Sioux City’s first City Hall was actually as a library. Built in 1891 by the Library Building Association for $122,000, it stood on the northwest corner of Sixth and Douglas. The library occupied the first floor and city offices were located on the upper floors. On March 8, 1913, the library moved to a new facility at Sixth and Jackson, and the building became the official City Hall.
City offices remained in that building for more that fifty years until a fire damaged the structure in 1944. After the fire, city offices moved to the Insurance Exchange Building, and officials looked for a suitable location for a new city hall.
The old Federal Post Office Building had an interesting history. It was Sioux City’s first federal building. Built as a post office and government office building, construction began in 1893 and was completed in 1897. It cost nearly $240,000 to complete. Construction was a slow process and it took nearly a year just to complete the foundation. Shipment of the gray limestone from Bedford, Indiana was slow and caused frequent construction delays. It formally opened on February 14, 1897.
The building was an example of “Richardsonian Romanesque” architecture, a style developed in the last half of the 19th century. Richardsonian Romanesque buildings often had a massive stone appearance, arched openings and ornamental carvings. The Sioux City building included stone carvings and gargoyles. The interior featured four foot high mahogany wainscoting with hand-carved rosettes.
The building was a federal project. Two prominent architects of the 19th century designed it. Willoughby Edbrooke started the design in 1892, and William Aiken completed it.
The building was patterned after the Plazzo Vechhio (old palace) in Florence Italy. Original plans did not include a clock. The clock tower was added in 1900. Congressman George Perkins, editor of the Sioux City Journal, was serving the 11th district in Washington at that time. He went to work to obtain a clock for the tower. He got a grant for the clock and an additional grant for the bell. The clock and bell cost $2,380. Now, there are only four clocks of that kind left in the country. Originally, the clock face was dark, with light numerals and hands. When the clock was repaired in 1915, the light colored face and black numerals were installed. The minute hands are seven feet in length. The tips of the minute hands have traveled nearly 7,500 miles since the clock was installed.
The distinctive old Federal Building with its clock tower stood in downtown Sioux City for fifty years, and many citizens were unhappy that the building was to be torn down. “The destruction of the Federal Building would remove a landmark. A feature of the downtown city skyline for years has been the gray tower of the structure and its large clock, often inaccurate, but a reminder of earlier days of the community,” stated an article in the Sioux City Journal.
The Woodbury County Pioneer Club was one group who thought that the old building should be preserved. Other groups agreed. Officials discussed turning the structure into a library, but library officials said that conversion to a library was impractical. Then, the American Progress League, a Sioux City organization, presented a resolution to the city council that showed most citizens were in favor of using the old post office building as a city hall. They indicated that it was well built of Bedford Limestone and was structurally sound. “Many Sioux Cityans have developed a fondness and tradition for this building,” they said.
The City Council decided to convert the old building into city hall and the remodeling began. Workers soon discovered that the old building was indeed a well-crafted structure. The Sioux City Journal recorded: “The construction was a revelation to the workmen and others connected with the remodeling work. The construction is on the massive order, rare in modern buildings. Inside the heavy stone walls are inner walls of brick, a foot in thickness, and the partition walls also are of brick construction. The plastering was found to be one inch thick.”
The newly remodeled city hall opened on October 28, 1948 and remained the official city hall until 1993. Then, in the early 1990’s, the structural stability of the old building was called into question. Plaster started falling from the ceiling. An inspection revealed that the building was settling and the clock tower was starting to lean. The city inspector said that if he had his way, the building would be red tagged as unsafe for occupancy. The city also needed more and more modern office space.
Thus, the quest began for a new city hall. In October of 1990, the city council approved a study by two architectural firms that would recommend where and how to build a new city hall. A citizens advisory committee assisted them. A total of fourteen different sites were considered for a new city hall building. The possibilities included renovating or razing the old Warrior Hotel or building a brand new city hall in the downtown area. Those possibilities were studied and narrowed to four, but the council could not agree on what steps to take. Several council members began to favor rehabilitating the old building.
By 1993, the condition of the old building began to worsen and its safety was seriously questioned. In March of that year, the city council voted to abandon the building and seek offices elsewhere. City offices were relocated to the Orpheum Building on August 11, 1993.
Councilman Harry Keairns had an idea. He suggested a plan to tear down the old building and rebuild on the same site, saving the historic old clock tower. The council agreed to study the possibility of saving the clock tower and two existing walls.
By 1994, the city council was still studying options for a new city hall building. Historians urged the council to preserve the old “Romanesque” building. In the autumn of 1994, the City Council formally invited three contractors to create design plans for a new city hall. They could offer plans to restore the old building, build a brand new structure, or create a combination of both.
The plan they chose was one that preserved the look of the old city hall. The plan was the design of the team of architects Ruble Mamura Moss Brygger and general contractor W.A. Klinger Inc. The plan called for the tower, stone façade, carvings, fixtures and molding to be saved and incorporated into the new building. By lowering the entrances, they were able to construct a five-story building, instead of the four stories that were there before. It preserved the historic walls of the south and west exteriors as much as possible, reusing much of the old limestone.
Workers carefully demolished the old city hall, removing each stone, one at a time. They marked and cataloged each stone so the limestone could be reused in the new city hall. After all the usable stones and salvageable interior materials had been removed, the building was demolished. The only thing remaining was the clock tower. Workmen pumped concrete under the tower to stabilize it. Sixty yards of concrete were used to stabilize the foundation.
The new building saved the Romanesque architecture of the earlier building, including the gargoyles and other stone carvings. The original limestone was used as much as possible, after it had been cleaned and repaired. It was a slow process. Reusing the stones actually added to the cost of the project. Behind the old façade was a brand new building. Wainscoting, marble and other materials from the old building were reused in the new interior. The clock tower clock was restored. Its mechanism was rebuilt and the faces cleaned and painted.
The new city hall officially opened on August 15, 1997. The Sioux City municipal Band provided music for the grand opening ceremonies, and the people of Sioux City were able to tour their “old new” city hall.
Sioux City Journal October 20, 1940; October 28, 1940; December 29, 1940; April 23, 1947; October 28, 1948; October 23, 1990; December 12, 1990; October 27, 1991; February 13, 1992; March 12, 1992; March 23, 1993; May 1, 1993; September 17, 1997; May 5, 1995.
City of Sioux City, City Hall commemorative booklet, August 1997.