Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One City, Many Halls

Behold the New City Hall, the former Glynn Archer School, itself a monument to education in Key West throughout most of the 20th century. Now to be the nerve center of city operations in the 21st. 



I like the look of the place and I believe it will be extremely functional, despite the fears of the critics of the cost of renovation. It is across White Street from the National Weather Service office, useful when hurricanes strike, and just a few blocks from the police department, ditto when hurricanes etc, and furthermore the school and its ancillary buildings cover a vast city block which leaves lots of room for all the functions of city government, plus parking for visiting citizens. And the facade looks fabulous. This ugly green fence marks the edges of the property, one block wide and half a mile long, here looking west on United Street:
This  business of sorting out a new city hall has been vexing the city since Hurricane Wilma drowned the city hall on Angela Street in 2005. It wasn't  rising seawater which killed the building, but rainwater that dripped through the roof during the storm and riddled the building, already elderly, with mold. In response to the crisis the city moved everyone out and found new, temporary quarters at Havana Plaza on Flagler Avenue, itself a building wrecked by Wilma and rebuilt. Inertia seemed to set in and when the suggestion was brought up that perhaps it was time to seek a permanent solution to the wanderings of city hall Key West got its collective knickers in a twist and a huge public debate swept the city about what to do.
Some thought remaining in the rented accommodations on Flagler was the best idea which was not too sensible as the city offices are scattered through the length of the plaza building, parking is minimal and its a long way (by Key West standards) from downtown citizens equipped only with feet or bicycles who might want to visit their city offices. Plus, lets face it, for those of us with an aesthetic standard of even the basest sort the place is plug ugly and unimpressive. Good for commerce no doubt but awful as the people's place. 
So Mayor Cates brought up Glynn Archer School (named for a valued administrator of years ago) which was about to become surplus to school district requirements with the massive new construction at Horace O'Bryant school nearby. Some people suggested refurbishing the original cause of the problem, already half a century old and getting older and mustier (named for Josephine Baker a long time city clerk much admired). But the building fortunately is as tired as the ghastly 1960s architectural style it espouses:
The old city hall on Angela at Simonton also houses Fire Station Number 2, long overdue for an overhaul. I've never been inside but I'm told conditions for the 24 hour shifts are positively medieval so the plan took hold to demolish the lot, build a new fire station and use the rest of the land for parking to serve Duval Street whose 600 bock is a short walk away.  
Don't imagine for one minute that plan went over smoothly but the Mayor spent more political capital than one might have thought he had and somehow Glynn Archer with an estimated bill around 25 million dollars won out. And the firefighters get this proper fire station palazzo in the old city hall parking lot, facing Simonton Street, even as the main building is to be demolished.. 
With me so far? City Hall on Angela Street got washed out and became medium old city hall. Flagler Avenue became temporary city hall, meanwhile Glynn Archer finally became new city hall. That leaves the grand daddy of the them all, known as Old City Hall still standing on Greene Street still looking magnificent with a clock tower that actually tells the time. Pretty cool.

Better than that though because this building, built in the era long before motor cars were invented still functions as the meeting room for city commissioners and other city committees and advisory groups. It has a traditional meeting chamber with a proper dais, glowing with wood trim and approached by a magnificent wrought iron staircase.
As much as it pains me, I have no doubt the newest city hall will come equipped with a modern commission chamber for such gatherings and the door will finally close on the oldest of old city halls. Yet for those who reside in the city I have no doubt the facility on White Street, with its magnificent facade and modern equipment will do the job required with maximum efficiency as is proper in the modern era. And its about time Key West reduced the quantity of  its city halls to a manageable number.

2 comments:

Trobairitz said...

New city hall looks pretty nice. I always enjoy the architecture pics.

Conchscooter said...

lots to come. of course!