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A Brief History of City Hall

City Hall - Rotunda
Photography by Andrew Moore, Courtesy of
the Art Commission of the City of New York.

The oldest City Hall in the nation that still houses its original governmental functions, New York’s City Hall is considered one of the finest architectural achievements of its period. Constructed from 1803 to 1812, the building was an early expression of the City’s cosmopolitanism. City Hall is a designated New York City landmark, and its rotunda is a designated interior landmark as well.

Built to accommodate a growing municipal government, the three-story building was the result of a hotly-contested competition held in 1802. The winning team of Joseph François Mangin (fl. 1794-1818), a French émigré, and John McComb, Jr. (1763-1853), a native New Yorker, designed the building in the Federal style, with clear French influences that can be seen in the large arched windows, delicate ornamental swags, and more decorative Corinthian- and Iconic-style columns and pilasters.

City Hall is entered by a formal staircase that sweeps up to the one-story portico fronting the building. The roof of the portico, surrounded by a balustrade, forms a balcony outside the Governor’s Room’s five large arched windows. A cupola, topped by a copper statue of Justice, rises above the attic. The soaring rotunda dominates the interior, and is dramatically encircled by a keystone-cantilevered staircase. Ten Corinthian columns on the second floor support the coffered dome, which recalls the Pantheon in Rome.

Since its completion in 1815-1816, the Governor’s Room has served as a museum and reception room celebrating the civic history of New York and the nation. It houses one of the most important collections of 19th century American portraiture as well as historic furnishings, including pieces by Charles Christian and Honoré Lannuier, and other notable artifacts, such as George Washington’s desk. Many distinguished guests have visited the Governor’s Room, including the Marquis de Lafayette and Albert Einstein. The Room hosted President-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and then served as the backdrop for his coffin in 1865 as he lay in state.

For more information on tours, to volunteer or to help support the City Hall Conservancy, please call 311.

 

 

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