Building of the Day: 4201 Fourth Avenue

The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 4201 4th Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd Streets, entrance on 43rd.
Name: Sunset Park Court House
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1931
Architectural Style: Classical Revival
Architect: Mortimer D. Metcalfe. 1996 exterior restoration by Helpern Architects
Landmarked: Individual landmark, designated in 2001.

Why chosen: Sunset Park is a great neighborhood that few people know very much about, including me. It has very few remaining civic buildings, and this is one of the best. The courthouse was built to house the magistrates’ and municipal courts. Before all the courts were centralized downtown in 1962, Brooklyn had at least four different neighborhood courthouses that handled much of the local arraignments and court business for the borough. (One of them, the Gates Avenue Courthouse, in Bedford Stuyvesant, has been featured as a BOTD). The 1930’s were a boom time for NYC courthouse building, probably due to the Great Depression, and this building was deemed necessary to law and order in this part of Brooklyn, and like most city courthouses, was affiliated with a nearby police station. The 68th Precinct was just across the street. Classsical style buildings lend themselves well to civic structures; there’s something about the columns, the classic temple shape, that adds gravitas and the weight of Law to these structures, and the architect, Mortimer Metcalfe designed a very nice building, indeed. Sunset Park was a bustling industrial part of Brooklyn, with the Bush Terminal and the piers only blocks away from here, with lots of maritime and manufacturing business. But beginning with the late 1940’s, the 3rd Ave El was torn down, the subsequent building of the BQE isolated the neighborhood, the manufacturing started to disappear, and the maritime jobs moved to New Jersey. The courthouse was closed in 1962, and CB 7, and various other community and social service entities used the building for many years, with little or no upkeep or improvements. By 1987, the place was a mess, and the city finally allocated some renovation money, but it wasn’t until 1996, that Helpern Architects finished an extensive exterior renovation, during which time they cleaned and repointed the stone, replaced the windows, added A/C, and restored the façade, copper flashing and roof. The Police Dept. then moved in with their applicant processing division. I don’t know if they are still there. Today, the building is still in good shape. There is something in the NYC water that makes the city put the same ugly doors on every building they control, old or new, but all in all, the courthouse is still a fine reminder that good architecture can survive and be repurposed.


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