Brooklyn Structure: The Sundown Park Courthouse
Editor’s note: This post was originally published and updated in 2011. You can read the previous post here.
Sunset Park is a great neighborhood with only a few bourgeois buildings left. This courthouse on 4201 4th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets is one of the best. The courthouse was built to house the judge and the city courts.
Before all of the downtown courts were centralized in 1962, Brooklyn had at least four different neighborhood courthouses that handled much of the local litigation and business for the district. (One of these was the Gates Avenue Courthouse in Bedford Stuyvesant).
The 1930s was a boom time for the New York Courthouse building, likely due to the Great Depression, and that building was seen as necessary to law and order in this part of Brooklyn. Like most city courthouses, it was connected to a nearby police station. The 68th district was just across the street.
Classic style buildings are well suited to civil structures. There is something about the pillars, the classic temple shape that gives these structures gravitas and the weight of the law. The architect Mortimer Dickerson Metcalfe designed a very beautiful building indeed. Construction began in 1930 and the building was completed in early 1933.
Sunset Park was then a busy industrial part of Brooklyn, with the Bush Terminal and Piers just blocks away, with lots of marine and manufacturing businesses. But from the late 1940s, 3rd Avenue El was demolished, the subsequent BQE building isolated the neighborhood, production began to disappear, and maritime jobs were relocated to New Jersey.
The courthouse was closed in 1962. Community Board 7 and various other community and social institutions used the building for many years with little or no maintenance or improvements.
The place was a mess until 1987, and the city eventually provided some renovation money. It wasn’t until 1996 that Helpern Architects completed a comprehensive exterior renovation. They cleaned and re-laid the stone, replaced the windows, added air conditioning, and restored the facade, copper facing, and roof. The police then moved into their applicant processing department.
The building was designated as an individual landmark in 2001. Today the building is still in good condition. There’s something in the water of New York City that makes the city assign the same ugly doors to every building they control, old or new, but overall, the courthouse is still a good reminder that good architecture survives and can be used for other purposes.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
Email [email protected] with additional comments, questions, or tips. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram and like us on Facebook.