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Temple Court Building 1883

by Benjamin Silliman and James Farnsworth

When the Temple Court building on 5 Beekman Street was completed in 1883, it was one of the first high-rise buildings in New York. It was commissioned by developer Eugene Kelly to serve as a law office building and was named Temple Court after Britain’s infamous legal district in Temple, London in the hopes of attracting lawyers and law firms. Architects Silliman and Farnsworth used the most modern styles and materials of the time for its construction. Its terra cotta and hollow brick facade made it one of the earliest fire resistant buildings in the city, while its Renaissance Revival and neo-Grec interior made it one of the most ornate and up-to-date.

Before the construction of Temple Court, however, the site held one of the first theaters in New York. The Chapel Street Theater was built in 1751 by English actor David Douglass when he emigrated from Jamaica to New York. He also owned another early playhouse not far from this one. The Chapel Street Theater would go on to host New York’s first performance of Hamlet, one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays. The building is believed to have been torn down by rioters in 1766 due to tensions between American patriots and English colonists in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Theater was virtually nonexistent in New York before British colonization when the city was under Dutch rule. Both culturally and socially, theater was a central part of English life, and colonists wanted to experience theater in America as they did in England: English plays with an entirely English cast. Because of its close British ties, theater was banned in 1774 in the wake of the American Revolution. After the war, however, theater boomed and became an important part of American culture. Old theaters reopened, and new ones appeared. In the 1920s and 30s, these theaters began hosting musicals. This eventually gave rise to Broadway and established New York as a theater metropolis.

In 1998, Temple Court became a landmark and went on and off the market until it was bought by GFI Developments in 2012. The building, after a long stretch of laying unused, is now being restored and will become Beekman Residences, a luxury hotel and condo complex.


1626 Dutch purchase Manhattan from Native Americans
1665 British take over New York
1751 Chapel Street Theater is built
1766 Theater is torn down by rioters
1774 Continental Congress bans theater
1883 Temple Court is built
1998 Temple Court becomes a landmark
2012 GFI Developments buys Temple Court

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