Nearing a century old, landmark Bronx Courthouse set to undergo much-needed facelift next year

Bronx court scaffold
According to the city Department of Buildings, there are 48 open violations on the 90-year-old Bronx County Courthouse. On April 13, the building was flagged for a hazardous façade.
Photo ET Rodriguez

The landmark Bronx County Courthouse building, also known as the Mario Merola Building, has stood tall in the Grand Concourse section of the Bronx for 90 years. But efforts to extend the aging building’s lifespan require fixing unsafe conditions stemming from the building’s façade that date back several years.

Façade work on the courthouse is currently in design, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the agency managing the landmark building. After designs are finalized later this summer, the project will begin construction next year following the selection of a contractor and finalized cost estimates, officials confirmed with the Bronx Times.

According to the city Department of Buildings (DOB), there are 48 open violations on the buildings, and on April 13, the building was flagged for a hazardous façade, which had been an issue dating back to 2004. Other DOB violations over the past few years include flagged elevators and failure to maintain and update inspections to the building’s sprinkler and boiler systems.

Entrance on 161st Street between the Grand Concourse and Walton Avenue. Photo ET Rodriguez

Earlier this year, two months of “minor repair” work had been done on the Grand Concourse side of the building that wrapped up on April 1.

But nearby residents have complained about sidewalk sheds that accompany the ongoing work to the building.

Recent accounts from residents and visiting attorneys describe a staircase under nearby scaffolding littered with beer bottles and other trash on the stairways.

“This is no way to treat a landmark building,” a visiting trial lawyer told the Bronx Times. “I’ve seen people sleeping under there before the building opens, and I know that’s not the same case for other courthouses in the city.”

City laws require sidewalk sheds, or scaffolds, to be erected around buildings with façade issues to prevent pedestrians from potential risks. As Brooklyn Paper notes regarding similar façade work for the Brooklyn Courthouse, these scaffolds can be expensive depending on how long they are erected.

Façade and other maintenance work on the building’s 161st Street side is set to be finished by the end of August, leading to the removal of the sheds.

Local Law 11, requires a maintenance program for façades citywide.

“It’s an underrated gem of a building, so it’s unfortunate that there’s this ugly shed around it, because I truly love its design,” Katie LaMotta, an amateur photographer who frequents nearby Joyce Kilmer Park.

The building was constructed in 1933 after a three-and-a-half year project and a price of $8 million. The building, famous for steel framing and granite and limestone façade, was seen as a big job creator during the Great Depression.

The courthouse is home to the borough’s surrogate and supreme courts and the offices of the county clerk, sheriff, public administrator, district attorney and borough president. The Bronx Museum of the Arts was once located on the main floor during the first years of the building’s history.

Entrance on 161st Street between Walton Avenue and the Grand Concourse. Photo ET Rodriguez

Once hailed as a prime example of 20th century American style, it was landmarked in 1966 and is listed on the New York state and National Registers of Historic Places.

In 1988, then-Mayor Edward Koch honored the late Bronx DA Mario Merola by naming the building in his honor.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes