If you have been to Greenwich Village you most likely have seen this building – The Jefferson Market Library. It is hard not to notice and it’s on a most peculiar piece of land. 6th Avenue on one side, Christopher Street on another, Greenwich Avenue on another side and 10th Street covers the remaining two sides.
So, what is the history of the buildings ?
The building has had a fascinating prior life. It was formerly a courthouse, with a prison next door ( it is a garden today), itself replacing a dingy police court over a saloon and a wooden fire tower along with a market. Every last inch of the unusual shaped lot was used to obtain the maximum accommodations. The one building was actually two triangular buildings wedged together into the acute angle of the lot with the fire tower hinging them together. Only the court house remains and in 1967, the building was reopened as a New York Public Library branch.
Notable names that were locked up in the old courthouse jail cells next door, also known as the Women’s House of Detention, included Mae West, Angela Davis, and Andrea Dworkin, Holly Woodlawn (before it was discovered she was really a man). Also, Its location gave the women inmates an opportunity to try to communicate with people walking by. Some accounts had husbands and boyfriends yelling at the inmates. Often, the air was blue with bawdy language.
Voted one of the ten most beautiful buildings—it had a civil court on the second floor, now the Adult Reading Room, and a police court, now the first-floor Children’s Room.
The beautiful brick-arched basement, now the Reference Room, was used as a holding area for prisoners on their way to jail or trial.
Scattered about the building were offices and chambers, and looming a hundred feet above ground was the firewatcher’s tower. The tower, still intact, commands an uninterrupted view of Greenwich Village, and houses the bell that would summon volunteer firemen.
Part 2: Coming very soon. Milligan Place, Patchin Place, and the Second Spanish and Portuguese Cemetery
The façade is opulently ornamented, especially the Sixth Avenue side Carved details encrust the entrance and accumulate under the beautiful stained-glass windows and elsewhere around the building. The water fountain is decorated with reliefs depicting a weary traveller and a life-giving pelican. There is also a state seal in the main gable and a frieze representing the trial from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice that hangs over the window above the main entrance.
Part 2 Area surrounding – here