A National Historic Landmark which is likewise included in the National Register of Historic Places, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House is an imposing Beaux-Arts structure designed by Cass Gilbert who was Minnesota home-grown architect. The U.S. Custom House was one of the pioneering public structures that were designed by privately-employed architects.
The present U.S. Custom House is located at Bowling Green found at the tip of Manhattan, and occupies the spot where the original Custom House was constructed during the later years of the 1700s. Unfortunately, a fire burned down the original Custom House in 1814.
After the first Custom House was destroyed, the Customs Service became nomadic, transferring from one location to another for close to 80 years. The need to give it a bigger space became obvious in 1892. The New York government bought the former Bowling Green place, In 1893, when the Tarsney Act was implemented and which allowed the secretary of treasury to commission private architects to conceptualize federal buildings, the road to building a new U.S. Custom House was laid down.
Twenty popular architectural firms were handpicked to compete for the honor of constructing the new Custom House. The Beaux-Arts blueprint of Cass Gilbert won the tight contest. It took eight years to complete the U.S. Custom House from 1899 to 1907. After designing the Custom House, Cass Gilbert would become popular for his work on the Woolworth Building in New York and the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C.
Found at the end of Broadway, the U.S. Custom House is a seven-story high structure supported by steel frames. It was one of the Beaux-Arts building that were blooming all over Manhattan during that time.
Joined Corinthian pillars can be found on the fa?ade of the U.S. Custom House towering three stories and is found above the first story. An entablature spans the entirety of the fifth level and above it is the sixth floor. The whole of the seventh floor is enclosed in the mansard roof.
Sculptures depicting international trade occupy a prominent position at the front of the U.S. Custom House. The sculptures are statues carved out from limestone and personify Africa, Europe, Asia and America. The limestone busts were created by Chester French. Aside from these, twelve marble sculptures also front the U.S. Custom House which stand for the ?seafaring nations.? Further, an additional row of carved head represent the ?eight races of mankind.?
The interior of the Custom House is as beautiful as its exterior. It features a central rotunda encircled by corridors. The spaces inside are very much proportional. An attraction here is the Great Hall which is magnificently opulent boasting of multi-hued marble finished and majestic staircases embellished with bronze railings coupled with marble steps.
In most of the ceremonial rooms, guests will see motifs related to seafaring and in the middle of the dome?s entablature and the skylight are murals created by Reginald Marsh who was a New York artist. His murals feature vessels arriving in the New York Harbor.
Currently, the US Custom House is the home of the National Museum of American Indian.