City Council Chambers Renovation
If judged solely by the review published more than 110 years ago in the September 1895 edition of Architectural Record, the New City Hall of Jersey City might have been long dismissed as a forgettable piece of late 19th century architecture. The magazine offered no verbal economy of words to describe architect Louis Broome’s work as “vile”, adding that a “resulting edifice fairly reeks of vulgarity as reeks the new City Hall of Jersey City”. A century of time and use have somewhat softened opinions of Louis Broome’s beaux arts style edifice. Its largely unaltered exterior, and its continuous uninterrupted use as a seat of government does make it unique among municipal structures in New Jersey.
The Council Chambers, however, has undergone periodic repair and renovation over the decades, often as some concession to changing times, and usually at the expense of the room's original intricate detailing. The final (and most damaging) element was the addition in the 1970’s of sound absorptive fabric material on the walls, intended to eliminate the echo when used with a properly designed sound system, but the result was an acoustically “dead” space lacking in warmth or appeal.
In order to take the first meaningful steps towards restoration of City Hall, as well as to help the City’s most recognizable public room meet the demands of contemporary times, the decision was made to undertake a major restoration which will return the Council Chambers back to its near-original appearance. At the same time, the room will be provided with new HVAC systems, restored and improved lighting, sound systems, and an interactive audio/visual system. Woodwork and ornamental plaster will be restored, and repairs made to the original stained glass windows and dome.
Recent removals and spot demolition have revealed magnificent painted borders and friezes, as well as plaster and wood details once lost to multiple layers of paint and varnish or other modern intrusions that detracted from the quality of the interior space. Stripping of the wood paneling, railings, and furniture reveal richly grained oak and mahogany, which will be carefully repaired and restored. The original chandeliers have been rebuilt using new wiring and fixtures, and have been enhanced with new concealed up-lighting, which will light the ornate wood coffered ceiling in ways not previously possible. The new HVAC system is being installed with great sensitivity towards original architectural element. Unobtrusive narrow diffusers and concealed grilles will provide balanced air flow and comfortable temperatures for year-round use.
This project is partially funded by a grant from the Hudson County Open Space & Historic Preservation Trust Fund. Work is scheduled to continue throughout the summer, and the Council Chambers will once again be open to the public in mid-Fall, 2008.