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Black Hawk’s historic City Hall

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Changes from 1877 through today

By Julie Seitzinger

Weekly Register, December 8, 1877

  The City Hall of Black Hawk is completed, and Judge Haight has domiciled himself therein. He looks as cozy as a kitten and puts on numerous airs heated by a thirty-dollar stove and several joints of Russian pipe. The completion of the new Black Hawk City Hall was appropriately celebrated on Tuesday evening by a grand banquet at which the Mayor, Aldermen, and most other leading citizens were present. Toasts were given, speeches made and many a bon mot was offered at this pleasant social gathering. Good feeling reigned supreme until the gathering finally dropped out one by one or adjourned in groups to home and slumber.

 This city hall is very neat and substantial structure, with ample room for the accommodation of the city government, clerk, police judge, a fire engine, when one is obtained, and safe and comfortable jail quarters. The banquet took place in the large room provided for the deliberations of the city fathers.

From its construction in 1877 through today, the building has housed offices for the City of Black Hawk. Originally, the Fire Department was located on the first floor and the City offices on the second floor. City Council and other administrative meetings were held upstairs until November of 1991. The upstairs offices were so cramped, City officials explored alternative locations central to the main campus for expansion of the IT Department.

Following is documentary evidence of the original and current physical appearance of City Hall. In the photos, the train passed to the left side of City Hall as it transported goods from the mines. It is the oldest continually operating municipal government building in Colorado. The property was first officially evaluated for its historic and architectural significance in 1986 when the National Park Service conducted a survey of historic resources in the communities of Black Hawk, Central City, and Nevadaville. The City Hall building is located within the boundaries of the National Historic Landmark (NHL) district in Black Hawk.

In 1991, when Black Hawk was added to an expanded National Historic Landmark district, 201 Selak Street was counted as a “contributing” building to the historic district, meaning it had retained sufficient integrity to contribute to the historic character of the district. The building is Nineteenth-Century Commercial structure with arched entries on the first level and a bracketed brick cornice at the second story. The original building architecture was described by the National Park Service as a two-story structure with brick façade and stone construction on the remaining sides. The brick façade has a corbeled entablature, recessed rectangular panels directly under the cornice. Windows are segmental arched, with keystones and radiating voussoirs. There are decorative iron stars on the façade and arched entrances used at one time for the fire trucks. The National Park Service noted the City Hall was completed in December of 1877 at a cost of $5,000. The first floor was at one time used by the Fire Department.

The site description by the National Park Service states the building was free-standing, with the rear elevation built into the side of a hill. At the time of the survey, there were narrow steps to the left of the building that led to the Black Hawk School on Bates Hill. Although not reported by the National Park Service, a carriage house was visible to the right of the structure in the 1986 survey photo.

  The existing historic building is an example of a nineteenth-century commercial building adapted on the first floor to house horse-drawn fire wagons. The key character-defining features of this building are its large round-arched vehicle opening, matched on the first floor with an arched pedestrian opening. The tall, narrow upper story windows have semi-elliptical openings – all fenestrations have a keystone highlighting the arch. Other character-defining features are the corbelled brick cornice, brick façade, and stone side walls.

On March 1, 1996, Weekly Register-Call reported the next major renovation to Black Hawk City Hall. The downstairs was framed and dry walled. The old stairs were removed and replaced with hardwood, the high ceilings, and pendant lights in the lobby were kept for the historic character. The historic safe will be housed on the main floor, and the old fire door entrance will be transformed to a glass fronted entrance with glass panels on either side. The interior offices will be built for the Finance Department and the City Manager’s Office to be located on the second floor. The City Clerk’s office with a general reception area will be located on the first floor. The western rock wall on the second floor will be painted, but not covered and the back door will be replaced. Remaining interior work will include bathrooms, utilities, insulation and a break room for city employees. Exterior work plans including scraping and painting the brick. The roof was rebuilt to look similar to the original flat roof of the building as it was constructed in 1877.

According to Black Hawk resident Norm Blake, the original rock wall on the rear of the building caved in from water damage in 1936. “Irishman William ‘Billy’ Hamilton rebuilt the wall,” said Blake.  “He did a lot of mason work all over up here, marked it with a tobacco can. He put a stone in that wall and called it a Blarney Stone, he’d kiss it for luck. But you have to lie down on your belly and hang over a cornice to get to it. It sticks out because it’s out of line from the other rocks in the wall.”

Black Hawk Council Meeting, January 11, 2017

On January 11, 2017, the Black Hawk City Hall was designated a local landmark under Ordinance 2017-1.

The City Hall building can be described as a two-story masonry commercial building. The building has a simple rectangular footprint roughly 30 feet x 40 feet. The street (east) façade is clay brick masonry which was painted. It is suspected that some of the bricks have been replaced. It is unknown if the replacement bricks are of similar color or texture. There appears to be an 18” wide x 6-foot-tall section of full brick replacement to the left of the arched door opening on the first floor. It appears that the second-floor exterior window sills are slabs of red sandstone.

The north, south, and west sides of the building are stone masonry construction. Much of the stone masonry appears to be original to the historic structure; however, the west elevation appears to have had some rehabilitation work. The rehabilitated stone sections have a different stone appearance, mortar strike-joint, and mortar color. Wood joist pockets within stone veneer can be seen on the north and south elevations. The south elevation appears to have an inset of a clay brick chimney with full parge coat.

There are windows on the east and west elevations only. The windows on the second floor east elevation have been replaced with wood insert windows (circa 1990s) and have red sandstone window sills. The windows on the west elevation have historic detailing and could be original to the building. These windows have a concrete window sill, which has impacted drainage and caused the wood window sills to rot. The west facade appears to have been modified at some point. The center portion of the facade from grade up to approximately five feet from the parapet is of a different stone, color, size, and pattern. The door and two windows are assumed to not be original and were added at a later date, but there is no record of the original construction or configuration of this elevation. The National Park Service description of this elevation indicated the structure was built into the hillside. Today, that is not the case. Research revealed little building construction documentation, original building drawings or previous repair records, so historic photographs provided the majority of the background information. The general scope of this project is to rehabilitate the exterior finishes, excluding the roof which was re-roofed in 2017. It is preferred to have the paint removed from the brick, repair the masonry, repair the mortar, and address concerns of exterior finishes.

Recently, concerns have arisen about the general condition of the building facade due to the paint that has been applied to the exterior brick masonry wall, the condition of the stone masonry, (some of which is cracked, loose and at risk of failing), masonry joints, cornices, and other related elements. Because of these concerns and the overall existing condition, Public Works engaged Walker Restoration Consultants for professional services to carry out and oversee the paint removal and rehabilitation of the exterior facade of the City Hall.

Because Walker Restoration Consultants applied state-of-the-art testing, and rehabilitation strategies, their services, and prescriptive recommendations will greatly preserve this structure for years to come. The proposed scope of work will have no negative impact on the character of the historic district or the City Hall’s contributing status. If anything, it will enrich the district and enhance the structure by returning it to its original appearance.

2018 Rehabilitation of the Exterior Facade

On April 17, 2018, the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) did recommend to the Board of Aldermen approval of the Certificate of Appropriateness application for the paint removal and exterior facade rehabilitation of the City Hall located at 201 Selak Street as submitted. Resolution 28-2018 approving the Certificate of Appropriateness for Rehabilitation of the Exterior Facade of the Black Hawk City Hall was resolved and passed on 25th of April, 2018. Resolution 29-2018 awarded the bid to Hydro-Tech, Inc. on the 25th of April, 2018. The renovations began immediately and were slated to take about three months. For several weeks City staff couldn’t see what was happening to the facade of City Hall. Sometimes it felt strange walking into the tunnel to enter the building, while dodging the dust or water. From the inside, the view was veiled and shadowy. City staff couldn’t see the guys working except at the one side by the parking lot.
Besides the facade getting a new face lift, the sides were also given new mortar, stones, and a thorough cleaning. One day as City staff watched the cleaning being done on the north elevation, we noticed that the worker was pointing to the upper side corner and telling a companion about what he was seeing. To our surprise staff was told that they found graffiti. City staff asked what kind, and learned that in the past, when the train trestle crossed to the left of City Hall, people would carve their initials or names right into the brick. It is very high up, but if you look about 3 to 4 feet down from the roof top, the carvings can be seen. Most of them are from the 1880’s.

City staff interviewed the owner of Hydro-Tech about his company and the challenges they faced with City Hall’s facade. Matt Hunick stated that they were based out of Lehi, Utah, and had been in business for over 40 years, and doing restorations the past 35 years. We asked Matt what were the challenges with Black Hawk’s City Hall, and he responded that the environmental impacts of the past were unknown, lead paint, and if the different colors of brick could be matched. We asked the on-site Supervisor Juan, “What was the most interesting thing he found while doing the restoration?” He said, “The four old soda bottles that had been found in some of the empty spaces behind the stones.” We asked what were the most common restorations had been done, and Juan stated, “State Capital buildings in several cities, Denver Courthouse, and a very famous Governor’s Mansion.” He stated, “He was surprised by how many stones he found were carved to fit in the sides of City Hall and was excited to see what City Hall would look like when they were finished.” The entire work on City Hall was completed about three weeks’ sooner than expected. The refurbishment has brightened the original bricks, stones, and mortar so much that if the holes from the prior messages boards weren’t so prevalent, the building would seem new! The new message boards will be in a different location and installed at a later date. We anticipate City Hall to continue to be the oldest municipal building still in use, but also one that is still very beautiful and will continue to make history!

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