Adaptive Reuse of Public Landmark Building
City Hall is one of the first examples of adaptive reuse. In the
1960's the concept of recycling outdated public buildings was untried.
The successful conversion (1969-1971) of Boston's City Hall into
a restaurant and first class office building heralded the beginning
of this new concept. It was widely publicized by the American Institute
of Architects and became a model of successful redevelopment for
underutilized municipal property. Old City Hall became an example,
stimulating the reuse of landmark buildings across the United States
in the 1970's and 1980's, and this pioneer rehabilitation continues
to win recognition.
School Street Political Life
This site was the location of two Boston City Halls. Here in 1810,
the Suffolk Country Courthouse was erected. In 1841, that courthouse
was converted to Boston's second city hall. In 1865 it was replaced
by Boston third city hall, the building you see today on School
Street. In 1969, Boston built its fourth city hall at Government
Center and vacated this site.
Thirty-eight Boston mayors served their terms of office on School
Street at this site over a period of one hundred and twenty-eight
years. All twenty of the Democrat mayors adopted the donkey as their
party's symbol, while only five of the ten Republican mayors utilized
In 1828, Andrew Jackson established the Democratic party and ran
for president using the populist slogan, "Let the people rule",
his opponents thought him silly and labeled him a "jackass".
Jackson, however, picked up on their name calling and turned it
to his own advantage by using the donkey on his campaign posters.
Over the years this donkey had become the accepted symbol of the
The symbol of the Republican party in 1974 was born in the imagination
of a cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly. Soon other cartoonists
used the elephant to symbolize Republicans, and eventually, Republicans
adopted the elephant as their official symbol.
French Second Empire Architecture
Boston's Old City Hall was one of the first buildings in the French
Second Empire Style to be built in the United States and is now
one of the few that survive. The design originated in France during
the Second Empire (the reign of Emperor Napoleon III from 1852 to
1870). In Paris, this style gained popularity with the building
of the new Louvre. After the completion of Boston's City Hall (1865),
the French Second Empire Style was used extensively elsewhere in
Boston and for many public buildings in the United States, such
as the Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. as well as other
city halls in Providence, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
The style became so closely associated with the Grant Administration
(1869-1877) that it was also called the "General Grant Style."
The major characteristic of this style is the mansard roof, a double-pitched
roof with a steep lower slope that has a boxy shape. Often the building
will have a projecting center that is topped by a dome, and tall
windows and doors that are flanked by pairs of columns.
Architectural Points of Interest
· The granite exterior in the French Second Empire style
characterized by ornamented columns, the mansard roof, and the projecting
· The massive front doors, unusual in the use of different
wood, as well as the inlay of the marble circle in each door.
· The murals in the building entrances on School Street
and Court Square illustrating the history of both the building and
· The marble plaque in the first floor lobby commemorating
the laying of the cornerstone in 1862 by Mayor JM Wightman and the
dedication of the building in 1865 by Mayor FW Lincoln, Jr.
· The statues in
Franklin (1706-1790) was born in Boston and attended school
on this site as a boy before pursuing a distinguished career as
an author, inventor, scientist, politician and statesman.
Scenes of Franklin's accomplishments appear in bas-relief on the
square pedestal of the statue. The statue (1856) was the first
portrait statue to be erected in Boston. Franklin is depicted
as he would actually appear, rather than draped in toga, cloak,
or classical attire. The statue was designed by Richard Saltonstall
Greenough, as are two of the bas-reliefs.
Quincy (1772-1864) was the second Mayor of Boston and
served six consecutive, one-year terms from 1823-1828. During
his tenure he was reponsible for the development that expanded the
produce and meat markets in Faneuil Hall into three new buildings
known as the Quincy Markets. This statue (1879) was designed
by Thomas Ball.
· The hopscotch in the School Street sidewalk recognizing
this as the site of the first public school in America (1635), Boston
Public Art at Old
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1856, Bronze, larger
In front of Old City Hall
Richard Saltonstall Greenough (see
Cambridge [Harvard University]: Governor John Winthrop).
This may be
Richard Greenough’s finest work: here he understood that Bostonians
wanted their “very own” Franklin, not an abstraction. The
Massachusetts Historical Society provided a suit of Franklin’s
clothes, and the sculptor labored to render Franklin, he said, as
“thoughtful, dignified, of kindly expression, and un(self)conscious.”
Two of the bas-reliefs on the pedestal (scenes from Franklin’s life)
are by Greenough; the other two, the signing of the Declaration of
Independence and the Treaty of Paris, were Thomas Bali’s first
(1706-1790) most famous scientist, inventor, journalist,
philosopher, and ambassador of colonial America and the young
Republic, was born on Milk St. in Boston. He apprenticed here to
his brother James, publisher of The New England Courant, sometimes
called “the first sensational newspaper in America.” At age
seventeen he left for Philadelphia. Funded by public subscription.
JOSIAH QUINCY, 1879. Bronze, larger than
In front of Old City Hall.
Thomas Ball (1819-1911).
Son of a
Charlestown house and sign painter, Ball began his career as a
self-taught portrait painter. It did not go well, and he found
other income as a church choir soloist. Turning to portrait busts,
Ball found success with images of Jenny Lind and Daniel Webster,
later mass-duplicated for public sale. At age thirty-five Ball went
to study sculpture in Florence, returned to Boston for eight years
during which he constructed the equestrian Washington for the Public
Garden and other works, then settled in Florence for the next thirty
years, dean of the expatriate American artistic community.
Quincy (1772-1864), third of at least six generations to bear that
name, lawyer and author, served in the Massachusetts Senate, the
U.S. Congress, as mayor of Boston (1823-29), and finally as
president of Harvard College. Before the century was out his son
and great-grandson, also Josiah Quincys, served as mayors of
CITY CARPET, 1983. Ceramic, brass, and
stained concrete, 25’ sq.
In front of Old City Hall.
Lilli Ann Lillen Rosenberg (see Newton:
Five Concrete Mosaic Sculptures).
It was on
School St. That Boston Latin School, with its unique concept of free
education (for boys only, however), was established I n1635.
Although it has long since moved, Boston Latin remains a prestigious
public school and the oldest educational institution in the country,
antedating Harvard by a year. Rosenberg’s “carpet” is a hopscotch
diagram, but details within its borders recall old-fashioned games
and Boston traditions. Latin’s motto, beneath its image, translates
“Work conquers all – Opportunity for all,” Commissioned by Townscape
BOSTON: THE SHAPING OF A CITY, 1993.
Acrylic, four walls, each 18’ X 15’, and ceiling, 15’ X 15’.
School St. lobby.
Joshua Winer (see Back Bay: Newbury
Campari Knoepffler (see Cambridge
[Harvard Square]: Harvard Square Theater Mural).
Olga Voronina (1960- ).
1865 in elaborate Second Empire style, Old City Hall served the city
until the development of Government Center in 1968. In
rehabilitating the structure, the new owners were required by city
fire codes to gut the interior. The mural on the wall facing the
entrance was painted in 1984 by Winer and his original partner,
Knoepffler. Along with fool-the-eye architectural detail, the names
of Boston’s mayors are inscribed in typestyles reflecting the eras
in which they served. The rest of the vestibule has been decorated
by Winer and Voronina, a Russian-born artist trained at Leningrad
Academy of Art.
Inside Old City Hall, Court St. entrance.
Elizabeth Carter (see Cambridge [Central
Square]: Floating Down Mass Avenue).