Completed in 1812, New York’s third City Hall building is surrounded by a restored park occupying a unique place in American history. The spacious and elegant interior of City Hall has seen many changes throughout the ensuing 200 years, particularly where office space was created for the ever-growing number of workers. But renovations to the public reception room, known as the Blue Room, where the Mayor gives news conferences, have carefully restored and augmented this magnificent space, evident in the decorative woodwork and marble mantelpiece as well as the tasteful furnishings. Portraits of Thomas Jefferson, and Mayor DeWitt Clinton, among other notables, grace the room. Group tours are available for groups of 12 or more and need to be booked in advance by calling (212) 788-6870.
In the seventeenth century, when Federal Hall on Wall Street served as the seat of New York City and State government, the original City Hall Park was called the Flats. Executions as well as the burial of slaves and the impoverished took place there. A public reading of the newly-signed Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, at the Flats (also known as the Fields) led to a mob procession down Broadway to Bowling Green, where a statue of English King George III was hacked apart. After the Revolutionary War, the park’s landscaping was improved, and in 1803 the cornerstone was laid for the new City Hall.
A painstaking restoration of City Hall Park, completed in 1999, restores its splendid 19th-century features; in particular, the Victorian fountain and surrounding gas bronze lamps anchor the park and reflect the grand history of America’s largest city. Flowering trees, flowerbeds and new landscaping give the park a scaled-down look, yet lend the area a more impressive and refined character. However, the new 21st-century security features, including new perimeter fences and ominous anti-terrorist devices have been roundly criticized for blocking pedestrians’ and protestors’ access, who in time-honored tradition complained bitterly: "You can’t fight City Hall."
Atop the cupola of City Hall is a sculpture of Justice, the third commissioned for this building. Both the building and its exquisite sculpture contrast with the towering Municipal Building across Park Row, High atop the Municipal Building, an ornate gold-leaf statue of Civic Virtue shines brilliantly in the sun. While City Hall may be eclipsed by the massive Municipal Building, when considering the mayor’s stature over his city’s bureaucrats, the reverse has always been true.
Do combine your visit to City Hall with a peek at the refurbished Tweed Courthouse behind it on Chambers Street. Tweed Courthouse now functions as the headquarters of the Board of Education, and was the most expensive public-works building ever constructed in American history. Cost overruns in the nineteenth century were extraordinary; cost overruns during the year 2000 reconstruction were another story entirely!