Having won the confidence of Guy Lowell through collaboration on the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and several personal projects for the famous architect, Frederick Warren Allen won the competition to carry out the major project of designing a pediment and acroteria for Lowell’s important courthouse to be built in New York City on Manhattan Island. Modeling small “sketches” for approval and then full size clay models from which his assistants worked, he supervised and participated in the final carving, sleeping on occasion in an excelsior-lined box high up in the roof of the building during the construction.
The grand hexagonal building was a huge project, taking many years to plan and construct. It was considered at the time to be the most imposing building in the United States. The pediment and acroteria alone took three years to complete. The 104′ pediment, only sixteen feet high at the center, is ninety feet above the street, spanning the ten Corinthian style entry columns, each fifty-four feet in height, approached by a flight of thirty steps, 100 feet in width. (Photo by Wally Gobetz)
Pediments are considered to be extremely challenging for the sculptor because of the cramped space of the shallow triangle. Fitting full-sized human figures into the narrow angles has often been avoided by using child-size figures or animals or decorative elements. Allen was highly acclaimed not only for his thoughtful treatment of the symbolic subject matter but also for his positioning of full human figures even in the narrow recesses of the pediment corners.
The central group of three figures is most important, but there are a total of 13 figures in five groups. The design is balanced but not repetitive, the figures mostly classical in form, but with a forward thinking modern element that made the art current.
The inscription carved in the entablature over the portico reads, “The true administration of justice is the finest pillar of good government.”
A full account of the work will be included in the upcoming book about the life and work of this master sculptor.