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Georgetown’s City Hall

The conservation of historic buildings and sites in Guyana is ongoing. The agencies involved are both private and public. Without the support of laws, and meaningful lobbying, some of the historic ruins and larger historic buildings have fallen, deteriorated, and have even been sold.

The City Hall

Georgetown City Hall is one of Guyana’s most elegant architectural showpieces. It has a rich history dating back as early as 1837 during which time there was a proposal for a city hall to be constructed, which came to fruition in 1889, a work of a famous European architect, Father Ignatius Scoles. It was stated that from time to time, since the incorporation of the City of Georgetown under a mayor and city council on March 1, 1837, the erection of a city hall to house the offices of the Municipality of Georgetown was proposed repeatedly during the nineteenth century. However, the financial limitations of the council prevented its realization. Prior to the acquisition of the present site, by Mayor George Anderson Forshaw, it was proposed to construct City Hall opposite the Stabroek Market in 1871, and subsequently on the grounds now occupied by the National Library.

On November 22, 1886, a committee consisting of the mayor and city councilors was appointed to prepare the necessary plans and specifications for the erection of this edifice. In March 1887, an advertisement offering a premium for the design of the city hall was issued. After competitive designs were received and examined by a committee assisted by Cesar Castellani and F.A. Conyers, the first prize was awarded to Reverend Ignatius Scoles for his design, titled “Petimusque Vicissin.” The services of Mr. Sprotson, of the La Penitence Woodworking Company, were contracted for the construction of the city hall at a cost of $39,950.

This site was acquired from George Anderson Forshaw, a past mayor of Georgetown. The site where City Hall now stands was a “tumble down coffee logie used for dancers.”

On December 23, 1887, under a tent, His Excellency Governor Sir Henry Turner Irving laid the foundation stone for City Hall. A mere eighteen months later on July 1, 1889, under heavy rainfall, before a gathering of 400 influential persons, the new offices of the council were declared open.

The grounds of the City Council were extended when the lot between City Hall and the High Court was purchased in 1896 to construct a cottage and stables for the sergeant major in charge. Today, this structure houses the City Engineers Department.

Rectangular in shape, with three floors, City Hall is an interpretation in wood of the masonry “fancy dress” style of Gothic Revival architecture prevalent during the Victorian Era in Great Britain. This timber building shows expert craftsmanship in the manipulation of wood, including the decorative use of iron at verandas and stairways. Features such as the tower, which has conical pinnacles topped by a pyramidal flat topped spire, Gothic arches over windows and verandas, cast-iron pilasters, and other metalwork expressing decorative styles. These, along with the lancet windows and wrought iron capitals decorated with foliage, testify to the artistry of this magnificent structure.

Another interesting feature of this structure is the hammer-beam roof construction employed in the concert hall. The curved ceiling allows for different planes to break sound paths for better acoustics.# This concert hall became the premier venue for the staging of many cultural productions after a great fire in the city in 1945 destroyed the Assembly Rooms.

The west side of the building is where the entrance tower is located. It is square at the base and topped with a tall, square pyramidal flat spire. Four conical steeples decorate the tower just below the spire where high-level awning windows are located. This tower is one of the main attractions of the building. One can ascend to the square-capped pyramidal flat-topped spire via a narrow and steep ladder. Jalousie and glass windows with Gothic arches help to beautify the tower.

This structure is on the World Heritage Tentative List, part of the proposed Plantation Structure and Historic Buildings site in Georgetown. It is one of the essential listed buildings that represent nineteenth-century wooden English architecture coupled with the city’s eighteenth-century Dutch layout.

The National Trust endeavors to safeguard and promote the rich built heritage of Guyana. City Hall represents a host achievement historically, architecturally, and socially. The consensus of the general public is to invest in the rehabilitation of the historic City Hall for the benefit of present and future generations. To this end, the Government of Guyana announced on April 24, 2014 that it has committed GY$ 200 million ($1 million) toward the full rehabilitation of the structure. It is a substantial amount to kick-start this process. Another similar amount is required to complete the full restoration of the structure. At this time a comprehensive restoration plan is needed to guide the process and preserve the building for posterity. We hope the site’s inclusion on the 2014 World Monuments Watch will serve as a catalyst to help us save this remarkable edifice for the people of Guyana and the world.