A couple of weeks ago, while looking for Brooklyn Bridge Park, my feet and curiosity took me a bit away, down toward Columbus Park and, at the edge of it, Brooklyn Borough Hall. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to get a picture of it, and did so.
Looking upon this building between Court and Adams streets, you would think that the structure in front of you could not be just for a borough—and you would be right. In 1836, when the cornerstone of this building was laid, Brooklyn had been officially incorporated as its own separate city for two years already. (Many of its residents probably still rue its incorporation as just one of five boroughs in New York in 1898.) This was a rising city with big ambitions.
Its ambitions, though, surpassed its wallet. With the foundations of this Greek Revival structure already dug, the city and nation were plunged into a depression. By the time the city could begin work again, in 1845, the original architect, Calvin Pollard, was out, and Gamaliel King, a runner-up in the architectural competition the decade before, was enlisted to finish the project, albeit on a reduced scale. The (then) City Hall, still unfinished, opened in 1848.
Additional work has been done since done: notably, a cupola to replace the fire-damaged original in 1898, and a statue of Justice on top of the cupola in 1988, more than 150 years since it had formed part of the original plan for the building. It's a reminder that democracy has classical roots, to an age that revered wisdom and balance in public affairs as well as public buildings.