Bronx County Building
Mario Merola Building originally Bronx County Courthouse
851 Grand Concourse, at the southeast corner of East 161st Street.
Joseph Freedlander and Max L. Hausel, architects. William Kennedy Co., contractors. Frieze by Charles Keck. Sculptors: Adolph A. Weinman, Edward F. Sanford, George Snowden, and Joseph Kisselewski.
This imposing limestone-faced building, designed in a neo-classical, Moderne style, is a fine example of American civic architecture from the 1930s. Facing Franz Siegel Park on its north side, the massive site runs from East 158th to 161st Streets, and Walton Avenue to the Grand Concourse. This structure opened in 1934 as the Bronx County Building, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the creation of the county in 1914. It replaced the former Bronx Borough Hall (then at the northwest corner of Crotona Park).
The building conveys an efficiency and quiet dignity worthy of the courts. Its bold massing and classical lines are relieved with copper spandrel panels between the windows and the use of foliate ornamentation. This 9-story high structure, so substantial that one reviewer commented that it might well have served as the base of a skyscraper, is enhanced by a terrace of some 125,000 square feet that not only elevates and frames the building, but also conceals the lower level garage. Complementing the building are two freestanding groups of figures flanking the building entrances on all four sides. Sculptured in high relief in pink Georgia marble, these statues are set on the stone terrace. They harmonize with the shape of the building and focus on the themes of government and administration, the law, victory, and sacrifice. Low relief friezes encircling the building feature the universal working man and historic allusions. The portico’s fluted columns support entablatures bearing inscriptions appropriate to the building’s functions.
The courthouse building was an important commission for architects, contractors, artists, and laborers during the lean Depression years; and is the only collaboration of architects Joseph Freedlander and Max L. Hausle. Both Freedlander and Hausle worked separately on other local projects including the Bronx County House of Detention for the former, and the Municipal Courthouse and the Magistrates’ Courthouse for the latter.
In 1988, the Bronx County Building was renamed the Mario Merola Building in honor of the highly regarded former district attorney. The building contains the Bronx Supreme Court, Surrogate’s Court, jury rooms, court offices, the Borough President’s office and other civic agencies. Four separate elevator banks ease the flow of traffic within the building.
Designated a New York City landmark in 1976; the building achieved National Register of Historic Places recognition in 1983 and again in 1987 when it was included in the Grand Concourse Historic District. The opening of the nearby Bronx County Hall of Justice will free up space in the crowded Mario Merola Building that awaits renovation.
Janet Butler Munch
Lehman College Art Gallery and Mario Burger