Sunday, July 16, 2000

Hamilton to vacate city hall; next role uncertain

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — After 65 years, Hamilton's art deco Municipal Building will soon start a different role.

(Dick Swaim photos)
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        “It could possibly be put up for sale, leased or used for another municipal function — from a museum to a police station,” said City Manager Stephen Sorrell. “The final re-use has not been determined.”

        The last City Council meeting there will be at 7 p.m. July 26 in an ornate chamber that features a wall mural of Fort Hamilton and pioneers. The city has invited all past officials and employees to attend.

        The 54,000-square-foot building at 20 High St., next to the Great Miami River, is no longer needed because city employees are moving into the new One Renaissance Center downtown. The city and private businesses will pay $1.5 million annually for rent in the more spacious tower.

        “The view of the river from my (existing) office is actually better than what I'll have in the new building,” Mr. Sorrell said. “The Municipal Building is absolutely beautiful.”

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        It's also a monument to the thousands of skilled workers who once made Hamilton one of the greatest little industrial cities in the world. Exterior stone carvings depict weavers, industrial workers, safe makers (Hamilton was once the home of major safe factories), woodsmen, moulders, artists, paper workers, farmers and musicians.

        Sculpted expertly on the front of the building is the seal of the city and a medallion of Alexander Hamilton, for whom the city was named in 1796. The carvings grace the building in a time of slick, unsentimental government palaces.

        Since its opening in 1935, the Municipal Building has been an integral part of Hamilton's downtown, blending nicely with the old Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument, the Anthony Wayne Hotel and the Butler County Courthouse.

        It all began during the Depression in 1932, when council considered a proposal for a new city hall. In 1934, the federal Public Works Administration set aside $1.3 million to construct the Municipal Building and a water works. In 1935, brick and stone work began, and on July 30, 1935, Mayor Raymond H. Burke laid the cornerstone.

        When the Municipal Building and water plant were dedicated Nov. 24, 1935, they arrived with a commemorative book called Our City, in which the buildings were photographed and discussed. Ten Hamilton companies and many from Cincinnati and Columbus helped build the city's new hall.

        “The building represents Hamilton,” Mayor Adolf Olivas said.

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        It was a collaboration of local and regional talent. A 19-year-old Hamilton artist, Robert McCloskey, carved more than 20 stone pieces for the Municipal Building's exterior.

        “The dignity of the building is further enriched by the stone carvings at several entrances, models having been executed by ... a Hamilton boy whose talent was recognized by his art supervisor during his high school days,” the editors wrote.

        Mr. McCloskey, who lives now in Maine, was recognized by the Library of Congress this spring as one of four children's authors who are “living legends.” He wrote the 1941 classic Make Way for Ducklings, as well as Blueberries for Sal and other books.

        By late next year, two sculptures — characters in his first children's book, Lentil — will appear in a new downtown park at High and Riverfront Plaza, near the city building.

        The park and sculptures are gifts from the Hamilton Community Foundation on its 50th anniversary.

        Mr. Sorrell said after all employees have been moved to the new building, crews will clean and paint the interior of the municipal building to prepare it for its new life.

        “It has a new roof. The heating and air conditioning are in good shape. The exterior is waterproofed,” he said. “And the mural of Fort Hamilton will stay. It's a big part of what the building is all about.”


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