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City Hall Roof Restoration Project

City Hall
The building depicted above is New York City's third City Hall. Constructed from 1803-1812, it was designed by John McComb, Jr. and Joseph-Francois Mangin. The building has undergone many restorations during its almost two hundred-year history. The original copper roof of City Hall was installed in 1811; it was replaced in 1853, and five years later, due to fire damage, replaced again. Additional work on the roof was undertaken in the early part of this century. Since that time, the last recorded work on the roof was undertaken in 1970, when roof openings were installed to accommodate new air conditioning units. Images of City Hall through the century.

The condition of City Hall's roof has been evident for the last few years to the many employees and visitors who have noticed the severe water damage occurring throughout the public rooms and offices. From March 1998 to October 1998, the City Hall Roof will be undergoing a much-needed, major restoration. Extensive measurements, drawings, and molds of the clocktower's distinctive decorative elements have already been completed. The cupola has been demolished down to the supporting steel structure and a reinforced fiberglass structure will be placed on top of the building in its stead. This structure will be sheathed in copper, and then painted, as historical evidence suggests, was the original dome. The remainder of the roof will also be replaced with new substrate materials and new copper.

The sculpture of Justice on top of the cupola on City Hall is the third such sculpture to stand atop this building and will be restored as part of the City Hall Roof Restoration project. Painted to resemble carved stone, Justice is constructed much like the Statue of Liberty, composed of lightweight pieces of sheet copper soldered together and supported on an internal armature. Nearby Civic Virtue on top of the tower of the Municipal Building is also composed in a similar fashion, but is gold-leafed, whereas the Statue of Liberty has been allowed to take on a green patina typical of weathered copper.

Unlike the Statue of Liberty or Civic Virtue, which were the creations of famous sculptors, the Justice atop City Hall is an example of the skills of nineteenth-century manufacturing. Justice is a mass-produced sculpture, fabricated by the firm of William H. Mullins studio at a cost of $600, which made countless figures for public buildings and expositions. The Mullins studio also custom-produced such famous pieces as Saint-Gaudens' lovely copper Diana Weathervane that formerly adorned the original Madison Square Garden and is now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

City Hall's first sculpture of Justice was commissioned by its architects while the building was under construction. That figure, depicted without a blindfold, was the work of John Dixey, a sculptor trained in London, who received $310 for his work. The first Justice was carved of wood, and adorned the building until it was destroyed in 1858, when fireworks set off to celebrate the laying of the Atlantic cable started a fire on the roof of City Hall. As the roof and cupola burned, so did the statue of Justice, which dramatically crashed through the ceiling of City Hall and into the rotunda. In May of 1860, a new wooden Justice was installed on the rebuilt cupola. However, by 1887 the wood was so deteriorated that it was necessary to replace it.

Restoration of the sculpture will require its removal from the site. The sculpture has been thoroughly measured, photographed, and documented and its restoration will be undertaken by the same conservators that so successfully completed the restoration of Civic Fame. In order to remove the sculpture from City Hall, the arms of the art work will be detached and additional internal support will be installed. The sculpture will then be lifted by crane to a truck, where it will be transported to the conservator's studio, Les Metalliers Champenois in Paterson, NJ.

The roof restoration project and the conservation of the sculpture of Justice has been reviewed and approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, by the Art Commission, and by the City-wide Office for Safety and Health, part of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The project team includes the architectural firm Kenneth Hewes Barricklo Architect; consultant engineers Robert Silman Associates, P.C.; general contractor Barney Skanska; and the conservators, Les Metalliers Champenois. The sculpture project will be completed in tandem with the restoration of the roof.

In addition, several City agencies have contributed their expertise to this complex undertaking, including the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of City-wide Administrative Services, the Office of the Mayor, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Art Commission of the City of New York.

If you would like to support the restoration of City Hall and its collections, please contact NYC Public/Private Initiatives at 212-788-1500.


Images and text provided by the New York City Art Commission.

For more historical information on New York City, visit our Centennial Celebration page.



Copyright 2004 The City of New York