On This Day in History, February 26: Fire at Borough Hall

February 24, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On the morning of Feb. 26, 1895, a fire broke out in the cupola of Brooklyn City Hall (now Borough Hall). The cupola (believed made of wood) was destroyed, as well as its bell and clock, both of which fell many floors below. The present cupola of hammered brass, neo-Georgian style, designed by C.W. & A.A. Houghton, is a replacement.

It was in 1834 that a site was purchased for Brooklyn’s new city hall. It was about three-quarters of an acre of land, a triangular lot, bounded by Joralemon, Fulton and Court streets. A building similar to New York’s City Hall was planned in the classic style of Louis XVI, although the Brooklyn version was to be smaller and less distinguished. Foundations were started, but the project was abandoned and other plans were submitted. The design that was finally chosen was by Gamaliel King, a Brooklynite who had been listed as a grocer in the 1830 city directory, and afterwards listed as a carpenter.

The building conceived by King bore a slight similarity to the earlier plan, being rectangular and composed of several pavilions on a high basement; but his architecture was pure Greek Revival style rather than Louis XVI.

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A giant, shallow Greek Ionic portico dominates the north front. Set on a steep flight of steps, its six columns rise through three stories, and support a full entablature crowned by a low-pitched pediment. Wings of the building extend out five bays on either side, and a circular cupola accentuates the central axis. Inside is a spectacular courtroom and grand rotunda and, of course, the office of Borough President Marty Markowitz.

In 1983, an extensive restoration was begun, including the removal of a century of grime from the marble exterior.

This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)

See the Eagle history blog  Brooklyn Before Now for more on Brooklyn history!

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