Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall was built in 1939 with funding from the Works Progress Administration. From 1841 to 1939, Houston's municipal government was headquartered at Old Market Square It was destroyed by fire in the 1870s, and also in 1901, and rebuilt each time. In those days, City Hall was part of the lively commercial atmosphere of the Square. However, by the 1920s, the city leaders decided the site was no longer appropriate for their needs. In 1929, the city's planning commission urged the establishment of a new city hall but the Great Depression reduced funding and the project was delayed until a federal WPA grant helped finance construction between 1938-1939. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. It was designed by Joseph Finger in the Art Deco style, appearing classical yet modern in appearance.
Backstory and Context
Two brothers, J.K. and A.C. Allen, founded Houston on August 30, 1836 just a few months after the end of the Texas War for Independence. They named the new settlement for the hero of that war, General Sam Houston. From 1841 to 1939, Houston municipal government was headquartered at Old Market Square, on a site donated to the City by Houston's founder, the Allen brothers. The City Hall on Market Square was destroyed by fire in the 1870s, and again in 1901, and rebuilt each time.
City Hall in those days was part of the lively commercial atmosphere of Market Square. City offices were located on the second floor of the municipal building. The first floor tenant was a fish market. By the 1920s, it had become apparent that these facilities were no longer adequate for the municipal government. In 1927, voters approved by wide margins bond issues for the construction of a new Civic Center ($1.4 million) and a new City Hall ($1 million).
During the Depression, plans for constructing the City Hall were temporarily sidetracked. In 1933, however, the City applied for a federal Public Works Administration grant to help finance the construction of a new City Hall. Straw votes on building a new City Hall were taken in 1933, 1934 and 1935, In 1934 voters rejected a proposition to build the City Hall, but also voted that if one were to be built, it should be put on the Civic Center site rather than at Market Square. On August 8, 1937, the City Hall W.P.A. grant was approved. The City Commission authorized the taking of bids on the City Hall bond funds originally approved in 1927. Mayor R.H. Fonville and the Commissioners also passed an ordinance designating the west end of Martha Hermann Square as the site of the new City Hall.
Construction began on March 7, 1938. The cornerstone was laid on October 1, 1938. A time capsule was placed in the cornerstone, containing a Bible, copies of the City charter, Houston's three daily newspapers and the City Auditor's report for 1937.
"Houston City Hall." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. September 18, 1990. https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/NR/pdfs/90001471/90001471.pdf.