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Brennan (William J.) Hudson County Courthouse
575-583 Newark Avenue at Newark, Baldwin and Pavonia Avenues
National Register of Historic Places

Mid-twentieth century postcard of the
1910 Hudson County Courthouse building depicting the Baldwin Avenue (left) and Newark Avenue (right) facades.

Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

William J. Brennan Hudson County Courthouse
Newark Avenue Facade

Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2002

Facade detail of the William J.Brennan Courthouse.
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2008

Designed by Hugh Roberts, a resident of Jersey City, the Hudson County Courthouse opened on September 10, 1910, as the seat of the Hudson County judicial system. Roberts was the brother-in-law of Hudson County attorney William D. Edwards and of US Senator and New Jersey Governor Edward I. Edwards. The construction companies of Well Bros. and John Gill & Sons completed the beaux-arts or "Modern Renaissance" style courthouse for $3.3 million.

Stained glass window and dome of the 1910 courthouse.
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2008

Similar to Italian Renaissance palaces, the six-story exterior (183' x 134') of the courthouse is noted for its granite walls, bronze window frames and doors, Corinthian columns, and low flat copper dome with the torch of victory. The four-story interior design and ornamentation received as much attention from Francis D. Millet, the director of decoration for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Eight columns of Italian green marble dramatically rise from the second to the fourth floor in the center of the building forming an interior court covered by a dome. Scenes of the zodiac surround the rotunda with a dome of stained class. Architectural historian Suzanne Hand remarks that the structure's great rotunda "with its rich materials, columns, balustrades, arches and dome shows the sumptuousness of Neoclassical Revival design" (79).

The works of muralists Edwin H. Blashfield, Charles Yardley Turner, Kenyon Cox and Howard Pyle are seen throughout the building. They depict the history of Hudson County, such as The Coming of the English by Pyle seen in the Hudson County Freeholders' Assembly Chamber. The four major courtrooms on the top floor are each designed in a classic style conveying the majesty of the law.

Hudson County Hall of Records postcard circa 1953. Nearby Willow Court was closed and the adjacent properties acquired for the construction of the new Hudson County Hall of Records and Administration Building in the 1950's.
Courtesy, RF Smith
Hudson County Administration Building (595 Newark Avenue) By 1964, the structure was expanded upwards with additional stories so as to accommodate all aspects of the county court system.
Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2002

A new modern Hudson County Hall of Records and Administration Building in the International Style of architecture was opened nearby in 1953 and was substantially enlarged ten years later. The "old court house" was closed and plans were underway for its demolition. However, in the mid-1970s, a successful campaign to save the courthouse resulted in the restoration of the building that reopened in 1985 for use in civil cases. The restoration program received a preservation award from the Victorian Society of America in 1988.

 

Portrait of Justice William J.Brennan in the 1910 courthouse named in his honor.
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2008



The following year, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders renamed the building for William J. Brennan, Jr. He was born in Newark in 1906 and graduated Harvard Law School in 1931. Justice Brennan was nominated by Governor Alfred E. Driscoll to a judgeship on the New Jersey Superior Court and served as Hudson's County's assignment judge from 1949 to 1951. He succeeded to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court in 1952 and was nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court in 1956, where he served until 1990.

In 2001, the "new" Brennan Center for Justice opened at the New York University School of Law.

In honor of the centennial of the construction of the 1910 court house, the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs and Tourism created a special video entitled “A Link to the Past: A Vision of the Future: The Hudson County Justice William J. Brennan Court House.” The video is available on the the Hudson County web site. Click on the link that says The Justice William J. Brennan Court House. You will then be re-directed to You Tube where it plays.

Reference:
Hand, Suzanne C. The New Jersey Architect. Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1995.
Brennan Center for Justice. http://www.brennancenter.org

 

By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub