Architecture

Defacing Our City Hall: A Rally to Protect Hamilton's City Hall

By Dave Kuruc
Published November 18, 2008

Hamilton City Hall (RTH file photo)
Hamilton City Hall (RTH file photo)

Hamilton City Hall, a municipally designated and internationally recognized example of the International Style of architecture, is in danger of being defaced - forever.

City Council has voted to remove all of the white Cherokee marble from Georgia, and replace it with pre-cast concrete. A compromise to replace the damaged marble with limestone was dismissed as too expensive.

As a result, the well-respected heritage architects, E.R.A., who were to work on the renovation project have resigned in protest over the use of concrete. In response to E.R.A.'s resignation, The Spectator quotes Councillor Lloyd Ferguson as saying, "They are heritage architects, they don't consider costs."

What is at stake is an important and iconic building that is the seat of our local government. It is not an office building. It is a symbol of our City to its citizens, visitors and investors. Only a few years ago, many of these same councillors voted in favour of designating the building as a heritage structure to protect it.

Now they are determined to attack one of the designated heritage elements of the building - its marble cladding. Who knows what other alterations they plan for the interior.

In 1960, the City Council of the day voted to demolish the old City Hall on James North. In 2008, our current Council has voted to deface our present City Hall. Most Hamiltonians regret allowing the destruction of the old City Hall.

Architect Stanley Roscoe considers today's City Hall to be his masterwork. We agree with him. We hope that you will join us in protesting the planned defacing of our magnificent City Hall.

Speakers, special guests and words of support will be shared by Joan Roscoe (wife of architect Stanley Roscoe), Brian Pigott, Graham Crawford (Hamilton HIStory+HERitage) and others.

Local historian Bill Manson, in a recent letter to the Hamilton Spectator, put it well, "The Romans invented concrete and subsequently used this material to construct magnificent public buildings befitting their advanced civilization. The Romans also clad these structures in marble, which the barbarians later ripped off."

A walking tour around the perimeter of the building will follow the speakers. We encourage all photographers to capture the building's beauty and architectural details and to post their images to the Hamilton City Hall Flickr Group afterwards.

Dave Kuruc is co-owner of Mixed Media, an art shop on James North. He is also publisher of H Magazine, a monthly magazine dedicated to celebrating Hamilton's beauty and charm.

19 Comments

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted November 18, 2008 at 23:54:31

Sorry guys! The current City Hall is a money pit and an eye sore. Tear it down. Sell the land to a condo developer. The City can stay in Jackson Square ... pretty soon it will be Jackson's only paying tenant ...

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 01:22:31

i applaud you, "a sign of the times!" an excellent post! the sarcasm is almost dripping from your choice "ignorant uncultured hick" comments, bravo! i wish more people could see, like you obviously do, that this is clearly a bad idea and that certain members of council are pandering to the lowest common denominator with this decision. again, my hat is off to you.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 09:06:19

So I take it you won't be joining us, ASOTT. We're gonna miss you!

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By observer (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 20:14:49

All I can say is thanks goodness there are some concerned citizens out there who not only are saddened by the planned degradation of our City Hall with the replacement of its heritage and architectural marble features with (gulp) concrete, but also who are actively engaged and concerned enough to take the time and energy to coordinate and motivate the rest of us to participate against this insult to our civic heritage.

Thanks to the organizers of this rally and the guest speakers who will take time out of their busy weekends to help send a statement to our esteemed City Council for their decision to destroy this historic landmark.

I can't believe City Council will skimp on the exterior finish of this building (it's what people see!), especially given that the cost of limestone vs. concrete is a mere percentage of the total renovation cost for this building!

See you on Saturday!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 22:43:42

A mere 3.5% out of an approx. $70m reno. And those are just the short term costs. Lloyd himself admits that the concrete will need to be powerwashed every couple of years. From the sounds of it, these increased maintenance costs haven't been factored into the cost of the concrete, nor does it appear that any thought has been given to concrete's shorter lifespan. In the long run, it wouldn't surprise me if limestone comes out ahead fiscally as well.

From what I've seen there are only two sides to this debate. People either want to see marble or limestone, or they want to see the building torn down altogether. No one is actually supporting concrete for its own sake. The best defense that Ferguson can muster is that Hamiltonians are too stupid to notice the difference. What a tragedy that this building's fate would lie in the hands of people who have such contempt for it.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted November 19, 2008 at 23:27:48

You supporters of the City Hall "money pit" are probably the same geniuses who support more money for the obsolete "BIG 3." WE ARE IN A RECESSION. This is the perfect time for The City of Hamilton to smarten up and use what they've already got. (Jackson Square).

I still can't believe there are people out there who think that monstrosity is a Hamilton icon!

What are you guys smoking?

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 09:21:21

well, ASOTT, believe it. architects, historians, designers and ordinary people are documented as seeing city hall as an icon. I think it says more about you when you "can't believe" that someone would dare disagree with your opinion.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 20, 2008 at 09:49:33

It isn't a Hamilton icon. It's a national icon, and this decision is making us even more of a laughingstock than we already are. You may not have a problem with that ASOTT, but some of us have a little more pride and faith in our community.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2008 at 11:31:13

I don't think city hall shoul dbe torn down, but I think that it should in fact remain in city centre, and reno money be spent instead on purchasing and reconfiguring city centre.

old city hall (the building) can be sold/leasd for next-to-nothing to a post secondary. I suggest mcmaster move its downtown operation there form the old court house. the old courthouse can become hamilton's "union station" and all buses, LRT can stop there - and it can be linked to hunter GO with a covered walkway.

I do not think we should clad city hall in concrete, but I do see a tremendous value in the suggestion that we look at staying in city centre as an option.

City hall @ city centre would put staff back on james in the heart of downtown - where city hall SHOULD be.

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 10:55:10

seancb - good comment.

I'd love to know where you other people see this money come from ... It always amazes me that you have all these ideas, but no financial plan. How very 'NDP' of you. Other programs will have to be cut once this project's budget spirals out of control.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 14:20:19

I have to disagree with you here, Sean. James may be the commercial heart of downtown, but for better or worse, the civic heart is on Main with City Hall and its public square, Hamilton Place, the AGH, and the soon to be Education Square. Our civic buildings send a symbolic message about our values. Too often these days, citizens are viewed as consumers, public servants see themselves as delivering customer service instead of public service. Housing our City Hall in a shopping mall sends the message that we fully embrace the 'consumer' model of citizenship.

When Mississauga's Pomo barn of a City Hall was built, one of the biggest criticisms was the barriers surrounding the building that only allowed for small numbers of people to access the square at any one time (I believe that has since been rectified). This built-in deterrent to large gatherings was condemned as anti-democratic. If a small square with limited access is anti-democratic, what does it say when our City Hall is located on private property inside a shopping mall? Do you suppose citizens would be allowed to hold demonstrations in the food court? I imagine they would be escorted out by mall security in pretty short order. While I'm sure that the idea of having a private police force at their disposal might appeal to some of our elected officials, I think the idea of housing public services on private property is a very dangerous one indeed.

We need to recognize and cherish the symbolic importance of our public buildings and squares. And keep them public.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 14:30:30

highwater, you bring up a good point re: our 'civic heart' along Main/Bay. I think the potential for this area is tremendous with a few well-placed changes: 1. Education Square - it would add another batch of civic/new modern architecture built to the street. 2. A better public 'square'. The area around city hall is gorgeous. Sadly, it's cut-off with a mega parking lot in the back and Main St in the front. All the levels and broken pathways don't help either. But the trees/lawns and views of the great architecture in the area lend to a great 'euro-style' public space if revitalized properly.
3. Main St. Not much to say here. It sucks. LRT would help as would a design with no curbs, similar to the proposal for York Blvd. LRT running through the middle of this district would be great. A skating rink out front, cafes, vendors, a music 'bandshell' along the sloping SW corner of city hall (don't forget the back gardens of Whitehern and Football HOF) would all bring people here and get us used to hanging out and enjoying life in the civic heart of the city.

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By Don McLean (anonymous) | Posted November 21, 2008 at 15:05:37

I think Hamilton has a big enough centre to include both City Hall and the Jackson Square area. The actual distance from James/King to the City Centre entrance on York is not much less than to the front door of City Hall. While it's understandable to think of City Hall as separate from downtown because of the Main Street expressway and the plethora of parking lots, we need to keep in mind that its those 'features' that are the problem, not the very short distance of City Hall from the Gore Park area.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 23, 2008 at 16:52:42

I am not advocating keeping things exactly as they are at city centre. It will no longer be a mall that they rent space in. My vision starts with the city buying the centre and doing a complete conversion inside and out. It would no longer be a mall.

There will never, I repeat, never be a downtown mall in city centre again. Mark my words, that era of retail is over. As soon as the city moves out, what will become of it?

City Hall was at that site for a long time before moving to its current location, and it worked perfectly well as a civic space. Gore park is the public gathering place for hamilton and always will be. The courtyard at City hall does little more than insulate all city councillors and staff from the city itself. City hall is a drive-in drive-out building with too much parking.

City workers and councillors are now (at city centre) forced to interact with Hamilton directly - they no longer park right next to their office. They meet people on the street, they walk past downtown businesses and they experience the city and are forced to be a part of it.

We are seeing some positive changes these days, and I do not think it is a coincidence that many staff are loated IN the downtown now -- where for the past 50 years they essentially were not.

Current city hall is geographically downtown but in reality, it offers a quick drive-in from the 403, no need to get out of your car, go to work then back home to the suburbs. There is no incentive, and in fact a strong disinentive to get out of the building and interact with the downtown. It is no wonder we have been stuck in a slump of suburban mentality for 50 years.

I'm sorry but I understand pride in civic buildings, I think it's important to restore city hall architecturally but I think it is much much more important that councillors and staff work IN the city and be a part of the city every singe day. Current city hall site just does not allow that to happen.

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By volterwd (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 01:05:34

That building is as ugly as hell.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 17:50:12

Hi All I think a lot of folks are missing the point by focusing too much on City Hall and the cladding change decided on per se. While that's the specific issue which brought us out on Saturday, it's the message sent by the choices made (and the process and "logic" leading to them) which is what we really need to rally against. Take your favourite building in the Hammer (City Hall is certainly not mine) and apply the Council's logic to how it should look in fifty years. If they can justify the cheapest short term option for our City Hall, why should anybody else do any differently on another address? Picture your favourite church or street facade in stucco. That's what they've said will do. If you want an entire City looking like Barton Street Centre Mall is being "improved", don't protest this decision. If you think that we need more than "cheapest", fight like hell (whether you like the particular building or not).

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 24, 2008 at 17:58:09

A Secondary Comment on the Forecourt Plans: I was appalled at Saturday's rally that I couldn't hear the speakers over the din of traffic. To my mind, the only way to build a proper forecourt would be to bury Main Street from one block east and west of City Hall. Otherwise, it will never be a useful space. Too bad Tim Horton's probably doesn't want to pay that much to have their square.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 25, 2008 at 10:17:20

yea, the traffic on Main is so annoying. A fraction of those cars are originating or ending their trip downtown. It's just a freeway for people to our downtown as a shortcut. Burying it and drastically slowing it down/narrowing it would be great. Put LRT at street level though.

As a side note, did anyone else notice Harry Stinson there on Saturday?

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2009 at 23:31:34

What I can't understand is why the city is re-building the city hall. Why is my tax money going to fixing this crappy old building. The employees should have continued to work under the asbestos conditions. Who cares about the city council, they don't do their work anyway, or they do very little at least and get a big fat pay check. This city needs a reform, get rid of the OLD and in with the younger crowd. There has been too many unfulfilled promise from the City of Hamilton. Are they even close to completing the Re-vitalization of the down town core. Did the Hamilton Airport end up being the transport hub for below Toronto. The way I see it, it is failure after failure and all my hard earned money is going to these guys' fat pay check. These guys at city hall are thieves and the lowest form of life. Worthless I say. Maybe everybody at city hall should take a pay cut to 50K per year, then we'll finally see improvements in Hamilton. Honestly nobody working for the city should be making 50K+ redirecting traffic. The City should also stop tearing up the streets to do a QUICK FIX, instead do a proper fix. Have you guys not heard of Mike Holmes. City Council is a JOKE and none of them deserves to be there.

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