District of Columbia City Hall

District of Columbia City Hall

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Encyclopedia
District of Columbia City Hall, also known as Old City Hall and the District of Columbia Courthouse, is a historic building at Judiciary Square
Judiciary Square
Judiciary Square is a neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., the vast majority of which is occupied by various federal and municipal courthouses and office buildings...

 in downtown Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 Originally built for the offices of the D.C. municipal government, the city hall was subsequently used as a courthouse, and was the scene of several notable criminal trials including those of three accused presidential assassins. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1960. It now houses the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
District of Columbia Court of Appeals
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the highest court of the District of Columbia. Established by the United States Congress in 1970, it is equivalent to a state supreme court, except that its power derives from Article I of the U.S. Constitution rather than from the inherent sovereignty...

.

History


The government of the City of Washington held a competition for the design of a new municipal building in 1818. George Hadfield
George Hadfield (architect)
George Hadfield was born in Livorno, Italy of English parents, who were hotel-keepers. He studied at the Royal Academy, and worked with James Wyatt for six years before emigrating to the United States....

, a former superintendent during the construction of the United States Capitol
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the federal government of the United States. Located in Washington, D.C., it sits atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall...

, submitted a design for a new city hall but it was judged to be too costly. Hadfield eventually won the competition in 1820 with a revised version of his original plan and construction began in August. The offices of the city government moved into the building in 1822. However, a lack of funds and other problems hindered construction and the building would not be completed in its entirety until 1849.

To raise funds needed to finish the building, the city leased out space during construction to other federal government offices. Tenants included the U.S. Circuit Court and the Recorder of Deeds
Recorder of deeds
Recorder of deeds is a government office tasked with maintaining public records and documents, especially records relating to real estate ownership that provide persons other than the owner of a property with real rights over that property.-Background:...

 office, headed by Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing...

. Following the passage of the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act
District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act
The District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, or simply Compensated Emancipation Act, was a law that ended slavery in Washington, D.C. by paying slave owners for releasing their slaves. Although not written by him, the act was signed by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862...

 in 1862, the Old City Hall was used to process payments to slaveholders
Compensated Emancipation
Compensated emancipation was a method of ending slavery in countries where slavery was legal. This involved the person who was recognized as the owner of a slave being compensated monetarily or by a period of labor for releasing the slave...

.

The federal government rented additional space in 1863 during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and later purchased the building to house the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a federal district court. Appeals from the District are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit The United States District Court for the District of Columbia (in case citations, D.D.C.) is a...

. In 1868, a statue of President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 was erected on the south side of the building, which became the first public monument in his honor. The offices of the D.C. government moved to the new District Building
John A. Wilson Building
The John A. Wilson Building, popularly known simply as the Wilson Building or the JAWB, houses the offices and chambers of the Mayor and Council of the District of Columbia. Originally called the District Building, it was renamed in 1994 to commemorate former Council Chair John A. Wilson...

 in 1908 and the Old City Hall was left to house the federal courts until they vacated the property in 1910.

In 1916, Congress approved funds for the complete renovation of the courthouse. The extensive work stripped the building to its brick framing and replaced the stucco exterior with limestone blocks on a granite base. The building was rededicated as the U.S. Courthouse in 1922. The federal courts moved to the new E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse is a historic building in Washington, D.C. It was built in 1949–50 and currently houses both the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.-Significance:The...

 in 1952 and the Old City Hall eventually became the headquarters of the U.S. Selective Service System
Selective Service System
The Selective Service System is a means by which the United States government maintains information on those potentially subject to military conscription. Most male U.S. citizens and male immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to have registered within 30 days of...

. The building was named a National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark
A National Historic Landmark is a building, site, structure, object, or district, that is officially recognized by the United States government for its historical significance...

 in 1960 and was returned to the District government two years later for use by the local courts.

Prominent cases


Many famous cases were tried at the city hall while it was a U.S. courthouse. Representative Sam Houston
Sam Houston
Samuel Houston, known as Sam Houston , was a 19th-century American statesman, politician, and soldier. He was born in Timber Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, of Scots-Irish descent. Houston became a key figure in the history of Texas and was elected as the first and third President of...

 was tried and convicted for using his cane to beat another member of Congress on the House floor in 1832. Richard Lawrence, the failed assassin of President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

, was tried on the site in 1835 and was sentenced to a mental institution. The building was also the site of the 1867 trial of John Surratt
John Surratt
John Harrison Surratt, Jr. was accused of plotting with John Wilkes Booth to kidnap U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and suspected of involvement in the Abraham Lincoln assassination. His mother Mary Surratt was convicted of conspiracy and hanged by the United States Federal Government...

, an alleged conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln who was later acquitted. However, Charles J. Guiteau
Charles J. Guiteau
Charles Julius Guiteau was an American lawyer who assassinated U.S. President James A. Garfield. He was executed by hanging.- Background :...

, the assassin of President James A. Garfield, was convicted at the courthouse in 1882.

The Old City Hall was also the scene of a fugitive slave
Fugitive slave
In the history of slavery in the United States, "fugitive slaves" were slaves who had escaped from their master to travel to a place where slavery was banned or illegal. Many went to northern territories including Pennsylvania and Massachusetts until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed...

 trial known as the "Pearl incident
Pearl incident
The Pearl Incident was the largest recorded escape attempt by slaves in the United States. On April 15, 1848, seventy-six slaves attempted to escape Washington D.C. in part by travelling on a riverboat called The Pearl. Paul Jennings was one of the organizers of this incident...

," the largest single escape attempt in U.S. history. Two men were convicted in 1848 of attempting to free more than 70 slaves by sailing them from Washington up the Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. It lies off the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by Maryland and Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay's drainage basin covers in the District of Columbia and parts of six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West...

.

Current use


In 1999, the building closed for yet another extensive renovation by the architecture firm of Beyer Blinder Belle
Beyer Blinder Belle
Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP is an international architecture firm. It is based in New York City and has an additional office in Washington, DC. The firm's name is derived from the three founding partners: John H. Beyer, Richard Blinder, and John Belle. The three architects met...

. Steel framing replaced the old masonry while leaving the stone façade intact. A new glass atrium was constructed on the north side of the building facing Judiciary Square and is now the main entrance, as had been originally intended. The D.C. Courthouse was rededicated on June 17, 2009 as the home of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
District of Columbia Court of Appeals
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the highest court of the District of Columbia. Established by the United States Congress in 1970, it is equivalent to a state supreme court, except that its power derives from Article I of the U.S. Constitution rather than from the inherent sovereignty...

.

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