Jefferson Market Courthouse in New York

A Love Affair with a Landmark in Manhattan: An Arresting Drama in Greenwich Village. [Opinions expressed are the views of OLD JEFF unless attributed to other - - potentially less-reliable - - sources, i.e., newcomers who have not been around since 1832 on Sixth Avenue.]

Friday, December 30, 2005

Jefferson Market: January 1901

Newsboys around Jefferson Market had a hallelujah-for-hot-headlines bonus day when the demise of Murray Hall [a cigar-smoking bail bondsman who served that courthouse] revealed a secret: "he" had been a female. Here's the article that appeared in The New York Times, January 19, 1901:

How for Years She Masqueraded in Male Attire.

Murray H. Hall, the woman who masqueraded as a man for more than a quarter of a century, and the secret of whose sex came out only after her death last Wednesday night at 145 Sixth Avenue [located then between West 10th - 11th Streets], was known to hundreds of people in the Thirteenth Senatorial District, where she figured quite prominently as a politician. In a limited circle she even had a reputation as a “man about town,” a bon vivant, and all-around “good fellow.”
• • She was a member of the General Committee of Tammany Hall, a member of the Iroquois Club, a personal friend of State Senator “Barney” Martin and other officials, and one of the most active Tammany workers in the district.
• • She registered and voted at primaries and general elections for many years, and exercised considerable political influence with Tammany Hall, often securing appointments for friends who have proved their fealty to the organization—never exciting the remotest suspicion as to her real sex.
• • She played poker at the clubs with city and State officials and politicians who flatter themselves on their cleverness and perspicacity, drank whisky and wine and smoked the regulation “big black cigar” with the apparent relish and gusto of the real man-about-town.
• • Furthermore, Murray Hall is known to have been married twice, but the woman to whom she stood before the world in the attitude of a husband kept her secret as guardedly as she did.
• • The discovery of “Murray Hall’s” true sex was not made until she was cold in death and beyond the chance of suffering humiliation from exposure. She had been suffering from a cancer in the left breast for several years, as Dr. William C. Gallagher of 302 West Twelfth Street, who attended her in her final illness, discovered; but she abjured medical advice for fear of disclosing her sex, and treated herself. When she felt that life was at a low ebb she sent for Dr. Gallagher, the awful fear of exposure being supplanted by the dread of death. He made an examination and found that the cancer had eaten its way almost to the heart, and that it was a matter of only a few days, when death must ensue.
• • He kept this information from the patient, fearing the shock might hasten death. He deceived himself, for “Murray Hall” knew as well as Dr. Gallagher that the end was near. In years gone by, from time to time, "Murray Hall' had purchased volume after volume of works on surgery and medicine until she possessed a good medical library. Those books were studied, and the knowledge gleaned, no doubt, served to a good purpose in avoiding detection.
• • Three months ago most of this library was sold to C. S. Pratt, a book seller at 161 Sixth Avenue [near West 11th Street then]. The books found a ready sale among Mr. Pratt’s customers, and there was only one left in his shop when a reporter called there yesterday. This was a volume on “The Science and Art of Surgery,” by John Eric Erichsen, and was published in 1881. The flyleaf of the book contained this inscription written a feminine hand in a lead pencil. “Cella Lin Hall, 128 Second Avenue, N.Y.” Cella was the name of Murray Hall’s second “wife,” who died July 7, 1898. Her name was in all the books in Murray Hall’s collection, but, according to all the book sellers along Sixth Avenue who knew her. It was the “husband” who made the purchases.

• • • A LOVER OF BOOKS • • •

• • “There were many books in the collection,” said Mr. Pratt, “that were published in Ireland and England. Most of the authors, however, bore Irish names. ”I knew Hall well, having had many dealings with him; and believed him to be either a native of Ireland or a person of Irish extraction. He was well read and had no use for light literature. What he wanted and what I always sold him was some work on science. He would always ask to examine the book at home, and if it struck his fancy he would pay any price I fixed without quibble. He seemed to me to be a modest little man, but occasionally he showed an irascible temper. He would never talk about himself and shunned garrulous and inquisitive companions. In fact, when I met him on the street he was either accompanied by his black and tan dog or some woman or women, strangers to me, who I supposed were clients.“
• • ”During the seven years I knew him I never once suspected that he was anything else than what he appeared to be. While he was somewhat effeminate in appearance and talked in a falsetto voice, still his conduct and actions were distinctively masculine. This revelation is a stunner to me and, I guess, to everybody else who knew him.“
• • ”I wouldn’t believe it if Dr. Gallagher, whom I know to be a man of undoubted veracity, hadn’t said so,“ said Senator Bernard F. Martin. ”Well, truly, it’s most wonderful. Why, I knew him well. He was a member of the Tammany district organization, a hard worker for his party, and always had a good argument to put up for any candidate he favored. He used to come to the Iroquois Club to see me and pay his dues, and occasionally he would crack a joke with some of the boys. He was a modest little fellow, but had a peppery temper and could say some cutting things when anyone displeased him. Suspect he was a woman? Never. He dressed like a man and talked like a very sensible one. The only thing I ever thought eccentric about him was his clothing. Now that they say he’s a woman, I can see through that. You see, he also wore a coat a size or two too large, but of good material. That was to conceal his form. He had a bushy head of black hair, which he wore -long and parted on the left side. His face was always smooth, just as if he had just come from the barber’s.“
• • ”He never sought political preferment for himself, but often said a good word that helped along a deserving friend. And he could say nice things and some bad things about a man, too. Just as cleverly any one of the big politicians.
• • “Why,” continued the Senator, "when the County Democracy was in the heyday of its glory, Murray Hall was one of the bright stars in that constellation. He was the Captain of his election district when he lived and kept an intelligence office between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Street, on Sixth Avenue. That was some years ago, when the district was cut down, making Fourteenth Street the northern boundary. Hall moved so as to be in with his political pals. He used to hobnob with the big guns of the County Democracy, and I knew he cut quite some figure as a politician.

• • • A "GOOD FELLOW“ • • •

• • ”He finally tired of his political associations, and came to me. He asked to be taken back into the fold. He was a ‘good fellow,’ and kept a good line on the voters of the district. He knew most everybody and most everybody knew him, and I thought he would be a very acceptable acquisition. He had formerly been a member of Tamany Hall, and had many friends in the organization. He was at the polls every election day, voted once any way, as they say, and helped get out the vote. We made him a member of the General Committee, and he was always present and participated in the proceedings until the last two years. His health had been bad as a result of being knocked down on Fifth Avenue by a bicycle, and he had not been very active in politics of late."
• • Joseph Young, one of Senator Martin’s most trusted lieutenants and an officer of the Iroquois Club, was the Tamany Captain of the district when Murray Hall served in the same capacity for the County Democracy.
• • “I knew him well,” said Young, “and I remember that we both worked tooth and nail to get the larger vote. If he’s a woman, he’s the wonder of all the ages, sure’s you live, for no man could ever suspect it from his habits and actions.”
• • “Why he had several run-ins when he and I were opposing Captains. He’d try to influence my friends to vote against the regular organization ticket and he’d spend money and do all sorts of things to get votes. A woman? Why, he’d line up to the bar and take his whisky like any veteran, and didn’t make faces over it, either. If he was a woman he ought to have been born a man, for he lived and looked like one.”
• • The late Patrick McCabe, who was Chief Clerk of the Jefferson Market Police Court, was an intimate friend of Hall. They had been associated in politics for years, attended chowders together, drank, smoked, and had many good times, but McCabe died without the knowledge of the fact that his chum and colleague was a woman.
• • While McCabe was located in the Jefferson Market Court, Hall began the career of a professional bondsman. The singular character often befriended unfortunates for a consideration, and was doing a profitable business until, on one occasion, he qualified in a sum that aroused the Court’s suspicion.
• • On investigating the bondsman’s alleged wealth it was discovered that Hall had only about $5,000 in real estate, which consisted of five lots in West Chester willed to him by his “wife,” "and a few thousand dollars in bank."
• • Hall was arrested after attending a meeting at the Iroquois Club one night and locked up in the Macdougal Street Station, but didn’t stay long.
• • On the way to the station the policeman who had the prisoner in charge accepted an invitation to step into Skelly’s saloon, at Tenth Street and Greenwich Avenue. They had several drinks, for which Hall paid. In the meantime Skelly had sent out for several politicians, who accompanied the officer and his prisoner to the station house. Skelly furnished a bond and Hall was released.
• • The party returned to Skelly’s and had more drinks. Then Hall and several friends went to the Grapevine, Eleventh Street and Sixth Avenue, then to Teddy Ackerman’s, across from Jefferson Market, drinking wine in both places until they reached a high state of enthusiasm.


• • Hall was coaxed outside, refused to go home, and started in to whip Policeman O’Connor, who tried to arrest him, and succeeded in putting a storm cloud draping under the officer’s eye before he was handcuffed. Hall was finally returned to the station house two hours from the time of the first arrest, locked up, and kept over night. Next day his political friends “squared it,” and he was released.
• • Hall’s acquaintances, including Senator Martin, say that he appeared to be about fifty years of age. The death certificate places the age at seventy years.
• • John Bremer, proprietor of the Fifteenth Ward Hotel, Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue, knew Hall well, and had some business dealings with him. “He was a shrewd, bright man, in my estimation,” said Mr. Bremer, “and I wouldn’t believe he was a woman if it wasn’t for Dr. Gallagher’s statement.”
• • “He used to send people from his intelligence office to room here for a day or two, and often came himself to see somebody stopping here. He’d drink anything from beer up, but I never saw him smoke, though they say he did, and chew, too.”
• • “Yes, 'n play poker or pinochle and was sweet on women,” broke in a lawyer who lives at the hotel. "I’ve known him for a number of years. He could drink his weight in beer and stand up under it.
• • "Why, I saw him play poker with a party of the Jefferson Market clique one night, and he played the game like a veteran. And for nerve, well, I can’t believe that he was a woman, that’s all. He stood two raises, when a jackpot had been opened, on two nines. I stood directly back of him and saw the play.
• • "The opener drew a card. The next man drew two cards, the third man drew three cards. When Hall called for two, I thought he was crazy, for there was about $75 in the pot, and he didn’t have an ace or a face card to hold up with his pair.
• • It was a tray he held out for a ‘kicker’ and blame me if he didn’t pull another tray and a nine spot. He made all but the opener lay down, and would have been betting yet if he hadn’t got a call. He beat out three aces and got about $125 all told. He had a cigar in his mouth that night, but I don’t believe he lit it.
• • “So he’s a woman, eh? Well, I’ve read of such characters in fiction, but, if it’s true, Hall’s case beats anything in fact or fiction I can recall.”

• • • MRS. MEYER’S STORY • • •

• • Mrs. Johanna Meyers, who keeps a newsstand - cigar store at 109 West Tenth Street, knew Hall for many years.
• • “He used to come in here and buy papers and books, but never tobacco,” she said yesterday. "His wife used to come in, too. She was a large, good-looking woman, almost twice her husband’s weight. She did most of the business in the intelligence office up to the time of her death. She never intimated to me that her husband was a woman, neither did Hall himself nor their adopted daughter, Minnie.
• • "Last week Wednesday Mr. Hall sent a servant around here with a message that he was very sick and for me to call without fail between 2 and 3 o’clock next afternoon. My husband was very bad from the grip at the time, and I didn’t get a chance to go. He didn’t send for me again. He thought a great deal of me and used to come in and sit down and read for hours.
• • "On my last birthday he gave me a large cake for a present. Not once did I ever suspect from word or action that he was masquerading and was really a woman. I believe that he meant to confide in me and tell me his secret when he sent for me. If I had only suspected I certainly would have gone to see him. His adopted daughter, Minnie, was here this morning.
• • "The poor girl is terribly shocked over the disclosure. She said she had always believed her foster father was a man, and never heard her foster mother say anything that would lead her to suspect otherwise."
• • Minnie Hall, the adopted child, is the sole heir. She is twenty-two years old, and Lawyer Thomas Moran, who drew the will, says she is the only beneficiary named. The estate, he said, will not exceed $10,000 or $12,000.
• • Where Murray Hall came from, or who she really was, no one seems to know, not even the adopted daughter. It was about twenty-five years ago that “he” first came to public notice in New York. About that time he opened an employment bureau in Sixth Avenue, near Twenty-third Street. He had with him a woman known as his wife.
• • After about three years the wife made complaints to neighbors that her husband was making her life miserable: that he flirted with clients and paid altogether too much attention to other women. This woman suddenly disappeared. Whither she went, when or how, no one knows. The husband never spoke of her after her disappearance, and no one cared enough to make inquiries.
• • About fifteen years ago Hall moved to a building between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets, where he soon after introduced the woman who was known as Mrs. Hall, as his second wife. The couple seemed to get along peaceably until seven years ago, when they moved to 145 Sixth Avenue. Then, neighbors say, they quarrelled, Mrs. Hall declaring her husband was too attentive to other women. That was the first known of Minnie Hall, the adopted daughter.
• • Who the child was or where she came from is as much a mystery as the early history of Murray Hall. How a man could for so many years impersonate a man without detection, deceiving even her physician and some of the cleverest men and women in New York with whom she frequently came in contact, though the secret must have been known to at least two others — the wives — is a mystery quite as inexplicable as the character that accomplished the feat. [Source: New York Times, 19 January 1901.]
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• • Sketch: tk

Jefferson Market.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Watch the NYPL Waste $184,000 +

When the New York Public Library sent their usual soft-touch gimme letters out this year, they added a new item.

They asked WHY NOT? of past donors who were about to check "NO, I cannot contribute to the NYPL this year."
• • Several Greenwich Villagers reported that they gave this answer: "You wasted $184,000 + of taxpayers' money by commissioning an interior renovation plan for Jefferson Market Library without consulting the community first nor doing a Needs Assessment, therefore, you don't need more $$$ to throw at Susan C.Y.A. Kent. Fire this loser, then we'll talk."
• • Keep those cards and letters coming.
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• • Sketch: Jefferson Market by Yee

Jefferson Market.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Up the Pressure? Yes, sir!

Worth reposting here is a recent letter to the editor of The Villager that comments on how the New York Public Library has failed to maintain the facade on Jefferson Market, a beloved landmark.
Keep up pressure for Ol’ Jeff
To The Editor:
• • Heartfelt thanks to you all for the wonderful article by Albert Amateau regarding the library. I am thrilled that you have brought the building’s most immediate crisis to the light of day with your front-page headline: “Facade fix is overdue, say Ol’ Jeff advocates” (news article, Dec. 7). Time is the building’s enemy and speedy attention is crucial. Don’t let them drop the ball. Three cheers for The Villager!
Cynthia Crane Story
from: The Villager * Vol. 75, No. 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005
Read more:
• • City Councilmember Christine Quinn approved $1.7 million [in 2004 and 2005] for re-doing the interior of Jefferson Market Library.
• • • • Request info or comment • • • •
Carin Mirowitz - and/ or
Christine Quinn via fax: 212-564-7347;
via postal mail: 224 West 30th Street [Suite 1206], New York, NY 10001.
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• • Sketch: Jefferson Market

Jefferson Market.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

NYPL: Why the $ecrecy?

Worth reprinting here is a recent letter to the editor of The Villager asking the New York Public Library Why the secrecy about the public funding that you received?

• • • Won’t be quiet on library • • •
To The Editor:
• • The Jefferson Market Library is a landmarked building and nothing has been done to repair its exterior. There appears to be no money for repair. In the meantime, scaffolding remains.
• • At the same time there are sufficient funds for construction and renovation of the interior of the library. This makes no sense at all. Who allocated the funding? Why the secrecy?
• • Jefferson Market Library is one of the most utilized branches in Manhattan and many people from all walks of life use it extensively. Villagers are dependent upon its books, inter-library loans, DVDs/ videotapes, access to research and computer facilities. It will be devastating if it closes for any length of time. The preponderance of users are adults, moms and their children, not teenagers. The proposal to relocate half the reference section to the second floor that is currently crowded to make way for teenagers’ needs is outrageous.
• • I hope the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, of which I am a member, gets out in front of this important issue.
Edith Penty
from: The Villager * Vol. 75, No. 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005
Read more:
• • City Councilmember Christine Quinn approved $1.7 million [in 2004 and 2005] for re-doing the interior of Jefferson Market Library.
• • • • Request info or comment • • • •
Carin Mirowitz - and/ or
Christine Quinn via fax: 212-564-7347;
via postal mail: 224 West 30th Street [Suite 1206], New York, NY 10001.
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• • Sketch: Jefferson Market postmark

Jefferson Market.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Jeff: The Aggregate of Many Small Things

Relieved that the NYC Transit Strike is over, Jeff recalls the Gilbert Elevated Railway's construction on Sixth Avenue in front of the Jefferson Market Courthouse at Ninth Street. [This illustration was printed in Railroad Gazette, 8 March 1878.]

• • At the turn of the century, the triangular parcel between Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, and 10th Street was thus entirely occupied, and connected to the rest of the city by the Gilbert Elevated Railway’s Sixth Avenue line, inaugurated in 1878. . . .
• • The opening of the Metropolitan Elevated was the greatest single advance in rapid transit that the city had ever seen. But after years of delay, things were now happening so fast that the the Sixth Avenue El was to be surpassed within the same year. ...
• • 33,700 TWU workers returned to work 23 December 2005
• • 7 million New Yorkers renew their appreciation for subways and buses
• • " Nihil est aliud magnum, quam multa minute."
[There is not anything so powerful as the aggregate of many small things.]
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• • Sketch: Jefferson Market in March 1878

Jefferson Market.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Jeff: Every Breeze Whispers Louise

On DAY 3 of the NYC Transit Strike, Jeff recalls a feisty freethinker who lived across from Jefferson Market Jail on Patchin Place. Louise Bryant [December 5, 1885 - January 6, 1936], a journalist, writer, and feminist, was known for her Marxist writings and bohemian lifestyle. She figured as one of Eugene O'Neill's important loves. He based Nina in his play "Strange Interludes" on her. She wed reporter John Reed, and they spent time in Russia together (1917 - 1918) writing articles about the pending revolution.

• • The film Reds was based on her life with John Reed.
• • Louise Bryant and John Reed maintained a residence at Patchin Place for several years until Reed's death at age 33 in 1920. It was in Greenwich Village that he wrote his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World.
• • During their stormy relationship, Louise Bryant focused on her writing career, becoming a front-line war correspondent in World War I. She and Reed worked together in Russia during the Revolution, and her book, Six Red Months in Russia, made her an authority on Russian politics and socialism.
• • For readers acquainted with Louise Bryant only through Diane Keaton's portrayal of her in Warren Beatty's film Reds, a few biographies offer a welcome reassessment. Though one contemporary complained that she "had no right to have brains and be so pretty," Bryant was also unabashedly independent - - a professed suffragist since college.
• • Look for these titles at Jefferson Market Library:
• • QUEEN OF BOHEMIA: THE LIFE OF LOUISE BRYANT by Mary V. Dearborn [Houghton Mifflin, January 1996]
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• • Photo: Jefferson Market from Patchin Place

Jefferson Market.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Superficially, all was quiet

On DAY 2 of the NYC Transit Strike, Jeff remembers an energetic author who lived across from Jefferson Market Jail on Patchin Place.

• • John "Jack" Silas Reed [October 22, 1887 – October 19, 1920], journalist and activist, became famous for his first-hand account of the Bolshevik Revolution called Ten Days that Shook the World. He was the husband of the writer and feminist Louise Bryant and he also was the subject of a movie Reds [1981].
• • Will the TWU hold the subways and buses hostage for TEN days? Jeff hopes not. Meanwhile, do sample an evocative line or two from Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed
Day broke on a city in the wildest excitement and confusion, a whole nation heaving up in long hissing swells of storm. Superficially, all was quiet; hundreds of thousands of people retired at a prudent hour, got up early, and went to work. . . .
With brakes released the Military Revolutionary Committee whirled, throwing off orders, appeals, decrees, like sparks
. . . .
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• • Photo: Jefferson Market captured by Trevor Little

Jefferson Market.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jeff Market: El Finale

While Gotham is in the grip of a worrisome transit strike, Old Jeff recalls the last week of railway service on the 6th Avenue Elevated Train in 1938: El Finale. Meanwhile, a New York reporter who had covered the courts in 1936 describes Greenwich Village during the Depression.

New York City Below Forty-Second Street, 1936

Now, what shall I say of Greenwich Village?

• • 'What,' asks Will Irwin, 'would you say now if I, who have frequented Greenwich Village for twenty-two years, pronounced this Greenwich Village a myth? At least, it was a myth in the beginning. Afterward a little commercial exploitation made it for a time almost a reality. And then - it faded back into the ghostly world of fancy.... The true story centers around a real-estate scheme which had a success wholly unexpected - both in volume and in character.'
• • Greenwich Village (of course, you know it's called Grenidge) is, next to the Battery, the oldest settlement of white men on Manhattan. . . .
• • . . . At the junction of Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Avenue and 10th Street, is the famous old Jefferson Market Police Court, with a tall new Women's House of Detention in the rear. Many an evening I spent there when the Women's Night Court was held here and I was writing about the girl problem.
• • Those were the days of `willow plumes,' which cost quite prodigiously. Not to flaunt a willow plume was to be unendurably `low-caste.' And the way of the willow plume, for many low-paid girls, led to the Night Court. . . .
• • [author unknown - a New Yorker's remembrance from 1936]
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• • Photo: 6th Avenue El passes Jefferson Market during its final week of service 1938

Jefferson Market.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jefferson Market: Homeward, Angel

What a world it would be if every convicted felon could turn her courtroom conviction and incarceration into a million-dollar script. And what sweet victory it would be to recreate a real trial [in 1927 at Jefferson Market Court in New York] as a humorous Hollywood replay during which the accused turns victrix.

• • Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we present Mae West, re-doing the 1927 Jeff effort as a 1933 box office triumph in "I'm No Angel" [premiered 14 October 1933, Paramount Theatre].
• • Actor Gregory Ratoff plays the Prosecutor; Walter Walker plays the Judge; Cary Grant plays Jack Clayton.
• • Mae West, adorable avenging angel, is Tira the lion tamer.
• • Because at Jefferson Market today we need a little Christmas angel. . . .
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• • Photo: Mae West on trial in 1927 and on screen in 1933

Mae West.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jefferson Market: The Darkest Evening

. . . The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
• • excerpt: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
• • Robert Frost [March 26, 1874 - January 29, 1963]
• • poem published in 1923
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• • Photo: female inmates, all of them drug addicts, try to stay warm in the Women's House of Detention, formerly located on Sixth Avenue & Greenwich, December 1954

Jefferson Market.

Friday, December 16, 2005


"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable."
• • Thomas Jefferson [letter to John Adams, 8 September 1817]

The walls of Jefferson Market have been "witnesses of suffering" and at the mercy of the NYPL's Susan C.Y.A. Kent and appalling Paul [Fat Cat] LeClerc. Have these two read any books by John Ruskin?
. . . [T]he greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching, of mysterious sympathy, nay, even of approval or condemnation, which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity.... It is in that golden stain of time that we are to look for the real light, and color, and preciousness of architecture; and it is not until a building has assumed this character, till it has been entrusted with the fame, and hallowed by the deeds of men, till its walls have been witnesses of suffering, and its pillars rise out of the shadows of death, that its existence, more lasting as it is than that of the natural objects of the world around it, can be gifted with even so much as these possess of language and of life.
• • John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1880
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• • Sketch: whimsical Jefferson Market

Jefferson Market.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jefferson Market: Gay

Awaiting word about a transit strike, threatening to paralyze the good people of Gotham, Old Jeff hears the distant echo of conversations between two sisters [late residents of 14 Gay Street] who had to endure heart-stopping blasts of dynamite shaking their apartment as the Seventh Avenue subway was being built during the 1930s. Ruth McKenney's stories about her sister Eileen were often printed in The New Yorker, and mentioned incidents at Jefferson Market Court; these were collected in the 1938 bestseller My Sister Eileen.
• • Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov adapted the short fiction into a play, My Sister Eileen, which ran on Broadway 1940-1943. December 26th, 1940 was opening night at the Biltmore Theatre.
• • Four days before, author Nathanael West [October 17, 1903 - December 22, 1940] was in California with his bride, Eileen McKenney. Racing to catch their train to New York, they ran a stop sign and died in a car accident.
• • Distraught and bereaved, Ruth McKenney never saw the play.
• • Et in Arcadia ego.
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• • Sketch: Gay Street 1890s

Jefferson Market.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

In December We Remember . . .

Since the New York Public Library had planned to commission an extravagant mural for a new teen lounge at Jefferson Market Library, it's fitting to commemorate a fresco, highly praised in its day, designed to have a good psychological effect on 420 female inmates by a Swiss-born artist who resided in Greenwich Village from 1931-39. [And, yes, we know WHY the NYPL fat-cats were going after a mural. . . a juicy vainglorious back-door tale for another day.]
• • There may have been many dark nights of the soul suffered in the Women's House of Detention [once located on Sixth Avenue at Greenwich Avenue as part of the Jefferson Market Judicial site] but the series created by WPA muralist Lucienne Bloch did not draw on the visual language for dread.

• • In 1935-6, Lucienne Bloch [1909-1999], the 26-year-old daughter of composer Ernest Bloch, lived at 53 Leroy Street when she was working on the 12th floor of the women's prison -- a space partly open to the elements.
• • She recalled: “At my first visit to the Women's House of Detention where I was assigned to paint a mural, I was made sadly aware of the monotonous regularity of the clinic tiles and vertical bars ... [and] it seemed essential to bring art to the inmates by relating it closely to their own lives. ... I chose the only subject which would not be foreign to them — children — framed in a New York landscape of the most ordinary kind... . The tenements, the trees, the common dandelions were theirs."
• • By late September 1935, Bloch completed the first panel [7' x 16'] of "Cycle of a Woman's Life from Childhood to Womanhood" - - and was forced to put the project aside until the mild weather returned in spring, enabling her to paint outdoors.
• • In December 1935, Bloch was part of the grand opening exhibition that would inaugurate the first WPA Federal Art Gallery in the USA [7 East 38th Street]. This group show focused on murals designed for public buildings. Along with Bloch, the artists represented included Moses Soyer, Arshile Gorky, Alfred Crimi, etc.
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• • Shown: Lucienne Bloch & Panel 1 from "Cycle of a Woman's Life from Childhood to Womanhood," a mural commissioned for the Women’s House of Detention [demolished during the 1970s]

Jefferson Market.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Truth Tissued Off a Façade

Britain 'threw away lead in face/ façade race'
America guilty of 'unimaginable architectural neglect'
By Roger Highfived, Engineering and Science Editor

Britain could have carried out the world's first face transplant but threw away its potential lead in research eight years ago because of ethical concerns, according to the president of the International College of Surgeons.

• • • Face-transplant Pioneer a Front-Runner in Façade Transplant • • •

• • Prof Likem Goodenuff said the controversy over the pioneering surgery on Isabeau Dintimoore, 38, by a team of French doctors last month mirrored how he had been stopped from carrying out the world's first hand transplant in 1997.
• • The operation on Miss Dintimoore was made possible by composite tissue allotransplantation - - the technique that had been used to give Clint Hallandall, a New Zealander, a new hand.
• • Prof Goodenuff, who then worked at Saint Mary's Hospital in London, said he had agreed to consider - - conditionally - - an operation on the face of Jefferson Market. He is awaiting funding for the façade transplant as well as an ethics committee approval, he said. "Because we knew the Americans were not about to do it, I said let's try the French. And I am thinking of moving all of these procedures to Lyons in the future. This is a true story and people tend to forget this history."
• • Prof Jean-Michel Doute's team in Lyons, joined by Prof Goodenuff and Mr Boowen, had carried out a previous façade-transplant in 1998, beating a rival American team in Louisville, Kentucky.
• • Last month, Prof Doute operated on Miss Dintimoore using tissue from a donor on life support. Prof Goodenuff said: "We owe everything to the cooperation of French scientists, even the face transplant."
• • He added that criticism of the French team, notably on whether Jefferson Market was too old to be suitable for the operation and if traditional methods should have been used first, was driven by jealousy among rival experts. "Americans have so little sense of history, I must say, whether you like it or not. A French façade would never have been permitted to deteriorate and suffer unimaginable architectural neglect to that extent," he said, shaking his head. . . .
- - excerpt: article by Roger Highfived, Engineering & Science Editor [Filed: 12/12/2005]- -
___ ___
If you care about the façade of Jefferson Market, please contact:
Landmarks Commission Violation Officer Jessica Schmidt: T 212-669-7948
Landmarks Commission Violation Officer Anne Carlin: T 212-669-7951
___ ___
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• • Sketch: Night Court, Jefferson Market [1895]

Jefferson Market.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It Takes a Villager: Carol Embraces Jeff

Former Councilmember Carol Greitzer was very gracious and kind to grant permission to reprint her essay [published by The Villager] on Old Jeff's blog.
A personal perspective on the Jefferson Market Library
We saved the library once before; here we go again
By Carol Greitzer

“Yonduh is the castle of my fadduh.”
• • I somehow found myself recalling that Tony Curtis parody (from some movie I never saw) when I was walking up Sixth Avenue, approaching the Jefferson Market Courthouse from the south. I looked upward, and even though I pass the site nearly every day, I was surprised anew both by the number of turrets and towers, and the variety of their sizes and shapes. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a tourist emerging from the subway or the PATH station. What a startling, but pleasant, experience it must be for them, expecting to see funky, trendy Greenwich Village, but instead encountering this apparently medieval castle incongruously set down in the heart of the city.
• • This building is not only a unique landmark, but it’s one that has a special meaning for Villagers, because we saved it from demolition. What’s more significant — we did it before there was a Landmarks Preservation Law, five years before the existence of a Landmarks Preservation Commission!
• • The community reacted en masse and unanimously to the news that the New York Public Library wanted to tear down the empty, run-down building and construct a modern brick box that would provide the Village with a bigger library as a replacement for the small Jackson Square branch.
We all loved the idea of a larger branch, but not the proposed nondescript new building. So every organization got together to save our courthouse, under the leadership of Margot Gayle and Philip Wittenberg. Civic, political, fraternal, religious groups — we all got involved. My personal contribution was to dream up a children’s treasure hunt during the 1959 Christmas holiday season. I must confess, 46 years later, that I rigged the program so that after identifying a number of landmarks, the kids all agreed that the “castle” would make a super library. The publicity in The Villager and elsewhere also helped the cause.
• • Then in 1960 a mob of us — representatives of every Village organization — trooped down to a meeting in the huge office of James Felt, the chairman of the City Planning Commission. I was there as president of the then insurgent Village Independent Democrats, joining with the Tamawa Democrats, the Republican Club and others to plead our case. My recollection is that there were 40 or 50 people in the room, and everyone made a little speech. But the part I remember best was coming home in Tony Dapolito’s bakery truck with Ruth Wittenberg and the poet E.E. Cummings, who lived at Patchin Place. He was impressed by the theatricality of the event, and perhaps by our performances. “Do things like this go on often?” he asked.
• • At any rate, we saved the building, which was magnificently restored by architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. I remember the tours of the premises with pigeons flying overhead in the big courtroom known famously as the scene of Mae West’s appearance for “obscenity.” Also, about this time I was called into a meeting with the head of the Housing & Development Agency (Judge Milton Mollen) and Joe Papp, in the pre-Public Theater days when he was seeking an indoor venue for his Shakespeare Theater. In the tradition of the Equity Library Theater, Joe wondered whether the basement of the future Jefferson Library might be available. While I wished him well, I told them both about the existing plans and our expectations of having a great reference room occupying the unusual vaulted basement.
• • Yes, our community played a key role in creating this library, and we resent unwanted changes being thrust upon us without any input from library users. We were astounded at the news that library officials were planning to destroy our reference room, the very one that has functioned so beautifully all these years — but even more troublesome is the fact that the so-called plan they presented is incomplete. They will devote half the basement to some sort of teen facility, but have not as yet determined what will go into the basement’s other half. As to the reference room — well, that will go up to the second floor somewhere — they have not as yet determined where. What is more alarming is the fact that on more than one occasion, these officials carefully avoided referring to a reference “room.” All they would promise was that the reference “materials” would all be relocated. So instead of a secluded, relatively quiet room where people can do serious research, we may be left with reference “materials” housed near circulation shelves, subject to a constant stream of traffic.
• • Actually, some of the ideas make sense, like utilizing now wasted space on the main floor and freeing up the current checkout area and some back rooms on the second floor. Here’s where they might install whatever facility they have in mind for teenagers. (Parenthetically, several people have questioned the rationale behind this whole teenage concept. Library officials have targeted the 12-to-18-age group, which doesn’t make sense. The former are emerging from childhood; the latter are practically adults.) As for the existing reference room, a heavily used quiet refuge — as someone at a recent meeting shouted, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
• • Several years ago, community board member Ed Gold reminds me, he served on what was a very effective branch library council, which met monthly under the aegis of Branch Libraries Director Ed Holmgren. This group dealt with budget issues and other matters, bringing up concerns of the individual branches, and reporting back to the communities. Many “friends of library” committees sprang up, becoming an effective lobbying group at budget time. These friends were also instrumental in forcing the N.Y.P.L. to change its fundraising appeals. For the first time, donors could specify where they wanted their money to go — either to the Research Library or to the Branches. Activists were the force that kept the libraries open when they were threatened with drastically curtailed hours. In fact, the Jefferson Market Library was once actually slated for a total shutdown!
• • This activist group has been disbanded, to be replaced by something called the Borough Advocacy Committee, which meets only twice a year. It took several days, and chats with several people before I could uncover this information. When I asked for a list of the committee members, the initial response was “No problem.” But a few hours later, “on advice of counsel,” I was told that “to protect their privacy,” the names could not be given out.
• • My argument that the library’s mission was supposed to facilitate access to information got me nowhere. Nor did my query as to how this “advocacy” group could function if no one knew who the members were. So if there’s anyone out there who is serving as a library advocate, please, please make yourself known to us.
• • And please start advocating. Your help is needed — desperately.

• Greitzer was City Councilmember for the Village, Chelsea, and Midtown 1969-’91.
___ ___
• Published in The Villager [Vol. 75, No. 29 • December 7-13, 2005]
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• • Photo: Greitzer's words form a clear enough picture of the NYPL

Jefferson Market.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Splendid. You've arrived to sample another piece from Old Jeff's collection of choice tidbits. Get acquainted with The New York Landmarks Conservancy. Here's what they say about their mission.

• • The New York Landmarks Conservancy is dedicated to preserving, enhancing, revitalizing, and reusing architecturally significant buildings in New York City and State. The Conservancy advocates for preservation in Washington, Albany, and at City Hall. In addition, we are the only preservation organization in New York City – and one of the few in the country – with the financial and technical resources to actually make preservation happen.
• • Example: this organization provides updated information on endangered buildings in NYC neighborhoods - - and what could be more "endangered" than Jefferson Market [languishing at 425 Sixth Avenue]? - - and they organize strategies for rescuing these structures from further decline.
• • New York Landmarks Conservancy
• • 141 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
• • tel: 212.995.5260 • fax: 212.995.5268

• • Last month, at the Living Landmarks Celebration [2 November 2005], the honorees included:
• • Elizabeth F. Rohatyn, Chairwoman, NY Public Library
[residence: 810 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10021]
Since Elizabeth Rohatyn noted how much Manhattan's architectural ambiance moves her, write and ask if she can please get the facade of Jefferson Market [hidden under water-logged scaffolding since 2003] restored.
• • Edward I. Koch, former NYC Mayor
[residence: 2 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011]
Since Ed Koch recalled fighting to save Penn Station and declared how proud he was to be the first mayor to elect a full-time Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission - - and since he lives 2 blocks from Jefferson Market - - encourage him to come to the rescue.
• • Sharing stories and memories at the November 2nd gala at Cipriani's, all the honorees noted how much they cherish the buildings — and people — of our City. Jefferson Market's sad condition offers an opportunity for Rohatyn and Koch to put their emotion in motion.
• • Mail your letters before the postage rate goes up next month.
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• • Photo: s.w.a.k.

Jefferson Market.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Rage of "Raisons"

Facade fix is overdue, say Ol’ Jeff advocates
By Albert Amateau, Staffwriter, The Villager

Longtime Village residents last week told New York Public Library officials and elected representatives just what they thought about proposals to redesign the interior of the beloved Jefferson Market Library.
• • It all boiled down to three little words: “Don’t change anything.”
• • Neighbors of the former courthouse — nicknamed Ol’ Jeff — also insisted at the Nov. 29 meeting [at Our Lady of Pompeii] that the deteriorating exterior of the landmarked 1875 building, obscured for the past three years by a construction bridge over the sidewalk, should be restored as soon as possible.
• • “You’ve got to do the exterior,” declared Cynthia Crane Story, a longtime advocate for library preservation. “If you don’t do it now, you won’t have much of the interior left to save.”
• • Story and others at the meeting, including Marilyn Dorato, secretary of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, were especially concerned about the construction bridge, erected as a temporary safety measure to protect pedestrians from any falling pieces of the deteriorating limestone trim. They contended the bridge allows snow and rainwater to hasten damage to the facade and provides a cover for public urination.
• • The proposed interior redesign, particularly the proposal first made public about six months ago for “a teen lounge,” continued to outrage Jefferson Market Library advocates. Although Richard Miller, N.Y.P.L. senior project manager, said the proposal was for a “young adult” area and not at all a lounge, opponents at the forum were against it.
• • “Teens should be reading adult classics, like we had to,” said Elaine Abse. “They should not be segregated and infantilized.” Abse and others declared there was no need for a teen section in the library and cited census figures for the Village that put the teen population at only 6 percent.
• • “We don’t want any changes. What’s wrong with the way it is?” said George Sanseverino. The only parts of the interior redesign favored by the crowd were new elevators and better access for wheelchairs.
• • Closing the library for a year or two during the interior reconstruction would be the worst part of the proposal, residents said.
• • Kate Seely-Kirk, an aide to City Councilmember Christine Quinn, told the Nov. 29 meeting that the City Council staff was exploring whether the $2 million allocated several years ago for the interior redesign could be transferred to restoring the exterior. “If the transfer is possible, we would probably lose $184,000 already spent for [interior] design,” Seely-Kirk said.
• • Even if the exterior restoration becomes a priority, construction could begin no sooner than late 2008 or early 2009, according to Joanna Pestka, N.Y.P.L. vice president for capital planning.
• • The exterior restoration — mostly involving the limestone sills, gargoyles and other facade details — would require approval by the Department of Design and Construction, engaging an architect and calling for construction bids, Pestka said.
• • However, Doris Diether, Community Board 2 Landmarks Committee chairperson, suggested the project could be done sooner. Diether insisted that the original 1965 restoration plan by Giorgio Cavaglieri, the preservation architect, exists somewhere in city records. “It’s a very good plan and you can still call the architect,” Diether said.
• • Andrew Berman, director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said the society would help the library secure grants for the facade repair.
• • “All this planning has been done without consulting the community,” protested Fredda Seidenbaum. “We saved the building and worked to make it a library,” Seidenbaum said.
• • A proposed redesign of the reference room was a big concern. “We have a reference room that really works,” said Carol Greitzer, a former city councilmember, “It’s not a place where people pass through to go from one place to another.”
• • “You’re not going to change that lovely darkness,” said another Villager, who picked up on Miller’s use of the word “stripping” in his outline of the proposed scope of interior work. But Miller reassured the crowd that original dark wood finishes would remain.
• • The final decision on whether the interior or exterior will be done first will rest with the Public Library after the City Council staff determines budget issues and after consultation with Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane, who as Quinn’s Council predecessor, funded the original redesign seven years ago.
• • Later last week, Berman submitted to N.Y.P.L. a list of sources to fund the exterior restoration, including a joint program by the National Trust for Historic Preservation/ Home and Garden TV Restore American Grants and other National Trust grants.
• • Other potential sources include low-cost loans from the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Historic Properties Fund, and grants and loans from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Berman also cited the Preservation League of New York State, the Save America’s Treasures fund, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Booth Ferris Foundation and private sector sources, including Verizon, Deutsche Bank and Independence Community Bank.
• • Photo caption: At last week’s meeting on the Jefferson Market Library, Cynthia Crane Story, a library preservation advocate [at left], and Joanna Pestka, NYPL vice president for capital planning.
Volume 75, Number 29 | December 7 - 13, 2005
• • printed Nov. 29 pix by Elisabeth Robert
The Villager is published by Community Media LLC.
The Villager | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013
T: 212.229.1890 | Fax: 212.229.2790

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Jefferson Market.