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The cen­trally located Hillsdale City Hall that just one month ago had its 100-year anniversary is a local gem of archi­tec­tural design.

City Hall’s lime­stone foun­dation was laid in 1911, and the building was com­pleted in 1913. A brochure pub­lished in 1915, written in the typical lan­guage of the time, praises the building as an archi­tec­tural and cul­tural treasure.

The brochure says, “Alto­gether for material, style, and con­ve­nience, this is believed to be the best equipped City Hall in any city of our size in the world.” And ends, “In both internal and external style it is unlike any­thing ever built.”

While that may not be entirely true, the building is at least unique in its shape. It is one of the only five-sided buildings in Michigan, and its con­struction pre­ceded that of the United States Pen­tagon. For a long time, City Hall was an all-purpose building for the city of Hillsdale. It even housed the fire department on its second floor.

The outside of the building has Greek-style archi­tecture with its ped­i­mented roof and clean, round columns. Clas­sical archi­tecture was not uncommon among civic buildings at the time, said Ron Staley of the Christman Company, a con­struction company located in Lansing.

Staley worked on City Hall in 1996, when the building was in des­perate need of ren­o­vation.

“From about the ‘60s on, the third floor was closed and used for storage of records,” said Kay Freese, human resources director for the city of Hillsdale. Freese started working for the city in the ‘80s.

“It had really dete­ri­o­rated quite badly through the years,” Freese said. The third floor was plagued with problems, as Freese remembers it. The floor was rotting, the roof leaked, and worse, pigeons had come to nest in the rafters, often dying after being caught inside for too many days.

In addition to these problems, they needed to expand office space.

“In the early ‘90s, we had come to a decision. We either had to remove our­selves from the building and build a more tra­di­tional municipal building in a dif­ferent location, or City Hall had to be ren­o­vated. Ulti­mately, cit­izens and the City Council voted to restore it.”

The project would cost roughly $1.2 million. A poster board dis­played at the recent 100-year cel­e­bration says that when the project was started, almost half of the general public did not want the building to be ren­o­vated because they thought it was a waste of money.  Even so, Hillsdale moved forward with the project.

City Hall has many beau­tiful fea­tures on the inside, as well. The con­struction com­panies worked to restore the third floor back to use, replacing faulty flooring and cleaning the original mosaic tile pieces.  They also replaced much of the Venetian plaster wain­scoting that had dete­ri­o­rated over the years.

“Venetian plaster, at the time, was an inex­pensive way of getting the look of marble,” Staley said.

To create the look of marble on plaster, typ­i­cally the artisan will put min­erals and dyes in the plaster, and spread it across the plaster’s surface. However, these repairs alone were going to cost about $75,000, as far as Staley can remember.

So instead, the Christman Company found a dec­o­rative painter to hand paint the plaster for a much lower price. The ren­o­vation was com­plete in 1997.

“Never in my career have I seen someone who, 10 years later, regretted restoring a his­toric building,” Staley said. “Hope­fully, Hillsdale will look back on this as one of the defining moments of their com­munity.”

Shortly after the ren­o­vation was com­pleted, City Council received a letter from Hillsdale res­i­dents Dale and Laura McCririe, thanking them for going through with it..

“To our great delight and to the obvious benefit of the city and com­munity as a whole, the Hillsdale City Hall ren­o­vation and restoration are mag­nif­icent.”