Events & News

Preservation Spotlight: Historical Society of the New York Courts

May 30, 2024

By Adrian Untermyer, Board Member

New York’s courts are in the business of making preservation history. From hosting two “trials of the century” after architect Stanford White’s murder, to providing a forum for the case that saved Grand Central, to facilitating modern litigation involving structures, relics, and landscapes of all stripes, the Empire State’s judicial system is home to a veritable trove of stories from the annals of historic preservation.

And when it comes to the equally-important business of preserving this legacy for future generations, a nonprofit group called the Historical Society of the New York Courts commands the witness stand. Founded in 2002 by Judith S. Kaye–herself a history-maker as the first female Chief Judge of the State of New York–the Society’s mission is to “preserve, protect and promote the legal history of New York, including the proud heritage of its courts.”

The Society’s work often overlaps with the Archive Project’s mission, including by maintaining a robust oral history program to capture preservation vignettes which would otherwise be lost to time. For instance, the Society’s 2009 oral history with Norman Goodman, New York County’s longest-serving County Clerk, details the story of how Goodman joined forces with his deputy, John Werner, to save the New York County Courthouse’s Tiffany chandeliers from the dumpster in 1971.

In his oral history, Goodman recalls “put[ting] a stop” to the City’s plan to jettison the Tiffanies in favor of garish fluorescents. With the help of Edward R. Dudley, New York’s first Black Administrative Judge, and a fresh-faced Landmarks Preservation Commission, which was less than a decade old at the time, Goodman successfully snuffed-out what he dubbed a “totally inane” plan. The New York County Courthouse became an interior landmark in 1981, and the chandeliers remain a highlight of the space to this day. 

The Society keeps other preservation flames flickering by showcasing historic courthouses across the state. It regularly hosts programs and events within landmarked judicial facilities, including a 2023 panel that I moderated at the monumental Appellate Division Courthouse off Madison Square Park. The panel also included my fellow Archive Project board member Michele Bogart. Society publications feature these historical buildings as well. Among them are  Judicial Notice, an extensive online legal history database available at, and a beloved annual historic wall calendar that graces judges’ chambers across the state and nation.

Podcasting is among the Society’s more recent preservation forays. I created and host the Society’s new audio series entitled “Wrecking Ball” featuring stories from the crossroads of historic preservation, the law, and the great City and State of New York. The inaugural episode featured Anthony C. Wood, the Archive Project’s Founder & Chair Emeritus, in lively discussion with Fordham University’s Dr. Christina Greer on the origins of the Landmarks Law. Other episodes delve into the stories of Foley Square, the High Line, Albany’s Empire State Plaza, and the Village Preservation advocacy organization.

The Historical Society of the New York Courts celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2022, and will continue highlighting the legal system’s contributions to historic preservation over the decades to come. The Archive Project looks forward to “gaveling-in” a new era of collaboration with this important and oft-overlooked group.

Adrian Untermyer is an attorney, urbanist, and historian. In addition to his service on the Archive Project’s Board, he serves as a Trustee of the Historical Society of the New York Courts. For more information about the Society, visit