Oct 12, 2023, 06:27AM

The Wedding Party

Where happily ever after begins in New York City.

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Art: Michael Gentile

One day Rita jumped out of bed at dawn. She was nervous, eager to get to her niece’s wedding at the Office of the City Clerk. Aiming to be on time, her racing figure showed grace with caution in the crosswalk. “Your Aunt Rita ain’t used to wearing high heels.”

Beth, the bride-to-be, waited on the sidewalk while passing cars honked their appreciation. She looked like a delicate bloom, stunning in her wedding dress. At the intersection of Centre and Worth Sts., a cab pulled up and another pair gracefully emerge. The Louis J. Lefkowitz Building continues to be an important part of another wedding day. It’s a celebration where customs are firmly established, and people can momentarily forget their problems.

The Manhattan Marriage Bureau resides in a block-long, nine-story granite behemoth designed by William Haugaard. Finished in 1930, the Lefkowitz building is elaborate, but subtle. Considered pure Art Deco, the facade is decorated with Egyptian patterns, crowned with a frieze of waves, eagles and lion’s heads. 

On the exterior, there’s metalwork window panel motifs; the embossed portrait could be mistaken for Fritz Lang's Metropolis robot. The entrances are flanked with state seals. In large letters, the words “STATE OF NEW YORK” are carved in stone. Topped with flags fluttering in the breeze, you feel like a minnow looking up.

On Worth St. during the workweek, giddy bridal parties gather with more variables than a potluck party. Waiting in line for their assigned times, lots of smiles are shared among gathering family and friends. Everyone appears happy; they’re wearing a mind-boggling amount of makeup, perfume and one-day hairdos. Clara the flower girl patiently holds an elegant bouquet.

Occasionally, a low-key couple ties the knot. The smart move keeps a few friends nearby; you’ll need witnesses for the ceremony. Preparing a wedding? If you’re older than 18, for $25 payable in advance, you can solemnize a marriage in New York State by obtaining a single-day license. The marriage itself costs a $35 license fee. All appointments made through Project Cupid are booked ahead of time, no walk-in visits are permitted.

A trail of pink rose petals leads to a small, curved section beside the courthouse called the Wedding Garden. The surrounding greenery reeks of dogwood; the natural smell is a bitter composition of odors, some view it as unpleasant and others find it invigorating. A hearty mix of oak leaf hydrangea, roses and hostas complete the enclave.

It’s hard to believe the Lefkowitz building nearly fell victim to demolishment. An idiotic plan devised under former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure failed. The half-baked idea called for retro-fitting the existing structure with a 40-story jail. Thankfully, New York City abandoned the proposal in 2018. However, concerns continue among Chinatown residents about changes in the neighborhood. A contentious major demolition project is now progressing, removing the outdated, brutalist MDC correctional complex on Centre St. Despite the Lefkowitz building’s significant importance, it’s still “not” an officially designated historic site.

Downtown’s Civic Center is a thriving epicenter. The former Collect Pond wetlands later became the Five Points slum neighborhood. Today the hub provides a multitude of everyday services for a variety of people. It’s Court Central. Justice is examined as a fundamental virtue defined as: “...the firm and continuous desire to render every man his due.” Criminals, police officers, and attorneys abound; every US judicial department imaginable, from state to federal to international, civil to criminal, is represented. I once appeared in small claims court here at night with success in getting a freelance artwork nonpayment ruling.

With lines wrapping around the block of the Jacob K. Javits Federal building before sunrise on weekdays, an overwhelming influx of migrants try to navigate the US asylum and immigration system. Several government agencies and field offices are located at Federal Plaza, also called Foley Square: FBI, Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and US Citizenship and Immigration.

The organized chaos is under constant surveillance. The heavy security presence includes bomb-sniffing dogs. Directly across the street, Thomas Paine Park provides a triangular-shaped green space. If a protest, speech or demonstration is planned; chances are it’s held by the fountain, which adds to existing crowds.

Federal Plaza/Foley Square is in the words of The Project for Public Places “an awesomely bad complex so disjointed it boggles the mind.” But on late afternoons when fall sunlight takes the main stage, many appreciate the fading sun’s enhanced nuance. In the park’s swaying London plane trees, the first minute changes in leaf color can be seen as green gradually shifts to yellow. The intense blue sky is dotted with puffy clouds. A person with a good eye and camera knows this “Kodak Moment” is a stunner.

All those inspirational things make the day in, day out, public space no big secret; it could double as a Central Casting annex. The landmark New York County Courthouse resume includes 12 Angry Men, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Wall Street. Built in 1901, if the Centre St. location looks familiar, you’ve seen the district attorneys on Law and Order addressing reporters or heated comments exchanged on the steps. Scenes in the new Joker: Folie à Deux sequel with Lady Gaga were staged here. The Flight of the Conchords series shot on the neighborhood’s southern edge by the Brooklyn Bridge.

As it turns out—even if Eisenstein’s 1925 escalating "Odessa Steps” scene is a more haunting vision—many fates are still decided within the courthouse to this day. On a less intense level, people pose for pictures on the broad stairway. A casual observer might notice jurors waiting to pass through security, or a heavy-handed director or photographer shouting instructions, but generally not much conversation goes on. An abundance of impromptu photo shoots means flowers are frequently tossed in the air to create stereotypical wedding shots. There’s more excitement during the off-hours. That’s when skateboarders take over and enjoy the opportunity to jump into action and get airborne.

Outside the Lefkowitz building at noon, a court officer asked the audience, “Anyone still here from a morning session?” There’s a show of hands. Walking across the park, another bridal gown glistens in the sunlight.

There’s a decent likelihood that a garment worker handled the precious satin gown fabric. Working hard after hours on a deadline, the sweatshop with noisy industrial sewing machines had no outside light. After a few finishing touches are added including: exquisite hand-stitched sequins, beading, and buttons, it’s delivered to a bridal magazine for photography.

The booming wedding industry is driven by a desire to turn a profit; motivated by a vision that focuses on catering to whatever you want “On the day you say, ‘I do.’” Despite the jitters, there’s no need to fret because your day will be filled with wonderful memories.


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