The stunning Queen Anne–style Temple Court building, designed by James M. Farnsworth, was initially called the Kelly Building after the name of its developer, Eugene Kelly. It pioneered a new, developing concept of an office building. Most of its offices were occupied by lawyers, giving it the name “Temple Court” after London’s Temple legal district. A close neighbor to Brooklyn Bridge, the Temple Court was completed in 1883. Both were constructed at the same time and completed in the same year.
The most awe-inspiring feature of the building is its stunning nine-story atrium, framed by Victorian-era cast-iron railings, which allowed offices to enjoy both interior and exterior views. The skylight fills it with natural light, creating nothing short of visual magic.
The atrium is dominated by a huge portrait of Edgar Allen Poe, pointing to the 1830s when the Temple Court was the site of Clinton Hall – an educational institution that housed archives of the Mercantile Library. The library provided reading rooms and writing spaces where Edgar Allen Poe worked and started publishing his own newspaper. Prior to that, the area was known as “Theater Alley” and a location of the Chapel Street Theater, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet was performed in New York City for the very first time in 1761.
In the 20th century, the beautiful building was abandoned and came to complete disrepair. But even dilapidated, it looked stunning, attracting attention and providing a dramatic backdrop for model shoots, TV shows, and music videos. Fortunately, it was landmarked, restored, and opened in 2016 as the Beekman, a Thompson Hotel .
Eugene Kelly, the builder of the Temple Court, was known as a supporter of arts, charity, and education: he was a patron of the Metropolitan and the Museum of Natural History; he financed the construction of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is laid to rest. Despite all that, he stayed out of the public eye. An Irish immigrant, he started with a few hundred dollars, went into the dry goods business, cashed in on the California gold rush, made a fortune, and became a prominent banker, developer, and philanthropist. According to the 1894 New York Times obituary, Mr. Kelly was not a demonstrative man who shunned notoriety and sought the comforts of private life.
The spectacular office building pioneer didn’t get to preserve Kelly’s name, but keeping its developer out of the spotlight, it preserved his legacy, surviving gloriously into the 21st century.