She just turned 80 years old.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt came here to celebrate her birth, in 1936. A film crew celebrating the life of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall came here last spring to pay homage to her Depression-era architecture. And local officials already are planning her rebirth, as the new home for Buffalo’s police and fire headquarters.
The Michael J. Dillon Memorial Courthouse has had a colorful history. Here are a dozen things you might not have known about the courthouse, which sits on the east-southeast edge of Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo.
1. Originally planned as a 12-story building, the courthouse shrunk to seven stories, because of funding issues. After all, it was built during the Depression.
2. The Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932 authorized the construction of the courthouse, as part of the New Deal.
3. The following year, two Buffalo architectural firms, Green and Sons, and Bley and Lyman, were retained to prepare the building plans.
4. The architects created a pentagonal building, because of the unique shape of the site.
5. FDR came here to dedicate the building on Oct. 17, 1936, after the height of the depression. The former New York governor told the Niagara Square crowd, “I need not compare the Buffalo of today with the Buffalo as I saw it the last time I was here.”
6. For years, the federal courthouse contained a post office in the first-floor lobby.
7. Its architectural style is considered Art Moderne; its primary building materials are granite, yellow-gray sandstone and steel.
8. The building housed four original courtrooms, on the fourth, sixth and seventh floors.
9. In 1987, the courthouse was renamed after Michael J. Dillon, an IRS agent shot to death while collecting a tax debt in 1983.
10. The courthouse was nominated in 2004 to the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing element of the Joseph Ellicott Historic District.
Vacant since 2011, the courthouse returned to active duty in May and June, depicting the Bridgeport, Conn., courthouse, site of an early 1940s criminal trial after a Greenwich, Conn., socialite had accused her African-American chauffeur of rape and kidnapping. Marshall assisted a Jewish attorney in defending the chauffeur, at a time of considerable anti-Semitism and racism.
The Buffalo Common Council recently approved the purchase of the building, for $1, from the U.S. General Services Administration, for use as the city’s new police and fire headquarters, scheduled to open next September.
Sources: U.S. General Services Administration and The Buffalo News