Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Happy 89th birthday, Chariton City Hall

It would not be inappropriate during this Christmas season to wish Chariton's City Hall a happy 89th birthday --- although so far as I know there will be no cake.

The most logical date would have been Dec. 18, when the contractor --- E. H. Best & Sons --- turned the building over to the city, pronouncing it complete. City offices were moved in the same day from rented rooms on the first floor of the Hotel Charitone Annex. But Dec. 21 would have been appropriate, too, as that was the date upon which City Council officially accepted it.

As the photographs suggest, the building is holding up well, although a number of modifications have been made. The biggest came 40 years later when the new fire station wing was built to the south, allowing city offices to expand into the space where fire trucks and other equipment previously had been located.

Chariton's first fire station had been built on the city hall site during the late 1870s, but went up in flames (along with the equipment it contained) during September of 1883. A two-story brick replacement was built on the same site, conveniently located across South Main Street from the livery stable where the necessary horses were kept.

That building, with garage on the first floor and firefighters' club rooms on the second, was badly deteriorated by 1930. In addition, city offices had never had a permanent home, wandering as the years passed from rented space to rented space.

Early in 1931, voters approved the new City Hall project and $35,000 in bonds were sold to finance it. The building was designed by William L. Perkins, Chariton architect and city engineer, in a restrained Art Deco style (the article that follows describes it as "dorinthian," but there is no such thing). Demolition of the old building and construction of the new began during June and the cornerstone was placed with considerable ceremony on July 3.

The following description of the building is taken from The Chariton Leader of Feb. 23, 1932, and was published in advance of official dedication of the building on Feb. 26:


From the outside the building presents a charming appearance, being finished in variegated colored bricks. On the left from the front are the huge folding doors of the fire station, behind which is stored Chariton's firefighting equipment. These doors are mounted on tracks and instantaneous opening is always assured.

The city hall offices occupy the right half of the lower floor. A huge double door, framed in columns of stone, presents a picturesque view. Dorintian architecture is the predominant note of the simple decorations. In the center of the decoration over the door is the date of the building, etched in stone, "1931."

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.

Entering the door the impressive offices of the city are  located on the right, diagonally from the door. The first door to the right is that which leads to the office of A.C. Riebel, mayor.

A huge grilled window has been installed in the window of the clerk's office and all city business is transacted through this grill. Furniture in the city clerk's office is of light oak and incudes a flat top desk for the deputy clerk, Mrs. Effie Peterson, and a roll top desk for Theo. Rosa, city clerk.

The mayor's office opens off the east end of the city clerk's office while on the west doors open into the council room.

The council room is one of the most outstanding rooms in the building with an admirable color scheme providing much beauty. The mural decoration is in a pastel shade of green while the ceiling is finished in cream. A ten-foot table and ten chairs of solid walnut, with the chairs upholstered  in sober blue leather, add a delightful contrast to the mural colors.

Opening off to the south is a 12 by 14 foot vault where official city records are kept. The vault is completely equipped with steel shelving and cabinets by the Lyon Locker company through their agent, C.C. McCormick of Des Moines.

A door in the west wall of the council room leads into the furnace room and workshop room of the building. The city water department has its workshop in this room.

An oil burner, Century make and type 2, furnishes the heat for the building while a Kewanee boiler, type c, is included in the installation. The oil burner was installed by Dean Ferguson of Chariton, while C.B. Ensley sold the boiler. Ensley also held the plumbing contract on the building.

Reverting back to the lobby of the building, just within the front door, a sweeping flight of steps, built of terrazzo, may be seen on the left. The steps lead to the second floor of the building.

At the top of the stairs the auditorium of the building is the first room to be seen. The auditorium seats from 300 to 400 people and has already found a useful place in furnishing a meeting room for the various organizations of the city and county.

Leaving the auditorium along the corridor that parallels the steps, and walking west, the city treasurer's and the cemetery board offices may be found. In this room, George Carpenter, A.C. Riebel, J.H. Curtis, I. L. Guernsey and E.H. Best, the members of the cemetery board, hold their meetings. Miss Maggie Beem, city treasurer, has her office in this room and E.E. Lamb, cemetery superintendent, also has offices there.

Down the corridor to the east in the adjoining room is the Community club and the Woman's club meeting room. This room has just been furnished by the two organizations and has tables and chairs of walnut upholstered in leather.

Across the corridor is the firemen's club room. Two pool tables and shower baths are features of this room the floor is composed of cork carpet.

All the floors in the building with the exception of the auditorium, the firemen's club room, the fire equipment storage room and the furnace room, are made of terrazzo. This contract was held by the J. T. Ure company of Cedar Rapids.

The woodwork of the building is entirely of walnut although little wood has been used in the construction. The floor of the auditorium is of oak on steel joists.

The Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel company of Des Moines held the contract for all the steel used in the building. Byron Blanchard of Chariton completed most of the wiring in the building.

State officers whose work has caused them to visit the city hall have expressed the belief that the city hall is one of the finest in Iowa, regardless of the size of the city. All Chariton may take a reflected pride in the structure when it is officially dedicated to the public use on February 26.

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