Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bronx County Supreme Court

Bronx County Supreme Court (Mario Merola Building)
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10451
(718) 618-1200

The Bronx County Courthouse is an imposing fortress of a building, with depression-era stonework evoking thoughts of turmoil and the struggle for justice. The building houses all of the civil cases in the Bronx -- from small claims and housing, to multi-million dollar personal injury suits, to business disputes -- and has been called a "one-stop justice shop." (NY Times).

The Bronx was first colonized in the seventeenth century by a swedish settler, Jonas Bronk. It remained a small farming community until 1898, when it was annexed by the newly-formed New York City and became part of Manhattan. (See Wikipedia). At the time, the Bronx had only 200 residents, but provided additional land for the growing city and provided the City's only connection to the mainland United States. Between 1900 and 1930, the population expanded exponentially, growing to more than one million residents. (Clerk's Office History).

In response to the rapid population growth, in 1933, amid the great depression, the City erected the Bronx County Supreme Court building to supplement the much-smaller Borough Courthouse. It was designed by Joseph Freedlander and Max Hausel, and was touted as an example of "Twentieth Century American style." ( The interior of the building boasts impressive marble floors and chandeliers; the outside, however, is "a conventional-looking, 12-story government building." (Octogenarian).

Above the entrance to the Courthouse is written:
The administration of justice presents the noblest field for the exercise of human capacity. It forms the ligament that binds society together. Upon its broad foundation is erected the ediface of public liberty.
This quote is taken from a speach by L.B. Proctor at the 1877 innaugral meeting of the Livingston County Historical Society, describing (and perhaps quoting from) the then-recently deceased Judge Isaac Endress, a noted jurist who was one of the delegates at New York's 1867 Constitutional Convention.

(Note: the first four photos depict the Mario Marola building; the bottom right photograph is of the Bronx Borough Courthouse, no longer in use, mentioned above).

Unlike many courthouses, the Bronx Counthouse has a flat roof and is, essentially, a giant cube. It is a massive, dominating, citadel of a building. In 1988, it was renamed the "Mario Merola" building, after the former Bronx District Attorney. At the dedication ceremony, Merola's successor, Paul Gentile, commented: "This fortress represents the indomitable spirt of the Bronx and of its namesake, Mario Merola." (NY Times).

In 2006, the Bronx County Courthouse became the first building in the Bronx to receive a "green roof," a roof garden that helps reduce pollution by both cleaning the air and reducing cooling and heating costs. (; Greenhome NYC).

The building is covered in frescos and surrounded by statutes. Although some of the depictions are classic courthouse scenes, such as Moses with the Ten Commandments, nearly all of the frescoes and statues contain large groups people who are, apparently, struggling to push forward. The stonework evokes servitude and oppression, perhaps suggesting that this is a courthouse for the people, meant to aid the little guy in obtaining justice.

Across the street from the Courthouse is Joyce Kilmer Park, with a fountain, several statutes, and green space.

Nearby, sharing a subway station, is Yankee Stadium. The photographs below depict, from left to right: (1) construction of the new stadium, as seen from the above-ground subway station; (2) the view from the courthouse steps; and (3) the front of the new stadium the morning before the first Yankee home game in 2009.

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