Bronx Family and
215 East 161st Street, between Sheridan and Sherman Avenues
Harrison & Abramovitz, architects
Edwards & Hjorth, structural engineers
This massive courthouse is a limestone-clad, 13-story building with duranodic aluminum windows, bronze tinted glass, and courtroom clerestories for natural light. The building is in a modernistic style with over 600,000 square feet. It has 2-1/2 floors below grade level, including a parking annex with two auxiliary floors attached.
Harrison & Abromovitz’s design made it possible for the Family and Criminal courts to share the building in common while maintaining a complete separation of their activities. This was accomplished by having separate entrances, a centally located vertical separation, and strategically positioned perimeter corridors. Family Court was situated on the west side (Sheridan Avenue ) at the highest grade level, while Criminal Court was at the south central side (East 161st Street) with a median grade level one story lower. This south side’s one story difference in elevation was an ideal solution to the bus and van intake of prisoners to the Criminal Court. A separate entrance on the east side (Sherman Avenue) was designed for judges, the district attorney, and grand jury members. The land immediately north of the courthouse has residential zoning.
The building has mosaic murals by artist James H. Alston: Equal Justice Under the Law in the Criminal Court lobby; and Family of Man at the Family Court entrance. Sculptor Constantino Nivola’s travertine (white marble) sculptures are postioned on the corner sides of the courthouse facing East 161st Street.
When the courthouse opened in 1977, it replaced previously obsolete family and criminal court facilities. It also brought together scattered governmental support services and agencies. These included police, probation, corrections, social services, child welfare, and legal aid. In 2004, the Bronx County Criminal Courts and Supreme Court were merged to create a new Criminal Division to handle all misdemeanor and felony cases. The new Division moved to the nearby Rafael Vinoly-designed Hall of Justice at 265 East 161st Street. This move had no effect on the Family Court operations and some Criminal Court operations continue at their former site today.
Janet Butler Munch
Lehman College Art Gallery