. Rooms are laid out an square plan, the heart of which is a rotunda.


Plan of the main floor

Plan of the main floor

Here are some more pictures, before it’s time to say goodbye:





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