The City Hall of Jersey City is an elaborate granite and marble structure of mixed Victorian and Classical architecture. It was designed by the architect Lewis H. Broome (1849-1927) and completed in 1896. A park-like setting and landscaping around the building, similar to that of the City Hall of New York, was planned for the city's second seat of government. An entire city block containing commercial structures and residences was leveled to make room for the new building.
Jersey City's first city hall was at the southwest corner of Newark Avenue and Cooper Place. After receiving approval from New Jersey Governor Robert S. Green on April 5, 1887, Mayor Orestes Cleveland (1886-1892) appointed three commissioners to oversee the construction of the new Grove Street municipal building. The commission chose the site and then in 1892 conducted a competition among architects for the design. Broome's plans were selected.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lewis H. Broome (1849-1927) studied architecture in New York City, and, after serving in the Civil War with the 77th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, set up his architectural firm on Washington Street in Jersey City. Broome became the city architect, appointed by the board of public works in 1880. He gained prominence as a local architect from his work on the New Jersey State House. After an 1885 fire severely damaged the building, Broome worked on the rehabilitation of the state's extant Second Empire-style capitol building since 1792. He is responsible for its expansion with a three-story wing on State Street, redesigning the Assembly wing, and the addition of the iconic rotunda and dome of copper and gold leaf.
Broome's City Hall design, on the other hand, was not met with critical acclaim. "Vile," reacted the Architectural Record (September 1895), commenting that a "resulting edifice fairly reeks of vulgarity as reeks the new City Hall of Jersey City" (quoted in "City Council Chambers Renovations." Jersey City Web Site).
Restoration to the City Hall building has been at the cost of some its exterior architectural features. The large brass cupolas at the square corners and central towers were removed in 1955 in the interest of safety. In 1978, a contemporary design for the grounds replaced the lawn and shrubs at the front of the building. And a fire in 1979 destroyed three of the five copper friezes. The two remaining pediments were restored in 1995.
Renovations also compromised the building's interior. Design features were painted over and lost their authoritative style. The 1979 fire compounded the deteriorating appearance of the council chambers. In the 1980s, Anna Cucci, the wife of Mayor Anthony Cucci (1985-1988), began a rehabilitation of the council chambers. A photographer, she started with the restoration and updating of the mayors' portrait gallery. Her accidental death in 1988 while touring in Peru halted the project.
Twenty years later her vision to restore the chambers was partially funded by a $300,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space & Historic Preservation Trust Fund. The total repairs, amounting to $1.9 million, included rehabilitation to the plaster friezes, woodwork, stained glass windows and dome, and oak and mahogany furniture. Modern amenities, such as an HVAC, sound and audio/visual systems and electrical wiring for the original chandeliers that hang from the wood coffered ceiling, were installed. Work on the project was by architects Holt Morgan Russell of Princeton and the Jersey City Division of Architecture.
When completed in November 2008, the chambers were renamed the Anna Cucci Memorial Council Chambers and recognized with the 2009 Preservation Award by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office.
To enhance the exterior of the new City Hall, another competition was held to select a sculpture for the site. Leonard J. Gordon, a founder of the Jersey City Free Public Library, organized the competition for the Veteran's Association of Hudson County who wanted a Civil War memorial for the site. A panel of artists--that included noted sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens--was selected by the National Sculpture Society. From the 39 applicants, the model submitted by Philip H. Martiny (1858-1927), a student of Gaudens, known for memorial statues, was awarded the commission.
Martiny, born in Alsace, France, had a studio in McDougal Alley in New York City (NYC). Rather than a standing "heroic" image for the war memorial, Martiny chose a seated female figure inspired by the mythological Roman goddess Bellona. Designed with the architects Ackerman & Ross, the statue is referred to as either the "goddess of peace" or the "goddess of victory." The bronze nine-foot figure, atop a grand granite eleven-foot pedestal, has a helmet, shield resting at her knees, sword resting in her left hand, and a laurel wreath in her raised right arm seemingly extended to the soldiers. The names of Civil War veterans (sides) and the battles in which they fought (back) are engraved on the decorated pedestal.
Martiny's Soldiers and Sailors Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1899, but the veterans were not pleased with the outcome, nor were the local artists who competed for the assignment. Lasting criticism may be noted by the choice of other sites to conduct Memorial Day events in the city. Local historian John Gomez sums up the statue's fate: "Bellona, grimed and darkened by the decades, has become a shrine without purpose, a masterpiece without meaning" (Jersey Journal 13 October 2004).
Among the artist's other works are: Garret Augustus Hobart (entrance of Paterson's City Hall), Mc Kinley's Monument (Springfield, MA), sculpted eagle on the Washington Square Arch, Doughboy (Abington Square, NYC). and whimsical Winged Life (doorway of the Herald Square Hotel, NYC).
Albright, Joseph. "Broome, A Great Architect, Died 85 Years Ago Tomorrow." Jersey Journal 11 October 2012.
Department of Administration, Jersey City Web Site. 2007. "City Council Chambers Renovations." http://www.jerseycitynj.gov/administration.aspx?id=2546
Gomez, John. "Truth Be Told, Statue Was a Labor of Love." Jersey Journal 13 October 2004.
Grundy, J. Owen. "Old City Hall Towers Brightened Skyline." Jersey City Journal 24 February 1972. New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library."Soldiers and Sailors' Monument for Jersey City." New York Times 16 January 1898.
Wrigley, Glenn Alvin. 2013. "City Hall - Restoration of the Council Chambers." http://www.aia.org/practicing/groups/kc/AIAB079797