A look back at city hall

Historic preservation panel to explore renovation of site


With the Annapolis city council chambers temporarily closed due to a chunk of plaster molding falling from the ceiling, a new committee will look at ways to restore the historic character of City Hall.

On Monday night, the council voted to formally establish a historical preservation committee that will explore options for improving the brick, post-Civil War structure.

The city will apply for grant money from the Maryland Historical Trust and Preservation Maryland to commission a historical structure report and make any necessary improvements.

For now, there is no cost estimate or timetable.

The immediate focus will be the council chambers, which could be reopened as early as next week, pending a written report from building inspectors.

In the meantime, the council has been meeting at First Presbyterian Church across the street and other locations.

Karen Engelke, special projects coordinator, said yesterday that the remaining molding was found to be in good shape. The 50-foot-long part that fell down - because of poor construction - has been secured and the fluorescent lighting has been replaced.

"There are no signs of fatigue in remaining molding and there are no more dangling wires," Engelke said. "The room is still quite disarranged and public safety is truly the driving force."

History and tourism is also a driving force, as council members dig into the history of the structure, at 161 Duke of Gloucester St., and look to the 300th anniversary of Annapolis in 2008.

Alderwoman Julie Stankivic, a Ward 6 independent who has spent hours in the archives looking for old City Hall photos, can point out the original roofing line from when the building was one story tall.

And now she notices where, in the early 1900s, portico and columns framed the doorway before the most recent renovation.

The current look of City Hall is likely a combination of restorations, Stankivic said. According to a city report, the building was restored in the early 1900s, in 1935 and again in 1982.

She wants to turn the clock back to when City Hall was more of a community gathering place.

"Annapolis society spent quite a bit of time dancing and meeting here," she said. "George Washington played cards in the mayor's office."

It is little-known facts such as these that could make City Hall a tourist stop, Stankivic said.

Built in 1867 to replace the city government building that was burned during the Civil War, the City Hall building once had chambers that included a stage and chandeliers. The original structure's walls were used for the present building, according to Annapolis: The Guidebook, a 2001 guide to city buildings by Katie Moose.

Beneath the 20th-century decorative plaster ceiling that fell is a late 19th-century Victorian ceiling that is visible from the attic, said Catherine Adams Masek, a historical preservation consultant.

"It's a wonderful room," she said. "We'll study the finishing and possible wallpapers that could be on the wall to understand what has happened and what has changed."

The city is looking for old photos and accounts of a pre-1934 City Hall to guide restoration efforts.

"When people come here they should get a sense of what was here and why it's important," Stankivic said. "We'd like to establish the elegance and beauty that once was City Hall."nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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