Building History: The Hall of Records

Since 1977, New York City’s Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) has preserved the City’s copious historic records and made them available to the public. This small agency manages a vast store of documents consisting of numerous collections held at several locations. Despite this fact, the existence, extent, and research availability of the records maintained by DORIS is not commonly known among the general public, nor is DORIS as widely recognized as other City agencies.


Hall of Records, ca. 1935. NYC Municipal Archives.


The most historic and frequently requested items are maintained at the agency’s headquarters at 31 Chambers Street. Though DORIS had its inception fewer than forty years ago, the building the agency now calls home has been in place for over a century; and, despite being known as the Surrogate’s Court, the edifice was in fact constructed for the express purpose of housing records. 

As soon as it opened, the Hall of Records was regarded as an architectural masterpiece. Designed by the renowned architect John Rochester Thomas and completed by Horgan and Slattery, the building was exemplary of the French Baroque style en vogue at the turn of the twentieth century. Famous artists such as Philip Martiny, Henry Kirke Bush-Brown, and William de Leftwich-Dodge adorned the building inside and out with beautiful works of art. Sadly, these sculptures and mosaics are rarely seen or appreciated by the public, and have never received proper documentation.

South Dormer of 31 Chambers Street. NYC Municipal Archives.

Lobby of 31 Chambers Street. NYC Municipal Archives.

The lobby of this impressive building is currently undergoing restoration to repair the central skylight, which has been covered with a tarp for more than a decade. Repairing the leaking skylight and restoring the interior will take two years. During this time we will continue to post information about the history of the building.