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Committee for a Library in the Courthouse

Committee for a Library in the Courthouse

The Committee for a Library in the Courthouse was focused on saving the Jefferson Market Courthouse from demolition and converting the building into a branch of the New York Public Library.

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
People: Giorgio Cavaglieri, C. C. Cummings, Maurice Evans, Margot Gayle, Lewis Mumford, Stanley TankelRobert F. Wagner, Jr., Robert C. Weinberg, Philip Wittenberg
Places: Jefferson Market Courthouse, New York Public Library
Above: Jefferson Market Courthouse, 1905; Courtesy of the Detroit Publishing Co.

The Committee for a Library in the Courthouse was focused on saving the Jefferson Market Courthouse from demolition and converting the building into a branch of the New York Public Library.

1961: The Committee for a Library in the Courthouse is created 

August 23, 1961: Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. publicly backs the plan for a library in the courthouse

1967
: The Jefferson Market Courthouse reopens to the public as a branch of the New York Public Library

December 22, 1977: The Jefferson Market Courthouse is designated a National Historic Landmark

The Committee for a Library in the Courthouse was created in 1961 following the success of the Committee of Neighbors to Get the Clock on Jefferson Market Courthouse Started. While preserving the courthouse building was always the intention of the clock committee, this objective came to the forefront once Village residents decided on a use for the structure. By early 1961, with the help of Stanley Tankel and Robert Weinberg, the New York Public Library adopted the idea of using the building.1 With the backing of the library, the Village committee, led by Margot Gayle and Philip Wittenberg, went to work developing a preservation plan for the historic courthouse. Villagers were eager to rally around the use of the space as a library because it served "the dual purpose of preserving a historic landmark and providing needed cultural facilities.”2

The Committee for a Library in the Courthouse was responsible for spearheading the campaign to preserve the Jefferson Market Courthouse in the early 1960s. Members of the committee worked to preserve the building, which they saw as a Greenwich Village landmark. Margot Gayle described the building as "a picturesque and colorful old thing" that neighborhood residents "had taken for granted.”3

Preserving the building meant preserving the character of the neighborhood; to this end, committee members began a grassroots campaign. Meetings were held in the home of committee chairman Philip Wittenberg and sought to include anyone interested in the building.4 The members then used their political connections to call attention to the cause, including various "night letter" telegrams sent directly to the office of the mayor.

Once the committee began to receive attention, the board worked to build its ranks, attracting notable Village residents such as Maurice Evans, Lewis Mumford, and C. C. Cummings.5 With growing support, the committee showed its strength in numbers through public hearings and letters to city officials.6 The campaign proved effective, and on August 23, 1961, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. publicly backed the plan for a library in the courthouse.7

Following the decision from the mayor, Giorgio Cavaglieri, an architect who had worked with the committee, retrofitted the building for use as a library.8 In 1967, the Jefferson Market Courthouse was reopened to the public as a branch of the New York Public Library.

  • Friends of Cast Iron Papers
    National Trust for Historic Preservation Library Collection
    University of Maryland
    College Park, MD 20742

    Margot Gayle Photo Collection
    New York Preservation Archive Project
    174 East 80th Street
    New York, NY 10075
    Tel: (212) 988-8379
    Email: [email protected]

  • Charles Hosmer, Interview with Margot Gayle, under the auspices of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 23 June 1982. University of Maryland Libraries Collection.

  • Oral History with Margot Gayle (available upon request)
    New York Preservation Archive Project
    174 East 80th Street
    New York, NY 10075
    Tel: (212) 988-8379
    Email: [email protected]

    Oral History with Margot Gayle
    Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
    Preservation
    232 East 11th Street
    New York, NY 10003
    Tel: (212) 475-9585
    Email: [email protected]
  1. 
Anthony C. Wood, Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect A City’s Landmarks (New York: Routledge, 2008), page 262.
  2. 
 “‘Villagers Fight to Save Building,'” The New York Times, 19 February 1961.
  3. 
 Charles B. Hosmer, Interview with Margot Gayle, under the auspices of the Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 23 June 1982. University of Maryland Libraries Collection.
  4. 
Stanley Tankel & Margot Gayle to “Friend of the Courthouse,” 9 February 1961. From the Greenwich Village Preservation Archive and Oral History Project
  5. 
 “The Return of Old Jeff,” Progressive Architecture, October 1967, pages 175-178.
  6. 
Margot Gayle to “Friend of a Library in the Courthouse,” 30 August 1961. From the Greenwich Village Preservation Archive and Oral History Project
  7. 
City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “Mayor Wagner Backs Jefferson Market Courthouse For a Library,” press release, 23 August 1961.
  8. “The Return of Old Jeff,” Progressive Architecture, October 1967, pages 175-178.