1967–1973

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

When One Police Plaza opened in 1973, the police department was, for the first time, brought within a short walking distance of City Hall. For most of the department’s history, the men in blue were based in Little Italy, occupying structures on Mulberry Street and Centre Street – the latter for more than six decades between 1909 and 1973.

The architect of the new headquarters was Gruzen & Partners. Previously known as Kelly & Gruzen, this firm was awarded an impressive number of public commissions during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in the vicinity of the civic center. Examples of the firm’s work include: Chatham Green, Chatham Towers, Southbridge Towers, 100 Gold Street, the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the annex to the United States Court House and Murry Bergtraum High School. In contrast to the sleek curtain walls associated with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Gruzen & Partners tended to favor sculptural forms executed with exposed concrete. Such tactile features define the style known as Brutalism, which grew out of the late work of Le Corbusier in France and India. By the 1960s this powerful modern aesthetic had entered the international mainstream, shaping the character of such notable public buildings as Boston’s City Hall and the FBI Headquarters in Washington DC. A late and fairly reserved example of Brutalism, One Police Plaza resembles a cube with grids of deeply-recessed windows, raised on top of various horizontal forms. To give the four nearly identical facades a more refined appearance the architects wrapped the exteriors with speckled brown brick. Only at the base of the cube is the robust truss work exposed and visible, revealing Brutalism’s signature material – reinforced concrete.

Landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg designed the Y-shaped plaza, which required the closing and interruption of various streets. Paved with brown brick, these materials unify the area, culminating in a leafy promenade that leads to the police building. This elevated space offers views of Chinatown and the Brooklyn Bridge. The plaza is likewise enlivened by artworks, including 5 in 1, a colorful 1974 sculpture by Tony Rosenthal, and Reunion, a 1989 paving scheme by painter Valerie Jaudon. Often overlooked is the preservation of two site-specific artifacts. These include a small barred window near the rear facade of the Municipal Building that came from an 18th-century sugar house that was reportedly used as a British prison during the American Revolution and a group of Doric style columns from the demolished 1890s Rhinelander Building that are installed close to their original location on Madison Street.

One Police Plaza currently sits behind fences in a security zone. Friedberg’s plaza no longer extends to Madison Street, thus separating the civic center from the neighborhood it adjoins. Park Row remains closed to private vehicles, as is the municipal parking garage and ramp that leads down from the Brooklyn Bridge. Security concerns trumping the designers’ original goals, the handsome police headquarters now sits isolated from the city it serves.

– Matthew A. Postal