Sunday, July 26, 2015

City Hall, Art Deco & "Sonny" Perkins

Hometown architect (and city engineer) William Lee "Sonny" Perkins left us two small-town Art Deco masterpieces to remember him by, both from the 1930s, when that fatal heart attack snatched him away in 1957.

One, of course, is the Masonic Temple --- and the other, City Hall, his most lavishly decorated. What we don't know is who executed his design for the stonework, and that's a shame. Seriously --- these two structures are among the finest small public buildings of that era in the state.

While Perkins was not necessarily ahead of his time, he certainly embraced his time. City Hall is symmetrical, rectilinear and streamlined. With the exception of the walnut trim and an oak floor in the original auditorium, it is all brick, tile, sculpted stone, structural steel, concrete, brick, tile and terrazzo. Even the original windows (most by now replaced) were steel-framed and paned.

All of this provided the perfect foil for the lavish stone decoration that is as crisp today as when it was executed more than 80 years ago.

Three pairs of single windows march along the front of the building on both floors topped by three inset stone panels bearing swags, stylized flowers and symbolic cartouches.

Crossed firemen's speaking trumpets on the most southerly panel let us know that the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department is headquartered here. The crossed musical trumpets fronted by a lyre on the second panel may have been related to the auditorium once located on the second floor, capable of seating 300-400 people. The north panel, bearing scales of justice, is fairly common symbolism for a seat of government.

Sonny really let loose in the two-story stone-fronted entrance block where he dispelled any doubt about what the building was by clearly labeling it "City Hall."

The doubled entrance doors, originally heavy wood, now steel and glass, are topped by a swagged panel bearing the stylized year of construction, "1931," topped by a fanciful vase of flowers.

And how about the capitals of those two-story applied stone columns that flank this grand entryway?

The only major element of Perkins' original design that's missing today is the quirky bronze lantern, shaped like an urn, that once topped the entrance block.

This was described in newspaper reports of the day as follows: "A pier lantern of statuary bronze surmounts the building. Panes of circular glass enclose six 100-watt bulbs and when the lantern is lighted a yellow glow is shed over the building."

Somewhere, I've seen a color drawing of the facade at night bathed in a golden glow created by this lantern. Now if I could just remember where I saw it ....

Whatever the case, the lantern vanished many years ago and, like the Civil War cannons that once flanked our Civil War memorial on the courthouse lawn, no one remembers where it went, or why --- although it must have been a heck of a business to change those bulbs when they burned out.

It's doubtful either the lantern or the cannons vanished into thin air --- it just seems now as if they did. And fortunately, the building that underpinned that lantern still is with us and doing well.

No comments: