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, May 26, 2006

Nightingale on Sixth Avenue

Listen my children, and you shall hear a midnight tale of those we revere.
• • Once upon a time, there was a noble judicial complex clustered around the knees of Jefferson Market Court in Greenwich Village. Over time, some of the buildings were demolished until there was only one standing: the (former) courthouse.

• • Gradually, the courthouse fell into disuse and decrepitude. The New York Public Library wanted to raze this 19th-century marvel and erect a perfectly soulless book-garage in its place on Sixth Avenue and West Ninth Street.
• • Led by preservationist Margot Gayle, the neighborhood rallied to protect its heritage. After several years of blather, the courthouse rose from the heap like a phoenix, reborn as a branch library. All was calm for quite a spell.
• • Over the last few years, however, when this aged landmark began showing alarming signs of disrepair, the vultures returned. These unspeakable beasts closed their eyes to the damage that all could see on the facade. Instead they skulked around, raising money for an INTERIOR jazzing up that would magic the reference room - - poof! - - into a Teen Lounge complete with murals and music videos. A female vulture had just returned to Manhattan from Los Angeles, locust-land-of-no-readers, where she had been spreading the Black-Mass-of-the-Teen-Lounge throughout the West Coast. [Well, no need to reveal names - - but hers rhymes with OOZIN'.]
• • Money that the schemer raised - - without doing a "Needs Assessment" in the community - - amounted to $2.1 million. And that ain't birdseed.
• • Inside Vulture Headquarters, a nasty beak [whose surname rhymes with JERK] cheered her on. His baton waved the Black-Mass-of-the-Teen-Lounge in the direction of lower Sixth Avenue. But the contagion did not catch.
• • Again the Villagers marshalled their forces. Well-respected adults got petitions signed, posted flyers, penned articles, called the community to speak-outs. A vaccine for the vultures' Black-Death-to-the-Readership was being concocted. Yes, these things take time.
• • Today a carrier pigeon brings news. Two revered landmark-look-outs reported on their good efforts. State Senator Tom Duane and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced: "We found that we can transfer the funds, although some money has already been invested in the preliminary design for INTERIOR work. We will be able to use these designs later when the EXTERIOR modifications have been completed. . . . We felt the decision of how to use taxpayer dollars allocated to Jefferson Market Library - - whether to modernize the INTERIOR or preserve the EXTERIOR - - should be a decision the community participates in [emphasis added]. . . ."
• • Good government is at work in Greenwich Village, thanks to Mr. Duane and Ms. Quinn, who are mindful of the needs of an outspoken landmark-loving neighborhood.
• • From sullen earth, the lark sings hymns at heaven's gate.
• • And in the clocktower, a nightingale prepares for morning.
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• • Jefferson Market • Keith Gunderson • 2001 •

Jefferson Market.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

1930 Mae-Be, Mae-Be-Not

Arrested development
Now as then, celebrity scandals make for splashy news.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hollywood in the courtroom
- - excerpt - -

Nothing feeds our schadenfreude more than a good celebrity scandal. To watch the mighty, glamorous and rich stumble is a reality soap opera unparalleled by anything that the studios can dream up. Since Hollywood's birth, the peril of potential pitfalls has added an effervescent thrill to celebrity. After all, early Hollywood megastar Fatty Arbuckle was destroyed by the allegation that he raped a woman at a debauched party. And he was acquitted! Today, the public has shown increasing fickleness about what scandal might actually succeed in alienating its affections.
• • SHE'S NO ANGEL • •
Jailed in New York for her play "Sex" and up against censors again with the play "The Drag," Mae West defends herself in 1930 in one of many cases brought against her for obscenity.
• • Published: L.A. TIMES 21 May 2006
[Verdict in Mae's 1930 trial: NOT guilty. Mae West did not go to Hollywood until 3 years later. The Jefferson Market courtroom headlines made her famous - - not Paramount, thank you very much.]
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• • Jefferson Market Court • Mae West trial• 1930 [L.A. Times photo] •

Jefferson Market.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Commit the crime on 8th Street"

In 1917, a talented 37-year-old author was finishing her manuscript Greenwich Village. Recently widowed, Mrs. Robert Peyton Carter had relocated from West 112th Street (the northern precinct where her actor-husband had preferred to live) far downtown to 241 West 13th Street — — and she had fallen in love with her bohemian neighborhood. With several screenplays and even a Broadway play to her credit, the writer had no trouble attracting an illustrator to work on her project. Shortly after celebrating her 40th birthday, however, she sickened and died. OLD JEFF can picture this beauty in 1917, 90 years ago. Enjoy an excerpt from her book — — and her forever-young photograph. Anna Alice, gifted one, you live on in every New Yorker's history-loving heart!
• • • • Greenwich Village • • • •
By: Anna Alice Chapin [1880
Illustrator: Alan Gilbert Cram
• • Illustration: JEFFERSON MARKET. The old clock that has told the hours of justice for Greenwich Village during many years.
— — excerpt — —
• • It is an odd coincidence that the present Jefferson Market Police Court stands now at Tenth Street
— — ­ though a good bit further inland than the ancient State’s Prison. The old Jefferson Market clock has looked down upon a deal of crime and trouble, but a fair share of goodness and comfort too. It is hopeful to think that the present regime of Justice is a kindlier and a cleaner one than that which prevailed when the treadmill and the dark cell were Virtue’s methods of persuading Vice. Someone, I know not who, wrote this apropos of prisons in Greenwich:
• • "In these days fair Greenwich Village
• • Slept by Hudson’s rural shores,
• • Then the stage from Greenwich Prison
• • Drove to Wall Street thrice a day —­
— —
• • Now the sombre ‘Black Maria’
• • Oftener drives the other way."
• • • • OLD JEFF: But I like to think that the old clock, if it could speak, would have some cheering tales to tell. I like to believe that ugly things are slipping farther and farther from Our Village, that honest romance and clean gaiety are rather the rule there than the exception, and that, perhaps, the day will sometime dawn when there will be no more need of the shame of prisons in Greenwich Village. ...
• • . . . the Village is a small place, and a true Village in its neighborliness and its readiness to pass a message along.
• • Really, there is nothing quainter about it than this intimate and casual quality, such as is known in genuine, small country towns. Fancy a part of New York City —­ —­ Gotham, the cold, the selfish, the unneighborly, the indifferent —­ —­ in which everyone knows everyone else and takes a personal interest in them too; where distances are slight and pleasant, where young men in loose shirts with rolled-up sleeves, or girls hat-less and in working smocks stroll across Sixth Avenue from one square to another with as little self-consciousness as though they were meandering down Main Street to a game of tennis or the village store! Sixth Avenue, indeed, has come to mean nothing more to them than a rustic bridge or a barbed-wire fence
—­ —­ ­something to be gotten over speedily and forgotten. They even, by some alchemy of viewpoint, seem to give it a rural air from Jefferson Market down to Fourth Street —­ —­ ­these cool-looking, hat-less young people who make their leisurely way down Washington Place or along Fourth Street. People pass them —­ —­ people in hats, coats and carrying bundles; but the Villagers do not notice them. They do not even look at them pityingly; they do not look at them at all. Your true Green-Village denizen does not like to look at unattractive objects if he can possibly avoid it.
• • Of course, they do make use of Sixth Avenue occasionally, on their rare trips uptown. But it is in the same spirit that a country dweller would take the railway in order to get into the city on necessary business. As a matter of fact there is no corner of New York more conveniently situated for transportation than this particular section of Greenwich. I came across a picturesque real estate advertisement the other day:
• • • • “If you ever decide to kill your barber and fly the country, commit the crime at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. There is probably no other place in the world that offers as many avenues of flight.”
• • But nothing short of dire necessity ever takes a Villager uptown. He, or she, may go downtown but not up. Uptown nearly always means something distasteful and boring to the Village; they see to it that they have as few occasions for going there as possible. . . .
—­ —­ —­ —­ —­ —­ —­ —­
• • Native New Yorker Anna Alice Hoppin, whose penname was Anna Alice Chapin [1880
—­ 26 February 1920], was an author who had received a private education and studied music under Harry Rowe Shelley. She wrote and published her first book A Story of Rhinegold [1897] when she was 17 years old. Other books were: Wonder Tales from Wagner (1898); Wotan, Siegfried, and Brunhilde (1898); Masters of Music (1901); Discords (1905); The Heart of Music (1906); Königskinder (1911); The Nowadays Fairy Book (1911); The Topsy Turvy Fairy (1913); The Eagle's Mate (1914); and Greenwich Village (1917), illustrated by Alan Gilbert Cram and published posthumously in 1925. Anna Alice Chapin also wrote several screenplays, short stories for magazines, and with Robert Peyton Carter, a British actor (16 years her senior) whom she married in 1906, a melodrama The Deserters, produced on Broadway in 1910. They had no children and Robert Peyton Carter predeceased her. After a short illness, 39-year-old Anna died at home: 241 West 13th Street. Her sister Mrs. Austen G. Fox, her literary executor, arranged for several manuscripts to be published and made into films during the 1920s.
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• • Jefferson Market • Alan Gilbert Cram • 1917 •

Jefferson Market.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jefferson Market Justice [1911]

Poor women in Jefferson Market's Night Court were treated shamefully. During the early 1900s, several journalists, reformers, and authors tried to bring this unjust situation to the public's attention. "Prodigal daughters!" wrote Rheta Childe Dorr. "Between December, 1908, and December, 1909, no less than 5,000 of them passed through the guarded door, under the blaze of the electric lights. There is never an hour, from nine at night until three in the morning, when the prisoners’ bench in Jefferson Market Court is without its full quota of women. Old —­ prematurely old, and young —­ pitifully young; white and brown; fair and faded; sad and cynical; starved and prosperous; rag-draped and satin-bedecked; together they wait their turn at judgment. ..."
• • Jefferson Market justice was at the center of this novel published in 1911: The Nine-Tenths by James Oppenheim. Here's an excerpt:

• • "What's your name?"
• • Rhona could not answer for a moment. Then, faintly:
• • "Rhona Hemlitz."
• • "Age?"
• • "Seventeen."
• • "Address?"
• • "---- Hester Street."
• • "Occupation?"
• • "Shirtwaist-maker."
• • "Oh!" he whistled slightly. "Striker?"
• • "Yes."
• • "Picketing?"
• • "Yes."
• • "Held for Night Court trial. Lock her up, Officer."
• • Blackness closed over the girl's brain. She thought she was going into hysterics. Her one thought was that she must get help, that she must reach some one who knew her. She burst out:
• • "I want to telephone."
• • "To who?"
• • "Mr. Blaine - - Mr. Blaine!"
• • "West Tenth Street feller [i.e., a bail bondsman]?"
• • "Yes."
• • The sergeant winked to the policeman.
• • "Oh, the matron'll see to that! Hey, Officer?"
• • Rhona felt her arm seized, and then had a sense of being dragged, a feeling of cool, fetid air, a flood of darkness, voices, and then she knew no more. The matron who was stripping her and searching her had to get cold water and wash her face....
• • Later Rhona found herself in a narrow cell, sitting in darkness at the edge of a cot. Through the door came a torrent of high-pitched speech.
• • "Yer little tough, reform! reform! What yer mean by such carryings-on? I know yer record. Beware of God, little devil...."
• • On and on it went, and Rhona, dazed, wondered what new terror it foreboded. But then without warning the talk switched.
• • "Yer know who I am?"
• • "Who?" quavered Rhona.
• • "The matron."
• • "Yes?"
• • "I divorced him, I did."
• • "Yes."
• • "My husband, I'm telling yer. Are yer deef?"
• • Suddenly Rhona rose and rushed to the door. "I want to send a message."
• • "By-and-by," said the matron, and her rum-reeking breath came full in the girl's face. The matron was drunk.
• • For an hour she confided to Rhona the history of her married life, and each time that Rhona dared cry, "I want to send a message!" she replied, "By-and-by."
• • But after an hour was ended, she remembered.
• • "Message? Sure! Fifty cents!"
• • Rhona clutched the edge of the door.
• • "Telephone - - I want to telephone!"
• • "Telephone!" shrieked the matron. "Do yer think we keep a telephone for the likes of ye?"
• • "But I haven't fifty cents - - besides, a message doesn't cost fifty cents - - "
• • "Are yer telling me?" the matron snorted. "Fifty cents! Come now, hurry," she wheedled. "Yer know as yer has it! Oh, it's in good time you come!"
• • Her last words were addressed to some one behind her. The cell door was quickly opened; Rhona's arm was seized by John, the policeman, and without words she was marched to the curb and pushed into the patrol wagon with half a dozen others. The wagon clanged through the cold, dark streets, darting through the icy edge of the wind, and the women huddled together. Rhona never forgot how that miserable wagonful chattered - - that noise of clicking teeth, the pulse of indrawn sighs, and the shivering of arms and chests. Closer and closer they drew, as if using one another as shields against the arctic onslaught, a couple of poor women, and four unsightly prostitutes, the scum of the lower Tenderloin. One woman kept moaning jerkily:
• • "Wisht I was dead -- down in my grave. It's bitter cold -- "
• • The horses struck sparks against the pave, the wheels grided, and the wagon-load went west, up the shadowy depths of Sixth Avenue, under the elevated structure, and stopped before Jefferson Market Court. The women were hustled out and went shuddering through long corridors, until at last they were shoved into a large cell.

* * * * *

• • At about the same moment, Myra and Joe emerged from the West Tenth Street house and started for the court-house. They started, bowing their heads in the wind, holding on to their hats.
• • "Whew!" muttered Joe. "This is a night!"
• • Myra did not dare take his arm, and he spoke a little gruffly.
• • "Better hang on to me."
• • She slipped her arm through his then, gratefully, and tried to bravely fight eastward with him.
• • Joe was silent. He walked with difficulty. Myra almost felt as if she were leading him. If she only could have sent him home, nursed him and comforted him! He was so weary that she felt more like sending him to bed than dragging him out in this bitter weather.
• • More and more painfully he shuffled, and Myra brooded over him as if he were hers, and there was a sad joy in doing this, a sad glory in leading him and sharing the cruel night with him.
• • In this way they gained the corner of Sixth Avenue. Across the way loomed the illuminated tower-topped brick court-house.
• • "Here it is," said Joe.
• • Myra led him over, up the steps, and through the dingy entrance. Then they stepped into the court-room and sat down on one of the benches, which were set out as in a school-room.
• • The place was large and blue, and dimly lighted. The judge's end of it was screened off by wire netting. Up on a raised platform sat the magistrate at his desk, his eyes hidden by a green shade, his bald head radiant with the electric light above him. Clerks hovered about him, and an anaemic indoor policeman, standing before him, grasped with one hand a brass rail and with the other was continually handing up prisoners to be judged. All in the inclosed space stood and moved a mass of careless men, the lawyers, hangers-on, and all who fatten upon crime - - careless, laughing, nudging, talking openly to the women of the street. A crass scene, a scene of bitter cynicism, of flashy froth, degrading and cheap. Not here to-night the majesty of the law; here only a well-oiled machine grinding out injustice.
• • Joe and Myra were seated among a crowd of witnesses and tired lawyers. The law's delay seemed to steep the big room with drowsiness; the air was warm and breathed in and out a thousand times by a hundred lungs. Myra looked about her at the weary, listless audience. Then she looked . . .
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• • Woodcut of Jefferson Market's infamous Women's Court • Bernard P. Schardt • •

Jefferson Market.