John Adams Courthouse

John Adams Courthouse

George A. Clough, 1896

Enlarged: 1906–1909

Desmond and Lord, addition, 1936–1939

Childs Bertman Tserkares, renovation, 2005

National Register of Historic Places

Boston Landmark

Preservation Achievement Award, 2006

Old Pemberton Square, developed in the 1830s, was inspired by Bulfinch’s superb tontine crescent at Franklin Place. Though a pale imitation, it was an attractive residential crescent of brick row houses enclosing a small park. Construction of the 1896 Courthouse destroyed the flat side of the square. The remaining houses survived until the 1960s Government Center redevelopment, when the Courthouse was in turn isolated from the city by Center Plaza. Climbing the steps through Center Plaza to discover this massive courthouse provides a memorable lesson about how Pei's master plan dealt with historical structures that might compete with his modern vision.

The French Second Empire façade is articulated to suggest a smaller building of three or four stories plus attic. Above the rough granite base, smooth-faced arches and pilasters rise to a heavy cornice and entablature. The pale green two-story mansard roof, a later addition, has three different styles of dormers. The central entrance pavilion relates to the end pavilions in form and features a Roman-numeral clock surmounted by a broken pediment with cartouche in the tympanum. Inside, a grand space with allegorical figures by Domingo Mora provides a common focus for the different floors.

The courthouse is the headquarters of the Massachusetts government's judicial branch.