A polished and wrinkle-free city hall
In Newark, 100-year-old structure's $18M face-lift is finished
Thursday, December 21, 2006
BY KATIE WANG
Exactly what did it take to give Newark City Hall its first deep cleansing in 100 years?
Several splashes of lemon juice, a few cans of shaving cream and 250,000 sheets of gold.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
After spending nearly a year concealed under scaffolding and white plastic, Newark City Hall's $18 million face-lift is complete -- in time for its 100th birthday, which passed yesterday. Mayor Cory Booker will rededicate the building at a ceremony today.
The building features restored front steps, energy-saving windows, a dome gilded with fresh gold and a brighter granite exterior. The brass railings and light fixtures on the outside have also been restored.
"City Hall is a national landmark and one of Newark's most prominent buildings, designed by local genius and ingenuity and stands as a testament to the city's history," said Brad Small, a librarian at the Newark Public Library and curator of an exhibit on the building's history. "Now when I pass by City Hall on the way home, it looks fresh, bright and really stands out again."
Giving a building its first makeover in a century was no easy task.
Even though the building's exterior has been cleaned from time to time, it has taken a beating from Mother Nature, Father Time and the pigeons -- the unwelcomed house guests who turned the top of City Hall into their penthouse suite, leaving behind thick piles of droppings.
"The pigeons were all nesting on the building and it was a health nuisance," said John P. Gross of Austin Helle Co. Inc., which was responsible for the restoration.
At least half the building is now draped in a nylon netting that protects it from birds. It is barely visible from the outside.
The most evident difference was also the hardest and most complicated part of the project -- the 60-foot dome.
When construction workers pried open parts of the dome, it created a funnel effect, sucking in the construction dust and odors into the building. They plugged the building's joints and gaps creatively, using tape, plastic and even shaving cream.
"That was probably our biggest headache in the whole project," City Architect Robert Dooley Jr. said.
When it came to refurbishing the dome, one of the gilders borrowed an old trick from her grandmother: lemon juice. The dome is made out of copper, but was gilded with gold in the late 1980s.
Workers from EverGreene Painting Studios Inc. scrubbed the copper dome using jugs of lemon juice to strip off the dirt and oils. After applying primer, two gilders spent five months atop the dome, pressing 250,000 sheets of delicate 23-carat gold leaf around the dome.
Each gold leaf weighs 18 grams and is 3 1/2 inches, approximately the size of a business card and the weight of tissue paper. It took two gilders about four months to complete the dome.
"It's essentially a labor intensive process done the way artisans have been doing it since they've started putting gold on buildings," said Tim Reilly, the supervisor of the dome portion of the project. "It took a lot of time to do."
So did the window replacement, which eventually had to be done in the evening and on the weekends because the noise was distracting employees during the day.
"There was a lot of trial and error, too," Dooley said. "We were replacing work that was done 100 years ago."
The building is one of the oldest City Halls in the state. Hoboken City Hall was built in 1883 and Jersey City's was completed in 1898.
The Newark building was designed in a Beaux Arts style, an ornamental European type of architecture that was popular in the 19th century.
Dooley said the next phase will be the interior of the building, expected to cost about $3 million. Dooley said he would like to replace the three large panes of stained glass inside the building, restore water-damaged plaster and repaint the walls.
Eventually, he hopes to restore the restrooms and remove the safety netting that was placed beneath the dome to catch chunks of falling plaster.
Regina Cummings, 42, of the North Ward said the building looked dramatically better. Cummings was at City Hall yesterday to get a copy of her birth certificate.
"It makes the city look much better," she said. "It used to be dull. It's much brighter."
Katie Wang may be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-1504.