Advertisement

Imperiled Federal Hall gets emergency aid

By
FREDERICK M. WINSHIP

NEW YORK, April 10 (UPI) -- The Federal Hall National Memorial, the most historic site in Manhattan and one of the nation's architectural treasures, will soon undergo emergency repairs to structural damage suffered when the World Trade Center collapsed from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Familiar to most Americans as the Parthenon look-alike on Wall Street before which stands a statue of George Washington, Federal Hall was added only recently to a list of endangered sites drawn up by the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent group that monitors the parks. The 160-year-old building is one of eight National Park sites in the New York City area.

Advertisement

The shock wave that followed the trade center collapse four blocks to the west of Federal Hall widened an old foundation crack in the building constructed of New York marble and extended it all the way to the second floor rotunda. The National Park Service applied to the federal government for emergency repair funds and has received $16.5 million to begin the work.

Thomas Kiernan, president of the conservation association, said that after the building's structural problems are addressed, the National Park Service must be given additional operating money to prevent flooding in the basement to protect historic artifacts stored there. The service plans to request a $2.7 million increase in operating funds in fiscal year 2004, $1.4 million of which should be applied to needed repairs, Kiernan said.

Advertisement

"A lot needs to be done here before we take Federal Hall off our endangered list," Kiernan said in an interview.

On Sept. 11, 250 people sought refuge in Federal Hall from the dust cloud arising from the Twin Towers collapses. The building had to be closed for a month to clean the interior of hazardous dust and to assess structural damage, part of a program instituted by the World Monuments Fund throughout the entire lower Manhattan historic area.

The Federal Hall site was occupied in the 18th century by a city hall built by the British in 1701 to replace the old Dutch Stadt Huys on Pearl Street. This structure was remodeled in 1789 by Maj. Charles Pierre L'Enfant, the French engineer and city planner who mapped out Washington, D.C., to serve as the capitol of the United States with the name Federal Hall.

George Washington took the oath of office as first U.S. president on the front balcony of the building, just above the spot where his statue sculptured by J.Q.A. Ward in 1883 now stands. It was here that Congress approved the Bill of rights and the Supreme Court and cabinet departments of State, Defense, and Treasury were set up.

Advertisement

Prior to the American Revolution, the building had played a major role in the New York colony's growing dissatisfaction with governance by Great Britain. It was here that printer John Peter Zenger was tried and acquitted of seditious libel in 1735, affirming press freedoms that played a role in the coming revolution.

Representatives of nine colonies met on the site to protest the British Parliament's Stamp Act. The Sons of Liberty was founded there and the Continental Congress met there. But despite its history, the building -- used for state and city offices after the capital was removed to Philadelphia in 1790 - was razed in 1812 and sold for salvage for $425.

It was not until 1842 that the present building, designed by the firm of Town & Davis, was erected in the Greek Revival style with a Doric-columned porch to serve as a U.S. Customs House and later as a U.S. subtreasury with huge storage vaults for bullion that can still be seen.

The subtreasury was later used as a Federal Reserve Bank, government offices, and headquarters of the New York chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1939 and opened to the public as a National Memorial in 1955.

Advertisement

Its most notable displays are ones devoted to Zenger and freedom of the press, the Bill of Rights, and Washington. The interior with its impressive rotunda was restored about 30 years ago and some of he displays date to that era and are sadly in need up updating and replacement. NPS rangers take visitors through the public areas.

"We wish we were better able to present the wonderful stories we have to tell because this is one of the nation's most historic locations," said C. Stevens Laise, one of the rangers on duty. "But we need a better, more modern educational program."

At present, the building attracts 220,000 visitors a year, not a large number for a historic site. The National Parks Conservation Association would like to see Federal Hall better integrated into the New York City public school system curriculum to bring more students to the site, a full-time historian, and better security, which at present is minimal.

Latest Headlines