The Supreme Court Building
Despite its role as a coequal branch of government, the Supreme Court was not provided with a building of its own until 1935, the 146th year of its existence. Initially, the Court met in the Merchants Exchange Building in New York City. When the national capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the Court moved with it, establishing Chambers first in Independence Hall and later in the City Hall.
When the Federal Government moved, in 1800, to the permanent capital in Washington, D.C., Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol Building. The Court was to change its meeting place a half dozen times within the Capitol. Additionally, the Court convened for a short period in a private house after the British set fire to the Capitol during the War of 1812. Following this episode, the Court returned to the Capitol and met from 1819 to 1860 in a chamber now restored as the “Old Supreme Court Chamber.” Then from 1860 until 1935, the Court sat in what is now known as the “Old Senate Chamber.”
Finally in 1929, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been president of the United States from 1909 to 1913, persuaded Congress to end this arrangement and authorize the construction of a permanent home for the Court. Architect Cass Gilbert was charged by Chief Justice Taft to design “a building of dignity and importance suitable for its use as the permanent home of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Neither Taft nor Gilbert survived to see the Supreme Court Building completed. The construction, begun in 1932, was completed in 1935, when the Court was finally able to occupy its own building.