In 2015, the Manhattan Municipal Building was renamed the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building in honor of New York City’s first Black mayor. David Dinkins, passed away last night at his Upper East Side home at the age of 93. He served as Mayor of New York City from 1990 to 1993, before Rudy Guiliani and after Ed Koch. His mayoral tenure came at a transitional time for New York City, and as the New York Times obituary states, “He was a compromise selection for voters exhausted with racial strife, corruption, crime and fiscal turmoil, historians say, and proved to be an able caretaker rather than an innovator of grand achievements.” Still, he was given credit for laying the groundwork to reduce crime levels in New York City (by “expanding the police to record levels,” writes the Times) and he “kept city libraries open, revitalized Times Square and rehabilitated housing in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem.”
The David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street contains over a dozen municipal agencies, the Office of the Borough President, and has many architectural highlights and secrets. Designed by William M. Kendall of the noted architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, the building was constructed from 1909 to 1914. It is one of the largest government office buildings in the world, topped by a gilded Adolph Weinman sculpture of Civic Fame modeled after Audrey Munson. The structure inspired the design of other buildings in Chicago, Cleveland, and even in Moscow.
David Dinkins actually spent fourteen years working in the Manhattan Municipal Building, first as City Clerk from 1975 to 1985, then as Manhattan Borough President from 1986 to 1990, and then left for City Hall in 1990 to become Mayor. Even before his time at the Manhattan Municipal Building, he was working in public service. In 1966, he was elected as a member of the New York State Assembly and then was president of the New York City Board of Elections.
Mayor David N. Dinkins speaking at the West Side Tennis Club in August 2018 at WSTC Heritage Day celebrating 126 years of tennis history featuring brother of Arthur Ashe and Virginia Wade.
The renaming of the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building came with the installation of five plaques bearing the new name, but in common parlance, most people continued to refer to it as the Manhattan Municipal Building. The renaming ceremony was held under the monumental arch at the foot of Centre Street and Chambers Street. At the renaming ceremony, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Those of us who were lucky to serve in the Dinkins Administration had the honor of serving a leader who took challenges head on. He’s left an indelible impact on this city – and on Chirlane’s and my lives. We are so grateful for Mayor Dinkins’ decades of public service and everything he’s done to ensure a stronger, safer city. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than to rename the Municipal Building, where he spent 14 years of his career, in his honor.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlaine McCray stated, “Words cannot express the depth of gratitude Bill and I have for Mayor David N. Dinkins. His legacy is a bright guiding light for me, my family, and countless New Yorkers. Mayor Dinkins helped me understand that service to others is the rent we pay for time on earth. Throughout his career, he led with dignity, generosity and commitment.”
Despite being a government building, the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building can be visited by the public. The Office of the Borough President has an art gallery with rotating exhibitions (though it is closed during COVID) and on occasion, the cupola of the building has been opened up for visits.
Former Mayor David Dinkins led a quiet life following his time as mayor of New York City, “teaching at Columbia University, hosting a radio talk show on WLIB and attending receptions, dinners and ceremonies,” and occasionally consulting for those running for mayor, reports the Times. His death follows that of his wife Joyce just two months ago.
Next, read about the Top 10 Secrets of the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building.