Building in the Spotlight

Why You Should Care about Surrogate’s Courthouse

Yes, this is a real building! No, I don’t know why you’ve never heard of it. Even the New York Times had to acknowledge its “elegant Beaux-Arts design.”

Courthouse or heaven?

Courthouse or heaven?

Surrogate’s Courthouse, also known as the Hall of Records, opened in 1907 at 31 Chambers Street, and currently house the Municipal Archives, namesake Surrogate’s Court, and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Unfortunately, it’s architect never lived to see its completion. John Rochester Thomas, credited by The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography as “America’s leading architect,” died in 1901.

The façade is splendid with detail.

In all senses, this was one of the most prestigious buildings of its day. This was the One57 of the early 20th century—except, you know, good.

The lavish building features extravagant interiors spread out over seven stories. It’s also known for its steel-frame (no insignificant detail, at the time) and Brobdingnagian main entrance.

Good things come in threes.

Good things come in threes.

The lower two stories are wrapped in rustication, and the entire building is covered with granite from a quarry in Maine. Above, a three-story Corinthian colonnade, two cornices, and a mansard roof cap the structure.

All told, the building’s exterior is home to 54 sculptures. It’s inside, though, where a three-story courtyard lined and mosaic murals awaits.

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Sultry sculptures dot the exterior.

Highlights of the interior include: Siena marble fireplaces, 15.75′ ceilings, Latin inscriptions, mahogany paneling, and carvings of dragons and cherubim in high relief.

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Where are the dragons? 

Though the building has been featured in myriad commercials and movies, it’s not a just pretty face. The building is wholly fireproof and provides several courtrooms.

Thankfully, as a NYC Landmark, a US National Historic Landmark, and an entry on the US National Register of Historic Places, so it’s safe—at least, for now.

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Peace out, Surrogate’s Courthouse. 

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