Delaware City Hall
THE CITY HALL
The exact location of the early offices of city government and police quarters is unknown. It would appear from early writings that these were located in various market houses and Fire Station Houses. However, we do know that in 1868 a room over J.L. Latimer's music store was rented as the Police Headquarters. The rent of $3.50 per month increased to $12.50 per quarter during the following year.
In January 1876, the second floor over the City Drug Store, on the NW corner of William and Sandusky, was rented for use as a Council Room for $50 per year. It is not clear whether both or either of these rentals were for limited time periods, or whether they continued until the construction of the City Hall.
However, City Council notes from 1879 seem to indicate Council was meeting in the old Market House/Engine House at William and Franklin Streets. This building had been built in 1824 as a Methodist Church. Later it was used as a school house, Market House, Court and Engine House. The condition of the building seemed so bad, that approximately two more years of use was all that could be anticipated.
The need for city owned offices and prison was becoming very apparent. The County had, a few years prior, built a Court House and was in the process of completing a new county jail.
It seems that 1879 started out as a year of action. In January, City Council purchased from the county their old jail cells, for $10 each, to be used in a new building. On February 3, council appointed a committee to report the probable cost of building an engine house, council room, mayor's office and city prison. In March the committee reported such a building "can be erected and completed for a sum not exceeding $6,000". The following month an election was held and the majority of the 449 votes cast were in favor of erecting a City Hall. Council moved to take immediate action and to issue bonds in an amount not exceeding $35,000 for the construction.
At the May 8th Council Meeting a committee reported that they could obtain the Shoub property, on the south east corner of William and Sandusky Streets, 103 3 ft. on William by 145 3 ft. on Sandusky, for $10,000. Council voted 8 to 0 to purchase this property. During the next two months they had plans developed by five different architects and on July 3, choose the plans drawn by Mr. Switzer.
An article appeared in the Delaware Gazette on July 10, 1879, which gives us some idea of what our first City Hall was like. The following is a reprint of that article.
Delaware Gazette July 10, 1879
The City Hall For Which our Citizens have Voted $35,000
A PEN PICTURE OF THE SAME WITH ITS VARIOUS POINTS OF INTEREST
$22,800 THE ESTIMATE COST OF ERECTING IT
The following plat is a correct representation of the ground floor of the New City Hall soon to grace the southeast corner of Sandusky and William streets. The plans adopted by the City Council will be somewhat remodeled which the architect, Mr. F.F. Snitzer, informs us can be done without materially altering the plans.
THE GROUND FLOOR
As can be readily seen by the plan, will have two main entrances, one on Sandusky, the other on William street. Upon entering the building from Sandusky street you are landed in the main corridor , which is 18 feet wide, with large platform stairways at either end leading to the second floor and gallery. On the right as you enter the main corridor is a fire proof wall, completely isolating you from the Fire Department. In the rear of the corridor is a small passage way leading to the City Prison on the left and the rear of the building. The William street entrance ushers you into a 13 foot corridor, which empties, at a distance of about fifty feet, into the main corridor. On the right as you enter from William Street are three public offices facing Sandusky Street. On the left the City Council Chamber.
CITY COUNCIL CHAMBER
With two entrances from the corridor and one in the southeast corner of the City Prison. Fire proof vaults will be provided for Council Chamber and one of the City Offices. To the left of Council Chamber the Public Library Room is situated, with two entrances from the street through a vestibule. A wide thoroughfare, though which access can be gained to the rear of the building is on the east end. There will be two entrances on the north west corner, one from each street. Entering either door a small passage way leads to the William Street corridor, or by mounting a winding stair you are landed at the north west door of the auditorium or gallery, at pleasure. Mounting the stairway from the main corridor you are landed in a corresponding one on the second floor, at the east end of which is a box office. Two entrances off the corridor lead into the
Which is directly over the Council Chamber, City Offices, etc., and is 100x62 2 feet, running east and west with stage on east end 38x62 feet without any obstructions. Raised seats of amphitheater style, horse shoe gallery, dome ceiling, and modern improvements will be added to it. Dressing rooms, ante rooms and stage mechanism will be under the stage, while off to the right of the stage will be a sitting room for actors, water closets, fire escapes, etc. On the right of the corridor and opposite the auditorium is the
Forty five by seventy feet and separated from the corridor by a heavy wall. A door at the rear enters into the fire escapes. Returning to the ground floor, and on the right side of the main corridor is the
With three exits on Sandusky street. The room is 45x50 feet, with hose shaft and all other necessary improvements. In the rear of the main room is the stables, while sandwiched between the same wall and main corridor is the sleeping room for firemen. A granary joins on to rear of stable. and completes the list. While the interior presents a very commodious appearance,
Far surpasses it. The general appearance will be that of a three story stone and brick building of modern architecture, with galvanized iron cornice, slate roof, embellished with dormer windows, and dome. The main tower will be on the north west corner, and fire alarm on the south west corner. The estimate cost of the building is $22,800.
It seems almost unbelievable that anyone could envision such a structure could be build for that amount of money. Anyway, it appears that by the early winter of 1879 the funds had all been expended on the first story. On December 1, 1879, the superintendent of the job was instructed to stop all work.
City Council decided it was necessary to put another $40,000 issue on the ballot in the spring election. This obviously did not go over well with many of the citizens. The following article is a reprint from the Delaware Gazette dated March 25, 1880. This article written at the time, tells the story better than anyone could today. In addition to the article there were interviews with dozens of citizens, but the article tells the story.
Delaware Gazette March 25, 1880
"Our White Elephant"
What Shall be Done with our New City Hall
As the coming Spring election draws near the question comes up before our people as to what shall be done with "our white elephant" (the city hall), which rears its imposing front at the corner of Main and William streets-a forcible reminder of hopes not realized, and small showing for large expenditures.
While some are opposed to finishing the structure, being in favor, of either letting it remain, or tearing it down entirely and selling the material, the greater number are of the opinion that it would be a disgrace to our city, and an eye sore to our community to allow the building to remain as it is. That the money has been in some cases foolishly expended, there can be no doubt, as in the matter of dressing so finely, the foundation stones, which, according to our judgment, was an unnecessary outlay of money, as the foundation can not be seen, and it should have therefore been finished as plainly as possible. This is one of the many foolish mistakes of the builders and, of course can not now be remedied. It will however, we hope, be a criterion by which to go by in the future, but as it is, whether or no, it will really pay our citizens to finish the building, is as a matter of course, to be governed by their votes at the coming election. As far as we have able to learn, all those who are in favor of finishing the hall, say emphatically that it should be let out to the lowest bidders, and that the work should not be allowed to proceed as it has. The resolution adopted by the city council, at their meeting, held some weeks since, does not seem to be fully understood by many of our citizens. The full meaning of the resolution is this: That the citizens at the coming spring election, do vote to levy a tax, not to exceed $40,000, with which to finish the city hall, and that previous to the spring election, the Mayor be authorized to contact for sealed bids for finishing the same, and thus give to the tax payers an estimate of the probable cost of completing the building, and while we are in this train we would like to propound the following question to the architect, viz: Will the sealed bids called for, finish the building complete in every respect?
The only reason that the sum of $40,000 was asked for was, to be sure and have a sufficient amount to cover all necessary expenses, as it is the opinion of the architect, and other competent judges, that $25,000 will finish the building complete.
As it stands, the building is of no earthly good to our city, and the citizens should at the coming election. decide one way or the other, whether the building shall completed or torn down.
By June contracts were awarded, and F. F. Schwitzer was appointed superintendent of the City Hall building, at $1.00 per day.
After many delays, much controversy and even more cost over runs, the City Hall was completed. It provided new and modern space for Council, Police, Court, Jail, Fire Department and even an Opera House. The building was the object of many photographs.
Delaware City Hall built 1880
She must have been a proud ole gal, standing there at the main intersection, with the illuminated dial of her new clock shining through the french glass and striking every hour, as if to say, "look at me I'm new in town". Little did she known that wouldn't last long. In 1889 a clock repairman, C. Platt, was asked to repair the clock. He found a market basket filled with stones attached to the pendulum. He was told "this was to make the clock run slower". As a result he had to lower the clock and completely overhaul the mechanism. This turned out to be quite a job, since the ball of the clock alone weighed some 300 pounds.
THE OPERA HOUSE:
The main entrance to the Opera House was on the Sandusky St. side of the City Hall, located near the center of the building. The doors were flanked by two beautiful gas lights. Inside of the doors, you were in the main hallway, just to the left was located the Opera House ticket office. From the main hallway four wide stairways lead up to the large folding doors which opened directly into the opera room.
The opera room had a reputation of being one of the finest in the country. It was beautifully decorated with art, statues, chandeliers, and domed ceiling. The acoustics were so good that words spoken in an ordinary tone on stage could easily be understood in the most remote parts of the room. There were 1,050 seat raised in amphitheater style.
Opera House seating
The parquet, which is the area in the center of the house and directly in front of the stage, was on a gentle inclined plane and surrounded by a three foot rail. This section had 156 folding opera chairs which were richly upholstered with cardinal plush, each chair was fitted with a hat rack and foot rest. Directly in back of this section was what was referred to as the dress circle. This section was also constructed on an incline and consisted of 388 seats. The seats were similar to those in the parquet, except that instead of being upholstered they had red leather backs and black walnut seats. Immediately over the dress circle, supported by handsome gilded iron columns, was the balcony or gallery. This area, also built on an incline, consisted of 506 seats, which were built of preformed wood backs and bottoms. To reduce foot noise and improve acoustics all aisles were covered with matting.
The ceiling was a thing of beauty. From end to end and side to side it was one grand profusion of works of art. At the four corners were life size bust paintings of Byron, Longfellow, Mozart and Dante. Each portrayed in life like color and surrounded by wreaths of beautiful flowers. The dome, which was in the center directly over the parquet was said to be even more beautiful. Around the base extended a balustrade, while farther up was painted the clear blue sky with fleecy clouds floating in the foreground. Upon the clouds were painted figures representing Music, Tragedy, Literature and Comedy, with attending cherubs. From the center of the dome hung the main chandelier consisting of 72 gas burners and hundreds of cut glass pendants.
The stage was described as complete and perfect, with few equals in the state. The stage was 32 feet wide and 30 feet deep, with two boxes on each side. The trimming and decoration of the boxes was elegant. Across the top of each box was a valance from which hung curtains of rich turk satin trimmed with heavy silk bullion fringe and tassels. A larger curtain of the same material hung in graceful folds just behind the first pair. Still another pair of real lace curtains looped back on the interior. Immediately over the boxes and extending upward forty feet was a gorgeous elongated arch which formed the front of the stage. Just above the arch a painting of Shakespeare looked down upon the scene below.
The stage was furnished with dozens of scenery backdrops which were supported by rigging 60 feet above the stage floor. Beneath the stage was a large room containing the machinery used for trap doors and other equipment. Just off this room was five actors' dressing rooms, each fitted with hot and cold water and marble wash bowls. The actors reception room was also located here.
The Opera Hall had a total 310 gas jets for lighting, all of which were electrically ignited, including four rows of border lights on the stage. A handsome Brussels carpet and elegant upholstered parlor furniture adorned the stage.
Opera House Stage
The stage was supplied with several fire plugs to which were attached hoses and nozzles in case of a fire. The water was supplied from a hugh tank built under the roof of the building.
Although considered one of the finest in Ohio, our hall was not perfect. The Hall was located on the second floor over the Fire Department, which included their stable. One can imagine how the stable odor penetrated the hall filled with all those finely dressed folks on a hot summer night.
Opening night was held on March 29, 1882, with the performance of "There's Millions In It," a Mark Twain comedy adaptation. The production featured John T. Raymond, a well known actor "with no equal and few rivals on the American stage." Although there was not a packed house, patrons from surrounding counties joined Delaware residents for this evening of entertainment. As the audience arrived they were ushered to their seats by gentlemen wearing white ties and button hole attachments.
Hundreds of touring stage companies, lectures, concerts and local productions were performed on the Opera House stage. But from the very started people complained about the prices. The rent seemed to be much higher than other theaters around the area. Early Delaware Gazette articles said the $50 plus rent was far above the standard $30 rent in Columbus.
Everything seems to indicate the crowds were small, leaving many empty seats. This was very disappointing to the townspeople. But when you consider an auditorium with 1,050 seats located in a town of about 5 - 6,000 population, with the main form of transportation being a horse, maybe our hall was to massive and magnificent.
The Opera House was undoubtedly part of the reason that the original estimate of $22,800 increased to the estimated $110,000 final cost of Delaware's first City Hall.
In March of 1897, the city entered into a contract with Delaware Electric Light & Power Company to light the City Hall, presumable replacing gas lights.
By the early 1920's the building had apparently fallen into disrepair. So much so that the Mayor, W. S. Pollock, made the following statement to City Council on March 5, 1923.
"The question to be disposed of soon is ‑‑ what is to be done with our City Hall Building? This building, that has a foundation good enough and heavy enough to support a mountain and yet, in reality,is supporting a "white elephant" who will soon have to have a new cover over her. The woodwork and metal work need paint and every place about the building shows that it is going into decline. This property, with an original cost of some $80,000, I am told, is certainly a Jonah on our hands. What is to be done? The building in its present condition has no revenue producing value, yet it is in the most desirable location in our city. With its more than 150 foot frontage on Sandusky Street and nearly that on William Street, if this building could be remodeled into business rooms on the first floor, a citizen hall and offices on the second and third floors, this would in my opinion be something that seven businessmen would plan to do and do it soon if such an opportunity were offered. What would you do with it if it were your building? The space occupied by the City Council, the City Auditor, the Mayor and Service Director and the Fire Department is too valuable for such occupancy. Other cities are removing their fire departments into locations less valuable. (The City Fire Department ought to be located on higher ground, anyway.) The large amount of space formerly needed when we kept horse‑drawn vehicles is put to no use now. There is space fronting on Sandusky Street sufficient to provide for seven or eight business rooms which are very much needed in our city and could be leased before completion at a handsome rental, and other parts of the building likewise. The City Building, I believe, could be remodeled at an approximate cost of, say, $50,000 which at six percent interest would be $3,000 per year. Rentals could be had when the building was remodeled that would pay the interest three times over. While I hesitate to say a word that would delay the plans of our Chamber of Commerce to provide a City rest room, yet, I believe you ought to pass the necessary legislation to employ an architect to see first what could be done with our white elephant which will soon be a burying ground if not otherwise disposed of. I trust you will give this matter your earnest thought.
W.S. Pollock, Mayor
After his statement many items of concern started to appear in the council minutes. Later, that same year, it was recommended that the City make the repairs necessary to comply with the State Industrial Commission and the Department of Workshops and Factories. Some of the recommendations were: install fire escape and repair stairs, install proper electric wiring, install a ventilation system, overhaul heating system and all other necessary work.
The following year a resolution was passed, instructing the Service Director to remove the old curtains and rubbish from the Opera House and sell the seats and other equipment in the City Opera House. Similar resolutions kept showing up in the minutes every year, enough to make you wonder if anything was ever done. In 1930, a Committee to Repair the City Building, made its recommendations and they were almost identical to those made in 1923, except by this time we also needed a new roof.
On the evening of February 24, 1934, all of the resolutions, recommendations and worries about what to do with our "White Elephant" were put to rest. While the Fire Department was working a fire on W. William Street, the City Hall became engulfed in flames and was completely destroyed.
The Delaware Gazette reported that the town clock, on the top of the hall, fell through the ruins of the building at 3:20 a.m.
S. Sandusky St.
The above photo shows the tower just as it was blasted, as demolition work was underway. This photo was taken March 17, 1934, by Ray Manchester, a Delaware photographer. It appeared in publications around the world.
At the time of the fire there was some speculation that the fire was set. If it was set, could it have been the work of some getting even for something or could it have been someone who just wanted to get rid of the "White Elephant"? Then on the other hand, we have seen how rubbish was allowed to accumulate in the building, the wiring was bad and the heating system need repair. Could this have been the cause? I guess you can choose either theory and no one can prove you wrong, or right.
As we put to rest our first City Hall, speculation grew that the corner stone contained old documents. The stone was found to be solid, but the stone on the southwest corner (near the Fire Department) did reveal a small metal box containing Fire Department memorabilia.
At the dedication ceremony for the new City Hall, a speaker urged the city officials to preserve the corner stone of the old building. However years later it, along with other parts of the building, was found dumped along the river in a secluded place.
After the fire temporary quarters had to found for all departments. The Fire Department moved into White's Garage at 17 W. Williams for a short time, then to the Erlay Hatchery at 27 Spring St. The Police Department was moved to the old Delaware High School on W. Winter St.
Probably due to the depressed economy, the construction of the new city hall was somewhat delayed. The Delaware Gazette reported on December 14, 1935, on the plans to rebuild the city hall. The Federal government provided and outright gift of $42,750 and loaned the city another $11,000 for the project. Ninety percent of the labor on the project was to be Delaware men employed through the National Reemployment Service.
The city hall was built on the same lot. Though it was a smaller building, it was much more efficient, solid and more fire resistant than the first. This building was completed and dedicated on February 23, 1937, exactly three years after the fire.
The Police Department was housed in one room (15'x 45') in the southeast portion of the first floor. An office for the Chief of Police was across the hall, in the extreme southwest part of the building. The city jail took up the southeast part of the second floor and consisted of three cells for men, a bull pen, one cell for females and one cell for juveniles. The remaining portion of the east part of the building, first and second floors, was used by the Fire Department. This arrangement was very adequate for the time period.
In 1972, the Fire Department moved into their new quarters on S. Liberty St. This freed up a large amount of space and a major remodeling project was undertaken at a cost of nearly $400,000. A lobby, radio/records room, briefing/report room, two interview rooms and a booking area was added in the space previously occupied by the fire trucks. The old Police Department became the detectives office and part of the basement became a photo lab, exercise room, showers and sauna, property room, storage room and a firing range. Though much more remodeling was done, the primary focus was on the Police Department and Municipal Court.
In 1992 the City Hall underwent extensive remodeling and at this time the original cornerstone and two of the lions heads were incorporated into the building.
Photo taken August 2000