Manhattan Municipal Building
Learn more about Manhattan Municipal Building
The Manhattan Municipal Building is a 40-story building built to accommodate increased governmental space demands after the 1898 consolidation of New York City into The Five Boroughs. Construction began in 1909 and ended in 1915, marking the end of the City Beautiful movement in New York. Standing 580 feet (177 m) tall, its highest point is the second largest statue in Manhattan. The architectural firm McKim, Mead and White designed it to be the first building to incorporate a New York City Subway station into its base. Enormously influential in the civic construction of other American cities, its application of Roman architecture served as the prototype for the Terminal Tower in Cleveland, the Fisher Building in Detroit, and the Wrigley Building in Chicago.
Located at the intersection of Chambers Street and Centre Street, the Municipal Building is one of the largest governmental buildings in the world. Thirteen civic agencies of New York City and a public radio station are located in the building, and 28,000 New Yorkers are married inside of it each year. There are 25 floors of work space (served by 33 elevators), with an additional 15 stories in the tower.
The government of New York City was increasingly starved for space since 1884, when in that year's annual report, Mayor Franklin Edson declared that more space was badly needed. But he also noted that City Hall was not expandable because its "style of architecture was such that without marring its present symmetry, it couldn't be enlarged to the required extent."
The City's agencies rented various buildings strewn all the way from Downtown Manhattan up to Midtown Manhattan, with the number of such arrangements increasing by the year. The government, desiring to cut down the amount of rent paid to private landlords, held several design competitions for a new massive building that would be suitable to house many agencies under one roof. Mayor Abraham Hewitt appointed a commission to study suitable plans and plots of land in 1888, and four competitions were held between that year and 1907. The final competition was held by the Commissioner of Bridges, who had already secured a new plot of land to be used for a new trolley hub at the Manhattan base of Brooklyn Bridge. Twelve architectural firms entered what would be the last version of the competition, and the winning entry was received from a young partner of McKim, Mead and White, then the largest architectural firm in the world with a staff numbering over 100. Despite such standing in the architectural community, the Manhattan Municipal Building would be their first skyscraper.
The building was first occupied in January 1913, and the majority of the building's offices were opened to the public by 1916. Various types of sculpture and relief were used, but the building most closely resembles classic Roman architecture, with the Arch of Constantine being the inspiration for the design of the central arch. So grand is this arch that automobile traffic used to flow through, but in modern times the shortened Chambers Street no longer continues through to the other side.
At present the Municipal Building is home to thirteen public agencies, employing 2,000 staff in nearly 1 million square feet of floorspace. A gift shop sells New York City maps, history books, and souvenirs of the city.
The following public agencies of New York City are housed in the building: Department of Finance, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Buildings, Office of Payroll Administration, County Clerk, Civil Service Commission, Public Advocate, Manhattan Borough President, Comptroller, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Tax Commission, and field offices for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Inspector General, Department of Citywide Administrative Services, and the Mayor's Office.
 Civic Fame
The statue on top of the Municipal Building is a gilded figure called Civic Fame. At 25 feet tall, it is the second largest statue in all of Manhattan. Constructed from sheets of copper with a hollow core, she is similar in this respect to the nearby Statue of Liberty. Standing barefoot, on a sphere, she wears a flowing dress and a crown of laurels to signify glory. In her left hand is a five-pointed crown, to represent the five boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island; the building's five cupolas also represent the five boroughs). In her right hand is a shield and a laurel branch to represent victory and triumph.
- NYC.Gov / Manhattan Municipal Building
- Lower Manhattan Information - Question of the Week (What's the Statue?)
- Emporis - Municipal Building, New York City