The striking High Victorian Gothic building doesn’t just look beautiful… it’s certifiably beautiful. In 1885 Jefferson Market was voted as one of the 10 most beautiful buildings in the United States by a national poll of architects!
Location: 425 6th Ave
Architects: Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux
Originally known as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, it was designed by Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux, architect of the Museum of Natural History and Central Park, with the multitasking purpose of being part courthouse, part jail, part market, and part fire tower complex.
The original tower was wooden and was built as a fire lookout since the fires in the city were frequent and fierce. In the case of a fire, the watchman could ring the bell, with the number of rings specifying the fire location. Ironically, the original wooden fire tower burned down and was replaced with the stunning and sturdy structure we see today, which also housed a courthouse and a jail.
Unlike other city courts which closed at 6 pm, Jefferson Market Courthouse was open for business quite late, leading to a fair number of exciting nightlife arrests.
The most famous of these arrests occurred in 1927 when Mae West was brought into custody on obscenity charges for her play Sex, which she wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. Since she was taken in with the complete cast of 54 people, the bail for all of them was too high to be raised in the middle of the night. So Ms. West, a famous actress, singer, comedian, and sex symbol, had to spend the whole night in Jefferson Market jail.
Side note: when the judge inquired, “Miss West, are you trying to show contempt for this court?,” she retorted, “On the contrary, your Honor, I was doin’ my best to conceal it.”
The jail was replaced by the Woman’s House of Detention, which was demolished in 1973, in turn being replaced by the blossoming community garden on the south side of Jefferson Market. For those who follow Sex and the City, Miranda chose this garden for her wedding ceremony.
Jefferson Market Courthouse is also connected with one of the most sensational and most publicized murders in the history of New York, which involved a jealous millionaire husband, Harry Thaw, his beautiful ingenue wife, Evelyn Nesbit, and her ex-lover, famous architect Stanford White. An intoxicated and insanely jealous Harry Thaw shot and killed Stamford White in public during a performance of the play Mamzelle Champagne at the Roof Garden of the Madison Square Garden. Harry Thaw appeared before the magistrate and was remanded without bail in the Jefferson Market Courthouse. He was later acquitted of guilt by reason of insanity. He was that rich!
Now the Jefferson Market is a branch of New York Public Library. The tower is generally closed to the public but could be visited during New York Open House days. It has a permanent resident: a huge white spider which comes out to play on Halloween.