LIMA — With industrial progress came the need for proper city departments.
A bell was installed in the courthouse in 1842 to call volunteers to help man bucket brigades, which must have been an absolute melee, but the group organized in 1865 to quarters in a blacksmith shop on West Spring Street near Main Street. The group even bought a used hand pumper from Dayton and relocated to a building behind the courthouse on the square.
But Lima was growing, and how. A city building was needed for offices, so the idea was struck to put the fire department headquarters there also. The building on East High Street, just east of Cook Tower, was to have its grand opening Dec. 21, 1869. The city handled the financing of the first two floors, and the Masons bought the third floor. The first floor held the fire department and city jail, the second floor had council chambers/a performance hall and city offices, and the Masons had meeting rooms on the third floor with private stair. The Lima Thespian Club put on early dramas on the second floor of this building.
“The Lima Thespians hold forth at City Hall tonight, and produce the ‘Idiot Witness’ and ‘Handy Andy’ winding up with a grand 50 cent dance. If you do not get the worth of your money it will be your own fault,” a newspaper story reported April 14, 1869. Gen. Tom Thumb and other acts also held a show there that year.
A booklet published by the Lima Lodge Fraternal and Accepted Masons on their centennial year of 1951 explains further.
“Many dances were held by the lodge during this time in the latter part of the 19th century, and their dances were considered great social occasions. At that same time, the first floor of the city building contained the fire department with horse-pulled equipment and the horses were stalled in the south end of the city building. When the fire department was called, the meetings (being just above) were interrupted. However, this did not greatly incommode the lodge since a fire brought together the greater proportion of the population as spectators.”
But almost immediately, there were issues with the building. The armory in the building was divided into offices for Water Works employees. Horses were being stalled indoors, directly under council chambers, with the jail nearby. More ventilation was put into the jail quickly, but it appeared to still be a problem.
A Lima Daily Times editorial took the city to task April 4, 1890: “One of the miserable eye sores in this city is the city building, erected under the guidance of a Republican Council. Bids were received for its construction, the aggregate of which was $13,000. When finished, without any material change in the plans, the cost was over $22,000. This for the poorest constructed, most illy arranged and the vilest-smelling public building in Ohio, and one that cost, under Republican management, $9,000 more than the contract price. … The least one could say of their demand for a restoration to power on the score of economy and honesty, was that it takes a heap of gall.”
By the 1900s, work was going on behind the scenes to garner support for a new police and fire building at East High and Central streets. The first plans were rejected for being too opulent, perhaps an overreaction to the opinion of the current building being of low class.
City fathers chose to erect a new city building at High and Central while remodeling the old city building on the other side of Main Street. Papers were still calling for the old building to be sold, as the real estate would probably fetch a nice price, but officials went ahead with a redo.
In 1904, the state prison inspector visited and shut down the jail, calling it inhumane.
“His objection together with the really obnoxious arrangement of keeping horses in the city building finally brought a remodeling scheme to the surface …” an April 20, 1909, story reported.
There was mass confusion, with people going to the wrong building, depending on what business they were trying to handle. (The new building held fire, police, mayor, board of public safety. The old building held everything else.) The remodeling also changed the front-door layout.
“A good many people who have business to transact in the old city building are confused by the tearing out of the old entrance on High Street, which has been the place for entering the building for many years. The entrance is now on Main Street, the stairway of the Wise building being used for entrance. Many people get confused after getting onto the second floor, but it should be remembered that the hallway must be followed to the right of the stairway that goes up to the third floor, and if this is done you will be landed at the same place where the landing of the old stairway of the city building formerly stood. Workmen are busily engaged on the remodeling of the first floor of the old city building … the old walls being torn out, new supports being put in and the entire front changed,” an Oct. 1, 1908, story reported.
The remodeling contractor was Val Heil, and he started work in the late summer of 1908 when city officials were fed up with prisoners literally digging out the crumbling brick and escaping.
By 1920, the city threw up its hands in defeat and decided to sell the building. Offices were moved into the East High Street city building.
“The old Wise building, Main and High streets, may be razed by its new lessees after January first, engineers for the Woolworth 5 and 10 cent stores states while here making surveys of the structure during the past week. The engineers found that the building resembled Pisa’s hanging tower, in that it leaned toward the northwest and would not admit of strengthening,” a story reported Oct. 9, 1921.
By winter, workmen were knocking it down. They had to rope off the street because the north wall almost fell all by itself.
In the 1940s, the Leader store bought the old city hall building. It stripped the interior and even refaced the front with enameled steel to give it a modern appearance. It was L-shaped, with entrances on Main and on High. (It left downtown in 1965, opening in the Lima Mall. It was bought out by Elder Beerman in 1974.)
The city bought the old interurban station for offices, which is now the Allen County Health Department, but that was also deemed unsuitable. In the 1960s, plans for Central Fire Station were being discussed, which took care of the fire department headquarters — but what of the offices? Businessman Fred W. Cook donated the tower bearing his name to the city in 1962, with the understanding they would use it for offices. When the city decided against that plan, he spoke out in the media, calling them a “big bunch of mismanagers.”
In 1969, the city moved into its new Hall of Justice building at East Market and Union Streets. Next door, in 1988, the Lima Municipal Center moved into the former Blue Cross Blue Shield building.
Remodeling the city building