After Jury Duty: Points of Interest Near the Courthouses and Foley Square

Civic Center, with its concentration of federal, state, and local buildings, many designed to provoke a sense of pride, wonderment, and awe, should be on more visitor itineraries. The dense concentration of monumental buildings in several historic styles - from Beaux-Arts to Art Deco to post-modern - should appeal to those with an interest in history and architecture. Fans of the long-running TV series Law & Order will recognize the courthouse steps. Intriguing fragments of the old city are scattered here and there, but new development points to the next iteration of the city skyline.

For many people the area near the courthouses remains sacred ground. The African Burial Ground rests in the land just to the west of Foley Square, and the cemetery of St. Paul's Church is nearby on Broadway to Church Street. Close, too, just beyond these buildings to the west, are the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center site. A new Visitor Center for the African Burial Ground will soon open to the public. (read below for more information)

Local residents are accustomed to visiting the area, having to regularly do business with various government offices or courts. Summoned to 60 Centre Street for jury duty, for example, can also be a good opportunity to look at the 4th floor jury room's large WPA heroic realist murals of New York scenes - the skyline of Midtown as seen from the East River, the Municipal Building, Rockefeller Center, and many more, or to explore nearby sights downtown on lunch break. Outside of jury duty or other official business, New York residents may also want to check into downtown to look at several major buildings under construction. Particularly fascinating at this stage is Beekman Tower, a 76-story skyscraper designed by architect Frank Gehry at 8 Spruce Street.

View After Jury Duty: Points of Interest Near the Courthouses and Foley SquareAfter Jury Duty: Points of Interest Near the Courthouses and Foley Square in a larger map

There are many more places here worth seeing including the Woolworth Building, the Tweed Courthouse, City Hall and City Hall Park. Some highlights -

• New York County Courthouse (now Supreme Court), 60 Centre St, between Worth and Pearl Sreets. east side Foley Square, 1913-1927. The ceiling mural in the rotunda, Law Through the Ages by Attilio Pusterla, portrays the major figures in the history of justice. On the floor - an elaborate sign of the zodiac. The Daniel P. Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, behind the court, 1995, represents contemporary Federal architecture by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

• Just to the south of the New York court sits the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse at 40 Centre St., SE corner Pearl St., east side Foley Square, 1933-1936. The base of this Cass Gilbert and Cass Gilbert, Jr. building is designed as a classical temple, with a tall tower topped with a golden pyramid. The building is currently undergoing major infrastructure upgrades, having received 64 million dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

• St. Andrews Roman Catholic Church, 20 Cardinal Hayes Place. Almost hidden in the shadows on the east side of the Municipal Building, this church building dating from the 1930s was designed in the Neo-Georgian style.

• The plaza of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building, 26 Federal Plaza, west side Foley Square, 1963-1969. The plaza currently features undulating green benches, but these will be removed for a new renovation in the spring. See the story in the Architects's Newspaper.

• African Burial Ground National Monument, southwest corner Duane and Elk Streets, 2001. Beyond the boundaries of New Amsterdam, free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6 acre site. The grounds were discovered in 1992. A new Visitor Center will open to the public February 27 and 28, 2010. See the National Park Service website for more information. The nearby sculpture, Triumph of the Human Spirit by Lorenzo Pace in Foley Square, represents the struggle for human freedom.

• Sugar House Prison Window, behind the Municipal Building near Police Plaza and the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Small section of the former 5-story Sugar Building, a place used by the British during the Revolutionary to hold patriot prisoners. The building was torn down in 1892, replaced by the Rhinelander Building that incorporated the window into its facade. Now that building is gone and only the fragment remains.

• Under construction, The Beekman, or Beekman Tower, a 76-story skyscraper designed by architect Frank Gehry at 8 Spruce Street, will house an elementary school, New York Downtown Hospital, and luxury apartments.

• Municipal Building, 1913-1916, a 40-story Beaux-Arts building by William Kendall, a partner in McKim, Mead, and White. Still one of the largest government buildings in the world, housing more than a dozen agencies, the formidable Roman-inspired edifice features a massive colonnade

• Farther afield on the west side, artist Maya Barkai's Walking Men 99 at 99 Church Street between Barclay Street and Park Place features international images of the walking man signs. The work is part of the Alliance for Downtown New York's "Re: Construction" initiative, a smart public art program that turns construction sites into artistic canvases. The building under construction here, designed by Robert A. M. Stern, will house condominiums and a Four Seasons hotel. The building will become the tallest residential building in New York, surpassing the height of its neighbor, the Woolworth Building (itself once the tallest building in New York).

The Civic Center area is easily accessible by subway. See embedded map for more details.

"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories." - opening narration from Law & Order.

Doink doink.

Images from February 8 and 9, 2010 by Walking Off the Big Apple (during breaks while on jury duty).

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