The magnificent architecture of our City Hall

BY: A. MANN, Contributing Writer

This revolving column upon and into Cincinnati area landmarks takes under close consideration the monumental structure of Cincinnati City Hall.

Observing Cincinnati City Hall from a current viewpoint at the fronted address of 801 Plum Street, the first impression formed is often of a medieval bastion, with the flared base, massive roof, and imposing tower projecting a forcible presence. To some the venerable edifice is a daunting reminder of outmoded patterns bearing an untoward present headquarters for Cincinnati’s projective government through its archaic arches, coarse columns, and dated carvings. It is a building rose upon a democratic epitome, whereof the configuration, from the foundation up, aspires to uphold lasting promise toward housing a progressive city government. Ideally, to enduringly promote equal measure and fair municipal advance.  Further reservations concerning the buildings retention as a contemporary City Hall are related of the interior capacity, which in increased municipal services to an expanded population, promptly went outside of the allotted room arranged, soon after its facilitated interdepartmental agreement.

These critical concerns in the operative continuance of Cincinnati’s government at the momentous building are not novel, being pronounced since the turn of the century in the 1900’s, when certain modern proponents claimed that the prominent City Hall- though of historic significance- had quickly outgrown its functional place as a accordant future site for a forward-looking city government.

The initial City Hall built in 1852 was removed in 1888 to be replaced by the standing construction, designed by the distinguished resident architect Samuel Hannaford. This expansion was aided by the aims of political boss George B. Cox in the early 1890’s to enlarge Cincinnati’s municipal services, that of a suspicious annexation, would ultimately come under much scrutiny of ‘Boss’ Cox’s calculating proceeds. Hannaford, who had gained national recognition in 1878 by his harmonious composition of Cincinnati Music Hall, was chosen to conduct the interdependent municipal project toward a realization of a capacious City Hall that would fittingly represent the city’s proposed cooperative government in an outstanding, yet plain manner.

The majestic home of Cincinnati's elected city council. Photo: Courtesy of Cincinnati City Council

Hannaford’s influences in the reconfigured City Hall are fundamentally related by his noted emulation of Henry Hobson Richardson’s Early-Medieval Romanesque architecture bearing international renown, with a capital example celebrated countywide applied to the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce building from the leading architects plan in 1885, to the completion undertaken in 1888, after Richardson’s death. Hannaford’s ensuing ‘Richardsonian Romanesque’ style applied to the commissioned City Hall, completed in 1893, would come to stand for a significant surviving example of Richardson’s revived proportions; consequentially emphasized by the conflagration in 1911 to the local Chamber of Commerce office, resulting in the razing of the unsupportable structure.

As much as Hannaford’s contributions are carried onto the existing City Hall in recognition of his inspired interpretation to combine base concrete support with fair aesthetic touches, the roughly hewn framework intends a hand turned determination, collectively accomplished in the stonework laid by local masons from the David Hummel Company, quarried in Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The interior was initially as involved of local and regional artisan’s craftwork. Reflected today of the sustained stain-glass windows designed by the firm of Pottier and Stymus, multiple frescoes of Raphael M. and Charles A. Pedretti, being, alas, mostly thoughtlessly painted over, with mosaic floors intricately composed by the Herter Brothers.

Though all of this interrelated construction relays an informed understanding to the constant preservation and potential vital conductance in the historic City Hall, there are additional stirring recollections as to its possible loss or committed reconstitution resounded in accumulate variant measures. By outcry in the 1950’s to replace the oldfangled structure nearly being granted by a five-alarm fire in 1957, if not for the attentive intervention of a dedicated civic fire department. With convincing recording on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, along with eloquent rededication ceremonies publicly rung in 1993 toward the recommitment of a central Cincinnati government, continuing to vocally call to be choicely represented within. Still, it is by an intimate interaction upon and within the public access offered to the receptive individual that one may physically absorb and actively voice his or her own outlook about this delegated landmark being openly maintained toward providing ongoing civic improvement.