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[graphic text] Edificios En San Juan

Exterior and interior of the Supreme Court Building in Puerto Rico
Photo courtesy of Cortesia de la Oficina Estatal de Conservación Histórica de Puerto Rico

The Supreme Court Building in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is an outstanding example of the Modern Movement in Puerto Rico and is an important embodiment of the historical development of the highest court of law on the island. The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico is a three-story, reinforced concrete courthouse located in the easternmost point of the grounds of Luis Mũnoz Rivera Park at Puerto de Tierra in San Juan. The building was designed in 1952 by local firm Toro-Ferrer, with the collaboration of Charles W. Warner, Jr. and Harold Eliot Leeds as design consultants. The Supreme Court Building symbolizes the evolution of four hundred years of the complex judicial and political development in Puerto Rico. After 300 years as an important part of the Spanish Empire in America, it was not until 1831, that the Spanish Crown established locally the first Court of Appeal with jurisdiction over the entire territory. Because of this, it was called the real Audiencia Territorial (a Territorial Juncture). This court was located in a house on Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan. After the Spanish American War in 1898 and the transfer of Puerto Rico to the United States, a military government was established on the island. Among the changes by the military was the creation of a new court that substituted the old “Audiencia Territorial.” In August 7, 1899, the General Order 114 formed the new Supreme Court, which was composed of one Chief Justice and four associated judges. By 1900 the Puerto Rican people readily received the inauguration of the civil government under the first Organic Law, the Foraker Act, approved by the United States Congress on April 12, 1900. Optimism faded when it was learned that the major political decisions were going to be determined by the US Congress and President. However, within the judicial structure of the new Supreme Court, the US government opted to maintain a majority of Puerto Ricans.

[graphic] photo Winding staircase in the Supreme Court Building
Photo courtesy of Cortesia de la Oficina Estatal de Conservación Histórica de Puerto Rico

For the first three decades of the 20th century, the seat of the Supreme Court was located in the historic building of the old Convent of the Dominic’s in Old San Juan. In 1931, the court was transferred to the recently built State Capitol. By the end of the 1940s, dramatic changes altered the political structure on the island. In 1947 the Law of the Elected Governor was approved, allowing the Puerto Ricans, for the first time, to choose their governor in the 1848 election. By 1952 the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the new Constitution allowed judges to be nominated by the governor and ratified by the Puerto Rican Senate. The plans for the construction of the building for the Supreme Court were on their way rapidly after the establishment of the Commonwealth. By October 1953, the construction of the building was on its way. On February 4, 1956 it was inaugurated. The building itself is light and airy, exploiting the nearby reflecting pool and its stairways suspended over water. According to architect Osvaldo Toro, the circular shape of the courtroom made it one of the first of its kind in the world. The use of a circle as the shape of the courtroom, a strong symbolizing the equality of all people.

San Elizario Historic District | Supreme Court Building | Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
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