Mayor Gregg Fischer promised an open and transparent city administration, and he seems to be delivering on that promise; at least symbolically. The front doors of Louisville’s Metro Hall, which have been closed since merger in 2003, will be permanently re-opened this month. A free public celebration that includes tours of the building and music by local choirs is planned for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.
“This historic, beautiful building should be experienced as architect Gideon Shryock intended,” Mayor Fischer said. “Ascending the stone front steps and entering the impressive rotunda is a humbling experience.”
In the past month, several improvements have been made to the interior of Metro Hall, including installation of energy-efficient LED lighting. Historic displays and artwork — including an oil painting of John Carpenter Bucklin, the first mayor of Louisville — have been brought out of storage for permanent display.
The Nov. 19 celebration includes a ceremony at 1 p.m. on the front steps, in which the mayor and others will ceremoniously cut a ribbon and open the front doors. Choirs will perform in the rotunda and offices of the Mayor and his staff will be open for self-guided tours until 4 p.m.
The current entry to Metro Hall – in the back, off Congress Alley – will remain open to accommodate the disabled.
Louisville Metro Hall — formerly known as the Jefferson County Courthouse, the fifth building to serve as the seat of local government prior to the completion of Louisville City Hall in 1873 — now houses the Mayor’s Office following city-county merger in 2003. Construction on the Greek Revival style building began in 1836, as designed by Gideon Shryock (1802-1880) architect of the Old Statehouse in Frankfort and other notable buildings, and as championed by early Louisville civic leader James Guthrie (1792 – 1869) who hoped the structure would serve as the new Kentucky state capital.
The financial panic of 1837 soon halted most work, with only the first floor completed and occupied by 1842. Construction did not finish until 1859-60, from designs by Isaiah Rogers (1800 – 1869), under the direction of Albert Fink (1827-1897), known for his bridge and engineering works for the L&N Railroad - hence the use of iron for the grand staircase and the railing on the 4th floor and as flooring to cover the rotunda on the second level. Brinton B. Davis (1862-1952) oversaw an extensive remodeling effort after a fire caused severe damage in 1905. Today, the interior rooms have much the same appearance as they did in 1906 following a 1981 renovation. In 1972, the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Courthouse and grounds feature a number of statues and historic items. Installed in the rotunda in 1867, a white marble statue of Henry Clay (1777-1852) by Joel Tanner Hart (1810 -1877), the eminent nineteenth century Kentucky sculptor, replicates in smaller scale a colossal bronze statue erected in New Orleans in 1860. In 1986, the Mulloy family donated an 1823 copper plate engraving of the Declaration of Independence, one of only 31 known surviving copies of the 201 originally printed at the order of then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (1767-1848). On the ground floor, installed in 1987, nine reproduction early United States flags mark the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
Along the Jefferson Street sidewalk, a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) atop the Liberty Bell rests on a polished black granite pedestal, a gift of the Bernheim family in 1900. Louisville’s namesake, King Louis XVI of France (1754-1793), is depicted in an 1820’s white marble statue, one of a pair commissioned by his daughter Marie Therese Charlotte (1778-1851) for the city of Montpellier and given to Louisville in 1967 in honor of our Sister City relationship. Dedicated on Veterans Day in 2001 and recognizing Kentucky’s 57 Medal of Honor recipients, stands a statue of Pfc. John Squires (1925-1944), a World War II Medal of Honor recipient from Louisville. The Jefferson County WWII Memorial, dedicated in 1949, remembers the 1,450 soldiers from our community who died in that conflict. Several smaller memorials and markers are scattered on the lawn around the building.
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