October 2010
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Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee's first Common Council—a group of elected officials who exercise all policy-making and legislative powers of the city—met in a Methodist church in 1846, according to the City of Milwaukee website. Two years later, it moved to the second floor of a livery stable, which was leveled by a fire in 1850. The council later met in various locations, including a hotel, produce market, two commercial buildings and the courthouse.

After another fire destroyed city quarters, city offices were scattered around town in rented rooms until 1889. On Jan. 22, 1989, the council authorized the sale of $1.25 million in bonds to acquire land and build a permanent city hall on Market Street, the site of the current building.

In 1891, the council held a design contest, drawing 11 applicants from throughout the U.S. The council chose architect Henry C. Koch.

The building's cornerstone was laid Feb. 24, 1894, and the building was dedicated Dec. 23, 1895. The building cost $945,311 and was the U.S.' tallest habitable building until 1899, when it was surpassed by what is now New York's Park Row Building, and Milwaukee's tallest building until 1973, when it was surpassed by the US Bank Center. Designed by Koch in German Renaissance style, the building was constructed with about 8 million bricks; almost half the bricks were used for its 353-foot-tall bell tower.

The tower's bell is named Solomon Juneau in honor of Milwaukee's founder and first mayor. The tower has a clock with a face that is 18 inches in diameter and was installed in 1896. When it was completed, the clock was believed to be the third largest in the world.

In 1910, the building was the scene of the largest socialist victory ever registered in a U.S. city. Emil Seidel and a majority socialist Common Council entered office; the council's socialist majority was short-lived, but from 1916 to 1960, Milwaukee was led by socialist mayors, who emphasized providing services for the working class.

In 1923, the slate roof on the bell tower was replaced with copper, which cost $14,000. In October 1925, the mayor silenced the bell tower because it was believed the vibrations were causing structural damage.

A fire at Milwaukee City Hall in 1929 partially destroyed the bell tower; at the time, the city did not own fire equipment that could reach the tower. The damage was repaired from the architect's original blueprints.

In 1970, Milwaukee City Hall was declared a local landmark by the Milwaukee Landmarks Commission. A $1.8 million exterior renovation was completed between 1973 and 1974. In 1995, as the building neared its 100th birthday, a renovation involving 21st century technology and 19th century architecture was implemented.

Milwaukee City Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005.


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