HMR Architects was selected to compile a Preservation Plan for Hoboken City Hall. The goal of the document is to act as a planning document to guide, prioritize and inform the city on how best to preserve the architectural history of the building while also being able to accommodate modern office practices.
Designed by Francis George Himpler in the Second Empire style in 1881, the two-story city hall with a raised basement was constructed of red brick with brownstone trim around the windows and doors. An elegant slate Mansard roof with projecting dormers and large double-hung windows provided a sense of impressive height and power in the building. The main entrance was exemplified by a slightly projecting bay and tower with intricate classical detailing. Unfortunately, there are no descriptions found of the original interior conditions, but it is known that the National Guard utilized the second floor as an armory because of the tall ceiling height while the rest of the building was occupied by city officials and agencies.
After 30 years, as the government was quickly outgrowing the building, an addition was proposed to help alleviate overcrowding and restore dilapidated spaces. In 1911, two symmetrical wings were constructed projecting from the front facade, the Mansard roof was removed and an occupiable third floor and flat roof was added, wholly altering the original Second-Empire style façade. A deep portico was inserted between the added wings, protecting an exterior staircase leading to the main entrance which was relocated from the ground floor to the first floor. Schneider & Dieffenbach, a local architecture firm, was responsible for the alterations and faced much opposition from architectural critics as well as the general public in regards to many of their design choices. The most controversial design element was the use of yellow brick cladding of the new wings, creating a drastic difference between the original red brick. Ultimately, the red brick was painted yellow to match the addition.
This building, which has served the same continuous purpose for over 130 years, has significantly evolved as the city government expanded but has remarkably not been drastically altered since the addition in 1911. The jail, which was a detached structure in the rear of the building, was destroyed after a more modern jail was built elsewhere. Exterior patch repairs have been completed but are now deteriorating and replacement aluminum windows from the 1970s are also failing. On the interior, new partition walls and small, non-ADA compliant restrooms have been added. Multiple HVAC systems have been installed without any coordination between them or the building. Despite these issues, much of what is believed to be original interior fabric remains, including pressed tin coffered ceilings in many office spaces and encaustic floor tiles in the first floor entry hall.
While the preservation plan is still in its early stages of research, field surveying, and development, intriguing elements are already being revealed. Thanks to Chris Frey and his team at Keystone Preservation Group, an interesting color palette has been discovered about the original wall covering using photomicrograph technology. This technique enables Keystone to be able to determine paint and wallpaper campaigns on any surface. Today, most of the spaces are painted white. However, based on the photomicrograph results, it is apparent that the spaces may have once been very colorful. In the photo comparison, it can be seen that even in 1981, the walls had more character than they do today with wainscotting and other treatments, outlined in red.
The Hoboken City Hall is a landmark in the city and deserves special attention to how it is used and taken care of in the future. HMR is excited to provide preservation recommendations that will accurately represent the history of the structure while appropriately accommodating contemporary offices.