A recent report about a possible five-story expansion atop a century-old building has inspired us to share a bit about this capacious three-story brick structure, which stands at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and 2nd Street. (If you click through to the report, you’ll see in the comments that the current owner denies any expansion.) Part of the expanded East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, the largest historic district in the neighborhood, the building you may know as the Anthology Film Archives was actually the Third District Magistrates Court building , constructed from 1917-1919 to host the magistrate court. It is eligible for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The City of New York Board of City Magistrates hired architect Alfred Hopkins (who was known for designing many institutional buildings throughout New York City and federal penitentiaries in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Midwest) to design the civic structure, which was originally conceived as a 14-story “skyscraper-type” courthouse and prison in 1913. Hopkins substantially scaled back the plans in his 1917 redesign, which resulted in the extant three-story Renaissance Revival fortress-like building, modeled on European prisons. According to the New Building Application, the building was projected to cost $150,000. It would replace the Municipal Court building on Madison Street, the Ludlow Street jail, and the Essex Market Courthouse and district prison.
The building rises 46 feet high, consisting of a basement and two upper stories. The floor plan to the right reveals that the first floor housed the cells and the large courtroom and waiting area were on the second story. The facade is ornamented with various brick patterns. The main entrance and the tall arched second-story windows are heavily recessed and bordered by decorative terra cotta and masonry enframements with transoms. The small first-story windows have heavy brick casings, and the four leftmost arched bays on the second story have been partly infilled with brick. A corbelled brick and terra cotta beltcourse separates the two lower stories and the uppermost story is decorated with a brick and terra cotta detailed cornice. A battered brick watertable defines the base and there is also a hint of historic ironwork in the entrance transom.
The building was utilized for its original purpose from 1919 to 1946. After 1948, the building was known as the Lower Manhattan Magistrate’s Courthouse. Following a period of neglect, the Anthology Film Archives, one of the world’s largest collections of avant-garde and experimental cinema, purchased the building in 1979. Some alterations designed by Raimund Abraham and Kevin Bone were made to adaptively reuse the building.
To read about how the courthouse served as a revolving door for the era’s most notorious gangsters and how mobster “Kid Dropper” met his fate, check out this post written by a group of students as part of a collaboration between GVSHP and NYU’s Fall 2013 Intro to Public History course.