Podcasts Politics and Protest

Epicenter: The historic New York City Hall

PODCAST REWIND A story almost four hundred years in the making — and a place at the center of modern New York political life.

New York City Hall sits majestically inside a nostalgic, well-manicured park, topped with a beautiful old fountain straight out of gaslight-era New York.

But its serenity belies the frantic pace of government inside City Hall walls and disguises a tumultuous and vigorous history.

There have actually been two other city halls — one an actual tavern, the other a temporary seat of national government. The present city hall — first used in 1811 and completed the following year — is one of New York City’s greatest treasures.

Join us as we explore the unusual history of this building, through ill-executed fireworks, disgruntled architects and its near-destruction by city planners.

PLUS: We look at the park area itself, a common land that once catered to livestock, liberty poles, almshouses and a big, garish post office.

This is a reedited and remastered version of episode #93 featuring an all-new, very special ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ challenge at the end.

Listen Now: The Historic New York City Hall

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I’ll Drink To That: Stadt Huys, New Amsterdam’s town hall, was a multi-purpose stone building housing an inn, a tap room on the first floor and the workings of city government on the second floor. The building was the government center even when the British arrived and would only be replaced in 1700.

Today on Pearl Street (near Stone Street) one can find the exact spot where the Stadt Huys once stood, marked by beige-colored bricks.

Photo by Greg Young

Federal Style: The second city hall, made with stones from the actual ‘wall’ of Wall Street, would be a bustling overstuff building and central to the beginnings of American history.

For a couple years, as Federal Hall, it was the center of federal government; the votes for George Washington as the first president were counted here and he was sworn in from the balcony.

New York Public Library

The old City Hall/Federal Hall was torn down in 1812. Three decades later the U.S. Custom House was constructed here, and today it is called Federal Hall.

Photo by Greg Young

Park Purposes: Before City Hall arrives, the common ground held several buildings, includin almshouses and debtors prisons (depicted in the background) and an early version of the American Museum (which evolved to become Barnum’s American Museum).

There Goes The Neighborhood: The image below depicts life in the year 1820. With the introduction of a shiny new City Hall, lavish rowhouses begin springing around the park, housing New York’s elite. Just a few years before, they would have faced into almshouses.

D’oh!: Wanna know one really good reason why we don’t shoot off fireworks in the middle of the city anymore? One robust fireworks celebration, honoring the laying of the Atlantic cable, caught the roof of City Hall on fire in 1858, causing extensive damage.

New York Public Library

The City Grows Up: New York’s growth spurt starts around City Hall Park, with a few new skyscrapers becoming the tallest buildings of their times, including the World Building (pictured at center), the Park Row and St. Paul buildings (just south), and the Woolworth Building, on the park’s west side.

The Municipal Building joins it a few years later….

Post Haste: The City Hall Post Office sat on the southern end of City Hall Park.

ca. 1894, Manhattan, New York, New York, USA — Front of General Post Office in Manhattan — Image by © CORBIS

The front of the Post Office, entirely consuming the area that is today’s southern end of the park and adjoining traffic triangle.

Photo by Greg Young

The Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain, first placed in City Hall in 1871. During the 1920s it was dismantled and shipped to Bronx, but returned to the park in 2000.

Photo by Greg Young

Plaque on the western side of City Hall Park:

Stones mark the site of Bridewell Prison:

Photo by Greg Young


After listening to this show on the history of New York City Hall check out these shows with similar themes and historical moments mentioned in this show:

2 replies on “Epicenter: The historic New York City Hall”

Dear Bowery Boys,

During this podcast (episode 93), you mention (towards the end) that there was a shooting at City Hall on Jul 23,2003 where one Councilman shot another to death on the steps of City Hall. I would like to make 2 corrections to that. The assailant wasn’t a NYC Councilman, though he was a political rival to Councilman James Davis. Also, the shooting took place in the gallery of the Council Chambers. The Assailant was then gunned down by an NYPD officer on duty in the Council Chambers.

I enjoy the podcasts and they have greatly expanded my knowledge of NYC History. Keep up the great work.

I love your wonderful podcasts. Could you name the classical sounding music that begins the City Hall Park Podcast? Thank you.
I grew up on lower east side and spent many happy times in this city hall area. Many years ago In 8th grade my class visited city hall. So fun.

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