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Former Sunset Park Court House
Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States
Landmarks Preservation Commission June 26, 2001, Designation List 328 LP-2096
Located along New York Bay in the southwestern section of Brooklyn, the neighborhood now known as Sunset Park was one of the first areas of Brooklyn to be settled. The area was inhabited by fanners in the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it was not until the 1830s when Brooklyn officially changed in status from a town to a city that surveyors began to map out city streets and development occurred.
In 1890, Irving T. Bush recognized the area's great potential for development and built a series of piers, warehouses, and factories linked by rail; the complex stretched from 32nd to 5 Is1 streets and was the largest commercial and industrial facility in New York, providing employment for over 20,000 workers. This, coupled with the 1905-1915 construction of the subway line under Fourth Avenue brought a substantial increase in development. The initial wave of residential and commercial development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was followed by a second wave of development in the early 1930s of infill housing and public, religious, and institutional buildings.
At the time of the courthouse construction. Sunset Park was noted for its thriving Scandinavian immigrant population. The residential center of this growing neighborhood was Fourth Avenue, the broad parkway where several churches and public buildings had been erected. Two notable religious and civic structures-St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church and Parish School (1905, Raymond F. Almirall, architect) and the former 68th Precinct Station House and Stable (1886, Emile M. Gruwe, architect, a designated New York City Landmark) were joined by the Sunset Park Courthouse in 1931 to form a small cluster of civic and religious buildings that acted as Sunset Park's social center. By the late 1940s several factors led to the decline of Sunset Park—the advent of the Depression, the cessation of the Third Avenue elevated line and the subsequent construction of the Gowanus Expressway.
The move of the maritime industry from Brooklyn to New Jersey in the 1960s and the attendant loss of jobs intensified economic decline in Sunset Park. A combination of local, state, and federal aid in the 1970s helped to improve the area's economy, and during the 1980s, Sunset Park experienced an influx of Asian and Latin-American immigrants and a commercial and industrial resurgence.
Twentieth Century Municipal and Magistrates' Courthouses in New York City
Prior to the twentieth century, courts were largely housed along with other governmental functions in city or village halls. After 1851, Brooklyn City Hall (now Brooklyn Borough Hall) was used for most court sessions. With New York's growing population, local courts hearing civil cases were expanded in the 1880s, and by 1898, they had been reorganized as the municipal court. At the same time the local police court evolved into a separate magistrates' court, but this court was often still located near, or even connected to, a police station.3 For example in Sunset Park, the new magistrates' court built in 1931 was located across the street from the existing 68th Police Precinct House.
At least ten municipal and magistrates' courts were built in the early twentieth century in New York. By 1918, there were thirty-one magistrates courts handling more than 200,000 arraignments. In Brooklyn, magistrates' courts were built at Gates Avenue (1903-4), Snyder Avenue (1912-2), Liberty Avenue (1929), and in Sunset Park (1931).
The 1930s was the busiest decade for court building, with eleven buildings constructed; all but one from this period still exist but have been put to other uses. Over half of the eleven were built between 1930-1932—the boom years for court construction in New York City, and most of these were designed in a Classical Revival style. Mary B. Dierickx in The Architecture of Public Justice describes the design of courthouses of this period as follows:
Classical styles predominate.... There are design elements commonly associated with courthouses: a long flight of steps; prominent entrance often marked by columns; low height; high bases, often in stone or set apart by water tables, and classical details such as a molded or dentillated cornice and pedimented doors and windows.4
With its finely proportioned plan and entrance supported by six Ionic columns, the Sunset Park Court House is an excellent example of a rich and faithful translation of this Classical style. In 1962, the New York City court system was reorganized and became more centralized; and many of these local courthouses, including the one in Sunset Park became obsolete.
Sunset Park Court House
In June 24, 1930, Mortimer Dickerson Metcalfe filed permits for the construction of the Sunset Park Court House. The building permit notes the new courthouse would be three stories with a basement.
During The Famine Young Child Dying In The Gutter, China  Geroge Silk [RESTORED]
Entitled: During the famine, young child dying in the gutter, China  G Silk [RESTORED] I cleaned a few spots, adjusted contrast and darkened tonality for stronger visual impact, and added a sepia tone.
George Silk was a LIFE Magazine staffer, working for them 30 years. He extensively covered many aspects of the second world war, at one point being even captured by the Germans, and then fortunately escaping. He was also the first photographer to document Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. Immediately after the war, he was in China recording the poor social conditions and the lack of resources and its devastating effects on the Chinese populace.
Whether one reads Anderson's Little Match Girl or sees Takahata's anime adaptation of Nosaka's Grave of the Fireflies one cannot help but be thunderstruck with compassion over the plight of impoverished children, and of China it was no different. In the desperate and unforgiving times of the post war period, China was devastated and its streets overflowed with those least able to fend for themselves. Too young to steal food with sustainable reliability and too old and too many to elicit the short supply of compassion of a war numbed society, child orphans were left to scrape a daily existence from whatever they begged or fought for. More often than not, they lost that fight.
This is not a pleasant image, and indeed I was conflicted about even submitting it. However, in the final analysis, painful as it is, it remained an important historic document of the plight that wars bring to people, and the suffering that it engenders. We as a society today cannot help those that have already succumbed to the grinding poverty effects induced by previous wars. However, before we start any new ones, the least that we can do is remember those thousands of starved children, before we in our eager belligerent hubris, inadvertently create more.
An important note about LIFE MAGAZINE:
For those that weren't familiar with the magazine; in its heyday, Life Magazine could be best described as the National Geographic of people and society. From 1936, it offered mostly an intimate and fascinating view, with extensive picture stories or photo essays, into sections of social milieu that Americans could only imagine. Unfortunately, because of the high and rising costs of publishing, it essentially folded in 1972. Sadly, various attempts since then, to bring back this photojournalist's phenomenon (in various forms) met with little success.
All is not lost however; in probably one of the most magnanimous gestures that any corporation can make towards public image history, TIME, Inc., the current owners of the former Life Magazine, has offered up its vast photo archives of over TEN MILLION images to be freely available for non commercial use via GOOGLE's Search engine. Photographs can instantly convey a story in a way that words alone cannot. By releasing these pictures for public access, TIME, Inc., has helped to keep our collective history (as seen through Life Magazine) alive for future generations to appreciate. It is rare indeed to see such corporate generosity.
In order to search the life photo database, simply go to Google Images, and type in your search term, skip a space and append the following exactly as it appears:
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