Until the Family Court's functions move to a new court building at 15th and Arch, the historic Family Court buidling is not a place the public can explore given the sensitive nature of the cases heard there. But soon enough John Windrim’s Family Court building at 18th and Vine streets will be turned into a Kimpton Hotel. When that happens more people will be able to experience the courthouse's grand interior spaces and its fine decorative finishes. It was a treat to preview that experience this week during an after-hours tour of the Family Court’s historically designated interior spaces, organized by the PennDesign Alumni Association*.
The Family Court building features 37 WPA murals by a variety of artists, gracing public areas, courtrooms, and waiting rooms. The murals, designated as historic by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, must stay in the building and some sort of public access is required. The murals are in varying condition, some are in need of conservation work, and a monitoring program must be established to ensure their long-term preservation. Other significant decorative features include a stained glass window depicting an allegory of Justice in the elevator lobby, decorative painting throughout the spaces in a surprising pastel palette, and a huge sculpture of Judge Charles Brown in the center of the main hallway. Brass fixtures - radiator grilles, lights, and large brass torchons - must stay in the building, though they can be relocated. The city, court, and developer are working together to determine the fate of other features of the building, including chairs designed for the court rooms and the huge statue of Judge Brown in the central hall.
Here’s a look at the decorative finishes inside:
* PlanPhilly is a project of PennPraxis, the applied research arm of PennDesign. Ashley Hahn is a PennDesign alumna.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.