Greenwich Town Hall

Greenwich Town Hall History

The first stop in the tour is the current Greenwich Town Hall. Originally built as a high school in 1925, this building typifies the very popular Classical Revival design of many governmental and educational buildings of the Progressive Era (loosely 1895-1920). The overall effect of this style conveys order, reason and proportionality, and borrows liberally from Greek and, more frequently, Roman classical architecture.

Why did the town need a new school? There was explosive population growth in America in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. While the US population grew a prodigious 62% from 1900-1930, the population in Greenwich grew over twice that, 172%. In the 1920s alone, the growth in Greenwich was 50% over the previous decade. It wasn’t until 1910, however, that a Greenwich Town School Committee was appointed with a superintendent. Before that, local, often one-room school districts operated independently.

Apparently, the state of education in this burgeoning town was wanting. In 1912, the Russell Sage Foundation was commissioned by the Committee to make an assessment and found that, specifically and generally, Greenwich had overcrowded schools, unhealthy buildings, and low graduation rates. In contrast, when the new high school was dedicated in 1926, it was considered “the finest in the northeast”. At the time, it served 900 students. The Town of Greenwich spent upwards of $3M to build this high school, which would be approximately $40M in today's money.

Greenwich Town Hall Architecture

The architectural firm of Guilbert and Betelle, which had previously designed the Cos Cob School around 1916, was selected for the new building project. The Colonial (Classical) Revival style was employed most demonstrably to ensure confidence in the building’s purpose or intent, namely ‘higher’ education. Additionally, the high school design incorporated a later style called Beaux Arts as well, which featured more eclectic and elaborate embellishments.

Some of the prominent architectural components include:

  • Simple rectangular box shape
  • Low pitched hipped roof
  • Rigid front façade symmetry in building mass as well as in window and door placement
  • Shallow hexastyle balconette (ghost gallery) with:
    • Triangular pediment
    • Fluted ionic columns
    • Pilasters
    • Balustrades flanking the pediment
    • Lunette window (oculus) in tympanum, depicting a two-dimensional world globe
  • Preponderance of multi-paned window space
  • Window lintels featuring “Lamp of Learning” bas reliefs
  • Flemish bond brickwork
  • Front entrance transom lights
  • Wrought iron balconies and lamps
  • Massive end blocks with shallow and empty arched niches

In 1934, Greenwich raised $700K in bonds to build an addition that was larger than the original. The addition of side and back sections formed a courtyard in the middle. The back comprised 5 floors and included a new, separate gym for the boys.

Subsequently, in 1970, yet another new high school was completed on Hillside Road at a cost of $15M, or $100M today after adjusted for inflation. In 1977, a public referendum resulted in a close decision to tear down the rear section of this high school building and renovate the front half to create a new town hall.

Greenwich Town Hall