Monday, April 12, 2010

Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse

Today I discovered the most beautiful indoor space in New Haven.

One component of the final term paper for Prof. Lockhart's Psychology and the Law class requires observation of an actual trial. So at 9:30 this morning, SC and I crossed the New Haven Green to visit the courthouse. Not realizing that the state courthouse, where we originally wanted to go, is located just behind the federal courthouse, we accidentally walked up the steps of the Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse.

I wish I could have taken a picture, but the security guards confiscated our cell phones at the entrance. Below is a description from the General Services Administration website.

« James Gamble Rogers designed the building, which was constructed between 1913 and 1919. Rogers was also the architect for structures at Yale University, his alma mater. The building was the last to be designed under the auspices of the Tarsney Act, which allowed the Treasury Department to hire private architects rather than use only designers employed by the federal government. A cornerstone dedication ceremony was held in 1914. Former President William Howard Taft, then a professor at Yale Law School, spoke at the event, and the text of his speech was placed in the cornerstone, along with other mementos.

Established in 1638 and one of the earliest European urban planning efforts in the american colonies, the New Haven Green has long been a location for important civic buildings. In 1910, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Cass Gilbert, two of the most prominent designers working in America at the time, produced a city planning document for New Haven. They advised that the style, materials, and scale of the new courthouse and post office should respect the character of existing public buildings around the Green, and Rogers achieved these goals.

Important citizens in New Haven's history inspired the inscriptions on the exterior. The frieze contains words from a sermon delivered by Reverend John Davenport in 1639: "Wisdom hath builded her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars." Davenport was referring to the seven men who were selected to serve as the first General Court, and their names are inscribed on the building. The upper walls of the interior light court were incised with the names of five other prominent New Haven citizens and three military heroes. A carved band tops the building and includes coquillage.

The interior retains many original features and rich finishes. Marble floors and pilasters are found in the ornate entrance lobby. The coffered ceiling is intricately detailed with rosettes. The interior wall contains an elaborate bronze screen that led to the original postal workroom. Other original features that remain include writing desks, radiator grilles, and pendant light fixtures, which were specially designed by Rogers.

The walls of the main stair and elevator lobbies are clad in the same Tennessee marble as the exterior. However, the marble was finished to reveal more pink tones. Ceilings in this area are vaulted plaster overlaid with gold leaf. Ornate bronze elevator fronts and grilles remain.

On the second floor, the courtroom lobby is lined with twenty monolithic, Tennessee marble columns with bronze scrolled Ionic capitals. Marble flooring, wainscot, and benches contribute to the opulent finishes. A plaster cornice and coffered ceiling are painted in tones derived from the marble.

In a 1919 article featured in Architectural Forum, the courtroom was described as a "dignified, sumptuous room of perfect acoustic qualities." The lavish wall treatments combine fluted pilasters and paneling in quarter-sawn white oak that was stained a light olive color. The ornate plaster cornice and ceiling beams are finished to resemble the oak walls and highlighted with gold leaf. »