8. The Harlem Courthouse’s prison is the oldest building in New York City ever used as a jail
Located on East 121st Street near Mount Morris Park is the Harlem Courthouse, a gothic and Romanesque-style building constructed from 1891 to 1893 by the architecture firm Thom & Wilson. Currently, the courthouse’s prison remains the oldest structure in New York City ever used as a jail, with five tiers, 40 cells, double bunk bed frames, and cell doors remaining intact. On the outside, the court is defined by its octagonal corner tower and two-faced clock. Inside on the third floor is a 1936 mural commissioned for the Federal Art Project entitled “Exploitation of Labor and Hoarding of Wealth.”
Since opening, the Harlem Courthouse Prison has served as a magistrate’s court, small claims court, and women’s jail. In addition, it was used during the 1966 New York smog as a laboratory to measure the city’s air quality. Today the Harlem Courthouse is home to the Harlem Community Justice Center (HCJC) — a neighborhood-based community court committed to bridging the gap between the court and community to achieve fairness and systematic equity in housing, health, and access to justice.