How many great memories do you have at the old City Hall building? The event coordinators of Vacant, a one night art gala on May 3rd, approached me to put a presentation together on the old City Hall building. Last night’s successful event was thrown by three graduating seniors from the Herron School of Art & Design – it was part a senior painting thesis show and part a juried art competition open to Herron students and artists in the community. Considering the last two usages of the structure have been for well-publicized art exhibits, do you have any ideas for repurposing City Hall?
Construction began in 1909, with architects Rubush & Hunter selected as the best plan. The firm also designed other Indianapolis buildings, such as the CircleTower Building (1929-1930), the Coca-Cola Bottling Company Plant (1931), and the Columbia Club (1925). On July 27, 1909, Mayor Bookwalter laid the cornerstone of the new City Hall during a humble ceremony. Thousands of citizens joined the mayor along with Governor Marshall, city officials, and other municipal workers to celebrate the event 7/28/1909). A copper box with copies of city reports, the Indianapolis charter, and copies of the newspaper was placed inside the corner stone. Mayor Bookwalter’s speech included thanking the citizens of the Indianapolis: “No citizen of Indianapolis will step his foot within the portals of this structure with more of a personal pride than I that this great city has at last constructed for itself a home commensurate with the dignity of its people… And I believe that in all the years to come no citizen, man, woman, or child, will pass this corner and read that motto without feeling responsibility for good citizenship in this city of ours.” (“Lays Corner Stone of New City Hall,” IndyStar, 7/28/1909)
A construction rush started that October, when there was a great deal of concern about getting the walls and roof secure before winter. As of October 3, 1909, walls were almost up to the top of the second floor – contractors believed they would have the roof on a “short time after January 1st.” (“Weather Man Aids on New Buildings,” IndyStar, 10/3/1909) Twenty-two days later, the walls were nearly up to the third floor around the entire building. Large, thirty-ton stones to set on top of the cap and pillars were to be delivered to Indianapolis soon – these were some of the largest building materials to be utilized in the construction (“Surprises are Due in Realty Circles,” IndyStar, 10/25/1909). A third of the cornice was completed the following month (“Building Record Made at Colonial,” IndyStar, 11/22/1909). The contract did specify that the walls and roof were to be completed by January 1st, but the construction was behind schedule. At this time, some interior walls were finished, as well as the steel support system for the rotunda (IndyStar, 11/22/1909). By December, about half of the stone courses needed to be set before the roof work could begin (“Contractors Hope for Fair Weather,” IndyStar, 12/6/1909). Heavy rains in mid-December pushed back construction; the hope was that roofing would be completed by January 15th (“Nine Story Home Opens to Public,”IndyStar, 12/13/1909). Mayor Bookwalter was also disappointed with the stone cutting work and decided to have the carvings on the cornerstone recreated. Apparently, the spacing between words was hastily completed (IndyStar, 12/13/1909). The inscription, “I am, myself, a citizen of no mean city,” was taken from a City Hall funding speech by Mayor Bookwalter prior to construction (“The IndianaState Museum…Biography of a Building,” Pamphlet, n.d.)
The Board of Public Works awarded the interior contract to W.F. Behrens, for $23,700, to do a number of mural paintings; Behren’s firm, of New York and Cincinnati, was not the lowest bid, but the board believed the designs were “of superior merit and more in harmony with the structure.” (“Buys Art for City Hall,” IndyStar, 12/30/1909) The Board’s statement on the decision: “One of the most artistic pieces of work included in the decorations planned by Mr. Behrens is for the ceiling and walls of the rotunda. The circular design running entirely around the ceiling of the rotunda contains the signs of the zodiac, below which there is a border of heavy relief. The walls of the rotunda are in delicate shades, white predominating. The drawing submitted for the office of the mayor was of particular beauty. This room will be done in green with a paneled wall. The panels will be adorned with a design of foliage at the top with bands of blue running downward to the bottom of the panels. The woodwork will be of mahogany.” (IndyStar, 12/30/1909) Mural themes included pioneer days, Alice of old Vincennes, and the battle of Falling Timber. These interiors exemplify the height of decorative art.
During this time, a new mayor was elected for the city, Mayor Samuel L. Shank. He was inaugurated the first week of January in a section of the building that was partially complete. Interior work started picking up in mid-January. Mayor Shank was not pleased with the murals in his office. The Board of Public Works ignored his pleas to award the contract to F.J. Mack & Co., a local company, who had planned angels on the ceiling of his office (“Loses Fight for Angels,” IndyStar, 12/1/1910). Part of the reason the board chose Behren’s firm was because P.C. Rubush of Rubush & Hunter had advised them to. The mayor’s concerns grew about beginning murals and other decorations as plaster fell from the ceilings – supposedly – but others, including a representative of the Westlake Construction Company said it was only molding that fell from the ceiling (“Acts as Plaster Falls,” IndyStar, 12/8/1910). City Hall construction costs were as follows: Westlake Construction Company, $511,029.86; Kirkhoff Bros.’ Company, $25,356.00; Indianapolis Plumbing and Heating Company, $8,861.17; Hatfield Electric Company, $8,199.06; Otis Elevator Company, $9,500.00; Lilly & Stalnaker, $9,825.00; Cutler Manufacturing Company, $1,236.00; American Air Cleaning Company, $1,442.75; Sanborn Electric Company, $17,234.00; Rubush & Hunter, $29,635.59; George M. Brill, $12,609.00; incidentals, $247.93; sidewalks and curbs, $613.89; permanent fixtures, $14,152.00 (IndyStar, 11/6/1910).
The City Hall dedication was planned near the end of November. The committee approved only $500 of public funds to be utilized for the event (“Treasury to Foot Bill,” IndyStar, 11/24/1910). The dedication was planned for Wednesday, December 21st – it included speeches from six mayors, as well as an open house of the structure for the public. 13 years later, discussions of purchasing the seven structures north of the building for an addition took place. By the 1940’s, there was talk of adding three more stories to the building. Ultimately, the city outgrew the building. After offices moved into the newly completed City-County building at 200 East Washington Street, the Indiana State Museum inhabited City Hall. The only major alteration to the exterior of the building during this time was sealing the windows; the interior work included dropping the ceilings and removing office walls to create larger gallery spaces (“America’s City Halls,” Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, James A. Glass and Mary Ellen Gadski, September 1981). The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. When the Indiana State Museum moved to its’ current location at White River State Park in 2002, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library moved in so the central library expansion could begin at 40 East St. Clair Street. The IMCPL moved out in 2007 when construction was completed. At that point, the city tried to find a private developer for the vacant structure (“’Turf’ Pavilion Ready for a Super Kickoff,” Neal Taflinger, IndyStar, 12/15/2011). Five years later, the building was used for an art exhibit, “Turf,” during the 2012 Super Bowl. What’s your million dollar idea for the building?
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