Jefferson Market Library stands on the corner on Sixth Avenue and 10th Street. With its brightly colored brick and ornate design it stands out as a Greenwich Village icon.
The library wasnt always a library. Built in the late 1880s, the building, which was designed by Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux, served as courthouse. Between its opening and 1945 the building played host to famous witnesses and defendants. Author Stephen Crane once testified here. And, Mae West was tried here for obscenity, following a play.
But, by the late 1950s with the courthouse no longer in use, city officials planned to raze the building in favor of new apartments. According to a New York Timesarticle, local residents rallied to save the building. Led by activist Margot Gayle, residents they blocked demolition. With a little ingenuity and support from Mayor Robert F. Wagner the residents were able to restore the functionality of the clock tower in 1961.
Whats remarkable about the ability of a small group of residents to save a building in New York City? It happened all before the City passed the landmarks law in 1965.
In 1967 the Jefferson Market Courthouse was reopened as the Jefferson Market Library. The library has served Greenwich Village for more than 40 years. In 1969 the building was secured protection after it was designated as part of the Greenwich Village Historic District.