[This is a Jenny Grey article which is ostensibly about Commissioner Mathiesen’s effort to address the need for additional space for an additional judge for the city. What I found most fun about the article was the history of the architecture of the building. Go Jenny! ]
Spa City commissioner lays out City Hall plans
By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian
Posted: 05/06/16, 6:06 PM EDT | Updated: 10 hrs ago
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> While looking over the options for expanding City Hall, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen came across some history that isn’t actually history in the 145-year-old building. He showed the city council his findings about the city courtroom and the Music Hall in a presentation earlier this week.
An expansion is necessary due to a two-year-old New York state referendum from the Office of Court Administration (OCA). This office is the administrative arm of the court system, under the direction of the chief administrative judge. The referendum was intended to assist municipalities by giving them a second judge; but the municipalities are responsible for providing a second courtroom or hearing room at taxpayer expense.
Space is tight in City Hall as it is. The ornate three-story brick Italianate building at 474 Broadway was constructed in 1871 by Cummings and Burt of Troy. It originally cost a mere $109,999 to build.
Four expansion options recently drawn up by Envision Architects of Albany would cost between $1,475,000 and $6,245,000.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan asked Envisions to come up with another plan that would utilize the underused space on the third floor, the Music Hall. The firm then created Option 5. Here, all court facilities move to the third floor, displacing the Music Hall. This provides an optimal court program. Significant City Hall expansion is then available on the second floor west, where the courts were. The city council moves to the existing courtroom. Public Safety remains as is. The projected construction cost is $3,000,000.
Two areas of concern rose up out of this design: the displaced Music Hall and the moved courtroom.
The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau’s website describes the Music Hall like this: “The Saratoga Music Hall has a seating capacity of 300 people. Located on the third floor of Saratoga’s City Hall, the Music Hall is accessed by elevator, and you are greeted by a large open room with hardwood floors, cathedral windows and a large built-in stage. The Saratoga Music Hall is the perfect location for your next corporate dinner, cocktail reception, wedding or event.”
Despite that description, the space is greatly underused, said the city commissioners; and they need space. So Mathiesen looked into the history of what was then called the Town Hall Theater. He found that the theater was in use from 1871 to 1933, in a very different form than the Music Hall of today. Back then, the Town Hall Theater was on the second floor of City Hall, where the courts are today. The City Hall’s third floor was only a balcony running around three sides of the high room.
When City Hall was remodeled and that third floor built, the Town Hall Theater was shut down. The space didn’t reopen as an entertainment venue until 1993, when the Music Hall was created. It consists of the upper portion of what once was the original Town Hall Theater.
“So that’s not a deep history,” Mathiesen said. “The Music Hall has only been there, in that form, since 1993. We need to take that into consideration.”
The second sensitive area is the current courtroom, where, legend had it, the American Bar Association first assembled Aug. 21, 1878. A plaque to commemorate this event is in the courtroom. Supposedly between 75 and 100 attorneys from around the country met in Saratoga Springs to form this organization — which, at the time, refused to let people of color, women, Jews or Catholics join.
Mathiesen said, however, that the Saratoga Springs City Hall courtroom wasn’t built until 1933. In that year, the City Hall construction project began, with the second floor of the rear two-thirds of City Hall consisting of rooms that today house the city courtroom, court offices, Police Department supervisors’ offices and Public Safety Department administrative offices.
“The present city courtroom on the second floor of City Hall did not exist until 1933 and thus could not have been the room in which the American Bar Association was established in 1878,” Mathiesen said. “The Music Hall did not exist until 1993 and therefore does not have a significant historical relevance.”
The commissioner thanked City Historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald, the Saratoga Springs Public Library Saratoga Room, the Saratoga Springs History Museum, the publication “George Bolster’s Saratoga Springs” and the publication “Saratoga Springs: A Centennial History” for help with the research and development of this presentation.