JEFFERSON MARKET COURTHOUSE, named after Thomas Jefferson,
was originally a courthouse with a civil court and police court, an
adjacent market and jail containing a holding area for prisoners (now
the library's basement). It has also served as office space for city
and currently is a public library. By 1927 only women
prisoners were tired at the courthouse and the prison had become the
Women's House of Detention. The prison was demolished and replaced by
a garden in 1973.
In 1880, the Jefferson Market Courthouse was chosen as one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America and in 1885 the American Architect and Buildings News named it as the fifth most beautiful building in the United States. It remains one of Manhattan’s most charming buildings and its Village setting is picture-postcard perfect. The Victorian Gothic design was created by architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Clark Withers. The ringing of its tower’s bells called volunteer firemen together to fight local fires.
The Courthouse is rich in history. Mae West was convicted of “corrupting the morals of youth” here with her risqué play, SEX, in 1927. An advertisement for SEX contained a warning advising: "If you cannot stand excitement -- see your doctor before visiting Mae West in Sex." In the play's Montreal brothel setting, Mae sang the song, Honey, Let Yo’ Drawers Hang Lo. SEX ran for over 40 weeks before the Society for the Suppression of Vice closed it down. Ms. West was fined $500, spent an evening locked up in the Jefferson Market Women's Prison and was sentenced to nine additional days in jail on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island).
The murderer of STANFORD WHITE (architect of the original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Park arch and Judson Memorial Church) was tried here. He was Harry K. Thaw, whose actress wife had been seduced by White when she was 15 years old. Thaw shot White in the face at Madison Square Garden’s Roof Garden during a performance of the musical number, "I Could Have Loved a Million Girls." The story has been told in E.L. Doctorow’s novel, Ragtime, a film (1981) and a Broadway musical (1998). Author Stephan Crane, best known for his novel RED BADGE OF COURAGE, testified at this courthouse in defense of city prostitutes. Crane also wrote MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS.
Over the years, the
condition of this building deteriorated and it was empty by 1958. The
City planned to tear it down but Village residents, including poet E.E. Cummings who lived across the street at Patchin Place (on West 10th
Street), protested and organized with other New Yorkers to save it. In 1961 plans were
announced to convert the building into a public library, construction
began in 1965 and was completed by 1968.
Before 9/11 a glance downtown from the corner of Sixth Avenue and Tenth Street offered a fantastic distant view of the World Trade Center especially at sunset as the sun glistened off the Trade Center's silvery towers.
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