Justice, Astoria Style
The Long Island City Courthouse
If you’re familiar with Long Island City you’re probably familiar with the historic structure located at 25-10 Court Square. The Long Island City Courthouse has stood since 1874 and has been the site of some of the most important and controversial trials in New York City’s legal history. Originally designed by architect George Hathorne, before the courthouse was erected, there was a century of arguing over where the proper location for the courthouse should be.
Initially, the Queens County Courthouse was located in Garden City, Long Island, when all the neighborhoods in present-day Nassau County were part of Queens until January 1, 1900. When it first opened, it originally housed the criminal court, county court, the staff of the Queens County District Attorney, and the county sheriff’s office. The courthouse was the site of many famous trials. When jury selection was held for cases in the early 1900s, the commissioner of jurors, Edward J. Knauer, actually went door-to-door to find prospective jurors. As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on May 29, 1901, Knauer, “has decided to move the office from village to village, examine all residents as to their liability to do jury duty.” How’s that for service?
From 1927 until 1928, the world’s eyes were upon the courthouse at LIC for the Ruth Snyder/Judd Gray murder case. Dubbed, “the Trial of the Century”, Snyder, with the help of her lover Gray, planned and murdered her husband Albert Snyder at the couple’s home in Woodhaven in south Queens. Ruth and Judd murdered her husband in order to collect on his $48,000 life insurance policy. The homicide was made to look like a burglary gone wrong. Detectives at the scene noted that the “burglars” left little evidence of breaking into the house. Moreover, Ruth’s behavior was inconsistent with her story of a terrorized wife who had allegedly witnessed her husband being killed. Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray were both found guilty at the courthouse and sentenced to die in the electric chair. On January 12, 1928, at Sing Sing prison, Snyder became one of the first women in history to die in the electric chair.
The courthouse was remodeled and enlarged by Peter M. Coco in 1904 after a fire destroyed a portion of it. In its remodeling, the building was raised from two stories to four stories in order to accommodate the needs of the court. The ornate courthouse began undergoing additional repairs in May 2006 that included renovations on its brick exterior and new roofing on the main building and its wings. The prominent third-floor courtroom, where the Snyder- Judd case was held, with its two-story stained glass ceiling, was also restored.