History Of New York’s City Hall

History Of New York's City Hall

Feature Photo: TTstudio / Shutterstock

From 1803 until 1812, New York City Hall was a municipal building that was built to serve as the main base of the government appointed to look out for the city’s best interests. Offices and a chamber belonging to the city mayor and its council are located here. Currently, this is the oldest city hall still in operation as such in the United States.

Next door, there are thirteen municipal agencies that are currently under the mayor’s control. This includes the Manhattan Municipal Building, which is one of the largest of its kind. Together, they’re located in Lower Manhattan’s City Hall Park.

Mangin and McComb

As early as 1776, plans for a new city hall were discussed by the city councilors but the finances from the war it just endured against the British weren’t there at the time to make it happen as quickly as they liked. When the time came to erect one, an old site at the Common at the northern limits of the city was chosen. A 1653 almshouse was the first then in 1736, another almshouse was financed for those who were fit to find work. Among the unfit, they were regarded as paupers.

It wasn’t until 1802 that the New York City Council held a competition that offered the winning architect $350.00 in prize money. The winner was the team of Joseph-Francois Mangin and John McComb Jr. Mangin already studied architecture in France before moving to New York to become a surveyor in 1795. He also published a map of the city in 1803 it was discredited due to lack of accuracy. He did, however, serve as the architect behind the landmarked St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

As for McComb Jr., his father already worked on the old city hall and was the New Yorker responsible for the design of Battery Park’s Castle Clinton. Although Mangin was credited as a winner of the new city hall design competition, he had no further involvement with this project. It was McComb Jr. who was in charge of all the architectural modifications and construction concerns revolving around New York City Hall.

On May 26, 1803, the building’s cornerstone was laid down. However, construction was delayed as the council felt the design was too extravagant. McComb responded by reducing the size of the building. He also used brownstone at its rear as a means to lower the cost. That brownstone, plus the original Massachusetts marble facade, was quarried from Alford, Massachusetts. These were later replaced with Atlanta limestone in 1954

Adding to the delay of this construction process included labor disputes and an outbreak of yellow fever. It wouldn’t be until 1811 that this new building would be dedicated, just before the United States declared war against the British on June 18, 1812. This war didn’t reach its official end until February 17, 1815.

Additional Architectural Influences

Even though it was McComb Jr. who originally oversaw the construction of New York City Hall until 1812, it has been the recipient of several changes over the years. In 1860, Leopold Eidilitz was the first of several architects that would usher in whatever needed to be done. It was he who also completed the Tweet Courthouse in 1881 and is best known for his work on the New York State Capitol, also in 1881. The timing of Eidlitz’s commission to work on the city hall came after the 1858 fireworks celebration of the Atlantic cable line set the roof of the building on fire. There was extensive damage that required a renovation that took time to complete.

After Eidilitz came John H. Duncan in 1898. He was the same man behind the 1899 design of Philip Lehman’s 7 West 54th Street limestone mansion. This impressive five-story structure became a designated New York City landmark in 1981.

William Martin Aiken would be the next architect that would apply architectural changes, this time in 1903. After him, from 1907 to 1917 it was Grosvenor Atterbury. It was Atterbury who rebuilt the domed tower of its center, which was necessary after the second major fire. That one took place on May 10, 1917, when hired roofing contractors at the time failed to put out a fire they had running in a charcoal pot after leaving the work site at noon. This fire reached some of the loose charcoal that was in one of the gutters of the roof. As a result, the old wooden cupola was engulfed in flames.

He was also the architect behind the ten fluted Corinthian-style columns that support the coffered dome within the building’s rotunda and its grand marble staircase that stretches from the main floor to the second. This was built in 1912. This is where a number of municipal and national events have taken place that included the display of Abraham Lincoln’s coffin after he was assassinated in 1965. The coffins belonging to Ulysses S. Grant and Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth have also been situated underneath the rotunda dome.

From 1954 until 1956, the team of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon served as the architects behind the changes applied to the city hall. It was they who replaced the Massachusetts limestone with the Alabama limestone. This was out of necessity as it deteriorated over time due to the population of pigeons. This was also the same team responsible for the architectural designs revolving around the Empire State Building.

Over time, there were architectural influences reminiscent of English Neoclassicism and the French Renaissance. The building’s interior has extensive American-Georgian design. These structural designs influenced New York City’s 1897’s Surrogate Courthouse and 1872’s Tweed Courthouse.

Starting in 2008, the much-needed restoration of New York’s city hall included structural enhancements and other upgrades in order to improve upon the building’s services. Due to the complexities involved, the New York City Department of Design and Construction hired Hill International to manage the project. Instead of the projected four years at $104 million this took slightly over five years and $150 million.

City Hall Influence

Often, the steps of New York City Hall will serve as a backdrop for political demonstrations and press conferences that concern the city’s policies. Unedited coverage of the events that take place in city hall can be found on channel seventy-four on NYC Media and Government Access Television. For security reasons, the New York City Police Department maintains a strong security presence. Also, public access to the building is restricted by appointment only, as well as organized tours.

Additional Features

Inside the New York City Hall is a collection of 108 paintings from the eighteenth century through to the twentieth century. This includes an 1805 John Trumbell portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the man whose face graced the American ten-dollar bill.

The Governor’s Room is where official receptions are held. This was the room that hosted newly elected president Abraham Lincoln in 1961. This is also where some of the most important pictures of the nineteenth century are kept. It also features several notable artifacts, including George Washington’s desk.

From the Blue Room, the city’s mayors give official press conferences, as well as sign high-profile bills in a ceremonial fashion. This has been a practice inside this room for decades. As for the Ceremonial Room, that’s used for small group meetings. There’s also a small press room that allows reporters to file their stories.

City Hall Culture

On June 16, 1857, a riot broke out between the New York Municipal Police and the newly formed Metropolitan Police. This took place in front of New York City Hall when the new police force attempted to arrest the mayor at the time, Fernando Wood.

At 2:08 P.M. on July 23, 2003, the political assassination of James E. Davis occurred when his rival councilman, Othniel Askew, shot him twice with a gun from the balcony of the city council chamber. In response, a police officer at the scene shot Askew. Both men were fatally wounded. It was learned these two passed through the building without passing by a metal detector. Because of this security breach, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it policy for each person entering the building to pass through metal detectors. There were no exceptions made to this rule.

In pop culture, New York City Hall has often been used in film and television. From 1996 until 2002, Spin City was set inside city hall as Michael J. Fox starred as the show’s deputy mayor. It was also in 1996 City Hall was filmed as a movie starring Al Pacino and John Cusack. In 1984, Ghostbusters featured a scene where the mayor summoned the heroes to discuss the pending doom of the world.

In the Neighborhood

New York City Hall is often referred to as the Civic Center. It’s also not the only architectural landmark in the neighborhood. There are several landmarks in the area, including a growing number of old commercial structures that have been converted into high-end residential dwellings. Underneath City Hall Park is the original southern terminal of the New York City Hallway. This was built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and was opened to the public on October 27, 1904. However, as of December 31, 1945, it was discontinued as a passenger service. This former subway station is still used as a turning loop for trains that are still in service, though.

Landmark Registries

New York City Hall was designated as a city landmark, first in 1966 for its exterior, then in 1976 for its interior, by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. The National Register of Historic Places recognized the building as a National Historic Landmark as of December 19, 1960.

New York 2022

As of January 1, 2022, Eric Adams became New York City’s new mayor. Before assuming this role, he was an officer for the New York City Police Department for over twenty years. From 2006 until 2013, he was a senator for New York State, representing the 20th State District in Brooklyn. He was elected Brooklyn Borough President on November 2013, then reelected in November 2017.

Since becoming mayor, Adams went from a sixty-three percent approval rating among New Yorkers to twenty-nine percent. This quick drop also showed over three-quarters of the city’s population are also worried they could become a victim of violent crime due. Where New Yorkers go as a community will once again depend on what sort of government they want. This is a city that has been the central hub of American diversity even before the United States of America was officially declared as a nation.

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/1917/05/11/archives/city-hall-cupola-ruined-by-fire-building-deluged-by-water-but.html

https://www.historyhit.com/locations/new-york-city-hall/

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/designcommission/public-programs/city-hall/architectural-history.page

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudy-Giuliani

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