The Shrines (with pictures)
By: Mark W Adams

Okay, I've been challenged, so I'll offer some anecdotal evidence by way of proof for my sad contention that jails have come to dominate our village squares.

Those town centers of our communities that once boasted glorifications to to the religion of the city founders as the principle landmark for the community, a church originally being the formost building in town, came to be presided over by an imposing tribute to architectural excellence at the center of everything, the courthouse. As I lamented below, the square now must accomodate the outcasts of our system.

Let me take you on a trip to my home town, Warren, Ohio. The first county seat of the Old Connecticut Western Reserve.

This is what it looked like even before Ohio became a State in 1803. You can see the large basin in the curve of the Mahoning River which became Packard Park. That area still hosts several softball fields and tennis courts -- which become completely swamped at the hint of rain.

Here's a close up of the town center. Arrow [1] Is the site of the Sheriff's Department and County Lockup now. [2] Is the First Presbyterian Church -- a multi-spired gothic beauty. [3] At the center of this park-like city block is the Trumbull County Courthouse. My Grandmother once worked there, and as a little kid I would roam the granite and marble halls, imagining I was in medieval castle.

Just take a good look at this thing. Fabulous!

Four working clocks on the tower and ten foot copper covered statues of Lady Justice -- blindfolded, holding a sword in one hand and scales in the other -- atop the peaks below each clock face.

Now look closer, across the street you will see what looks like a white parking garage on the left edge of this picture. That site is where the YMCA and Sheriff's Department used to be. The Sheriff held the county lock-up and was new when I was a kid in the 60's.

You can see what it used to look like here at this site which is showing off the copper shingles to the courthouse. That plain white cube to the left side of the street is the jail. It's gone, and someone with a sense of the historical was recently commissioned to make a new facility; a bigger, better, artistically homogenous structure.

Mind you, the new jail cannot dominate the old courthouse, but the fact is, the original facility had outgrown its effectiveness in the span of a couple of decades. The new, larger facility's facade belies how much further back it goes from the street, and my old "Y" is gone to make room for parking. It's indicative of the sad necessities requiring the larger, and thankfully more aesthetic building.

This is what you would see from the window of my Granmother's old office. But Warren isn't the only example I have.

It's not hard, I didn't make a physical tour, just browsed Google's images.

Here's a grand structure in Cleveland. This is the "Old" courthouse for Cuyahoga County. It now only hosts the Court of Appeals, Probate and Domsetic Relations Divisions (my old stomping grounds.) Juvenile court has long since moved about a mile away, but the rest of the Common Pleas Courts, as well as the Cleveland Municipal Court, share the monstrosity across the street with the Sheriff's Department and of course, the jail.

The Justice Center in Cleveland is a towering skyscraper, yet both the court facilities and lock-up are overcrowded.

What you see here is a tall, central tower which houses the trial courts, in the foreground is (part of) the seven-story Sheriff/jail facility, and in the background you can see a sliver the old three-story courthouse at the end of the street where I would help end marriages by the dozens. The jail swings around to the left, fully filling the city block.

In front of the entrance, you can see what passes for "art" downtown. I have no idea what this pipework stupidity is supposed to mean.

This photo gives you a better idea of the size of the Sheriff/jail structure, along with a close-up view of that dumb statue of who-knows-what.

I'm sure this was some great tribute to modern society when it was built, but I don't think it can possibly compare to the painstakingly crafted monuments which adorn the old courthouse. In the front of the original courts building, at either side of the stairway are double-life-sized copper-clad replicas of Thomas Jefferson and (if I remember right) James Madison, sitting at the entrance.

Above Jefferson and Madison are six ten-foot marble statues of noted historical figures, including the law-giver, Moses. Four additional statues are in the back, including Justice Raney, Ohio's first Chief Justice. I'm sure Justice John Marshall is there somewhere too. Inside, you can see grand murals of the signing of the Magna Carta and an excellent stained-glass window letting in light from the central (open) courtyard depicting ancient lawgivers that would never be attempted in this more "politically correct" age.

We've lost some of the spirit of what our society aspires if these architecural trends mean anything. Think on this bit of food-for-thought, what things look like here in my current home-town, Toledo.

You can clearly make out the huge statue of William McKinley in front of the Lucas County Courthouse in Toledo. (A better image of the statue is on the wiki.) What you don't see is the small headstone-like monument around the right side with the Ten Commandments inscribed, sitting in the middle of the courtyard.

Like most, this building sits in a central, park-like city block. Google's mapping makes the point all too well. I've outlined the courthouse square in red. Google supplied the little locator bubbles showing:

A.] the Lucas County Work Release Department;
B.] the Lucas County Correctional Center;
C.] the Juvenile Detention Center;
D.] the Toledo City Jail.

The courthouse square is literally surrounded by jails. Except for the juvenile center, these facilities represent only temporary housing. Those faced with longer sentences are shipped elsewhere, and the newest of those prisons are privately run -- like all things in this era of privatization.

I know this isn't exactly an all encompassing analysis, nor are my experiences terribly scientific, but my observations aren't merely limited to the cities where I've lived. I've seen this throughout the State and throughout the nation as well. Compare the modestly sized, nonetheless grand ediface of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just walking up those marble steps, facing those awesome columns, inspires, and lets you know you are entering something special indeed.

We took the time to give people the feeling of importance, of grandure.

The J. Edgar Hoover building is exactly the opposite. Just a big rectangular testiment to efficiency and a growing need for law enforcement instead of the granting of justice.

FBI Headquarders: Awful, enormous, and simply ugly.


arubyan said...

Speaking as a former architecture school student (yeah, yeah, University of Michigan and all that) I think this is an outstanding post.

ohdave said...

You've done a fantastic job with this... The courthouse vs. jail as a metaphor for our social aspirations is a brilliant insight, observation....

I wish more readers could see this...

ohdave said...

By the way, that last pic should be called "Minitru"

Lisa Renee said...

Excellent post Mark and excellent research too.


Anonymous said...

Well done. To learn more about Mahoning County I suggest you read SWAP by Sam Moffie

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