the socialite daughter of prominent Tampa physician Louis
Sims Oppenheimer, was dismayed that Tampa had no municipal
clock. The Oppenheimer children, five daughters and a son,
were no less vigorous or gifted than their father. Growing
up in a world filled with fine books, music and sober
industry, they found it easy to share and emulate their
Miss Oppenheimer became incensed
at the city fathers in 1915 because the new City Hall had no
tower clock to give the proper time. The City determined
that they were too poor to afford clockworks for the clock
tower. Miss Oppenheimer launched a campaign to fund one. Her
organization, "Ye Town Criers", raised $1,200 by sponsoring
various entertainments. Their efforts fell somewhat short,
but were successful in raising enough money privately to
have the W.H. Beckwith Jewelry Company donate the remainder
and provide a 2,840 pound, four-faced clock.
Dr. Oppenheimer and
his daughters, C. Hortense, Irma, Olive, Dorothy &
Carmen, at their home in 1919
Upon the completion of Tampa City Hall, Willis Powell,
editor of the Clearwater Sun, reminded Tampa's citizens of
Miss Oppenheimer's dedication to what was no longer a lost
cause. Newspapers championed the idea, and the clock was
dedicated to Hortense Oppenheimer, "the girl who wanted
to buy a city clock."
ornamental heads were fashioned from a Seminole Indian
maiden with braided hair.
Hortense Oppenheimer Ford became a fixture in Tampa social
and cultural circles. She and her sisters, Irma, Olive,
Dorothy and Carmen, were long involved in the cultural
affairs of Tampa, including the Friday Morning Musicale
which was established by Dr. Oppenheimer. Hortense promoted
the Tampa Civic Musical Association, a group that brought
singers and orchestras to the city's Municipal Auditorium,
later McKay Auditorium on the campus of the University of
The clock has remained to this day, "Hortense" or
"Hortense the Beautiful."
Tampa's old City Hall building was designed by architects M.
Leo Elliott and B. C. Bonfoey, and built by McGucken and
Hyer, Contractors. Its style has been described as Eclectic
and includes Doric columns, terra cotta details, a
balustrade around the main block and a seven-story tower
(two of which are the bell and clock tower) that extends
above the three-story main portion. It was built on land
that had been occupied by an 1842 frame home, which Imboden
Stalnaker purchased in 1914. (He moved it to 3210 8th Ave.
to save it from destruction.)
Structural drawings for Tampa City Hall were provided by H.
G. Perring Engineering Company, Consulting Engineers of
Jacksonville, Florida and were completed on March 12, 1914.
A 1915 construction photograph provided by B. C. Bonfoey
appeared in the June 28, 1972 Tampa Tribune Newspaper. The
Tribune billed City Hall on the downtown horizon as "Tampa's
City Hall Layer Cake."
The structural system of the building is poured in place
concrete post and beam on concrete bell footings. Floor
slabs are hollow structural clay tiles with concrete infill.
Masonry and stone are used as facing materials.
The cornerstone was laid in January 1915 with Masonic
ceremonies (people standing on 2nd floor) featuring Mrs. Maria Moore Post, widow of Madison
Post (third Mayor of Tampa) as the principal speaker.
The $235,000.00 building was occupied in late 1915.
The first three floors of the building had a twin
building immediately to the south, completed in 1916.
This annex served as the new Police
Station / Jailhouse and replaced the original old two-story
red brick building
which served as Police, Fire and City Office
Left: City Hall and the Police
Creakiness of this Old Annex became evident in the
late 40's and all through the 50's. In 1957 a shower of
plaster cascaded from the first floor ceiling but no one was
hurt. In July of 1962 the adjoining three-story annex, Police
Station Jailhouse and Stable were voted by City Council to
be demolished. It was razed in the Sixties to accommodate a
Mayor/City Councilman Parlking Lot.
The 1905 City Hall
at 315 Lafayette and annex at 300 Florida Ave. was the
original building that served as the Tampa city offices,
Police and Fire station. It was razed to build the new
Police station in 1916.
Donald Brenham McKay was elected mayor and served in this
capacity for fourteen years. However, he despised the
mayor-commissioner system and resigned after three months.
He was elected in 1910 for a two-year term; re-elected in
1912 and 1916 for four-year terms. During his years as
mayor, McKay implemented a huge expansion of public works
projects – streets were paved, sidewalks built and sewer
systems constructed throughout the city. In addition,
construction on City Hall was completed (1915), the
Lafayette Street (Kennedy Boulevard) Bridge was completed,
Tampa’s first public library opened (1917), brick fire
stations were built as were the main buildings for the South
Old City Hall Interior
Tampa City Hall was designed to accommodate 35,000 square
feet of City office functions, on 10 floors (the top two
being the bell and clock tower), with the basic plan
revealing a central core that includes a single monumental
central stair, an elevator, and toilet rooms. The perimeter
of each floor is reserved for office space. The building was
designed with no central heating or cooling system but
rather, utilized passive energy techniques such as operable
windows, ceiling fans at each bay, operable transoms, high
ceilings, and venetian blinds.
The first floor has a
main hall which connects the main entry at the north
to Kennedy Boulevard and what was an internal
connection to the south at the Police Station. A
secondary entry is located to the east at Florida
Avenue. The last remaining hand-operated elevator in
the City serves the main hall with an open core
monumental stair immediately opposite the elevator.
The main hall and stairs have marble wainscots and
marble treads at the stairs.
typically are painted plaster with oak wood base
moulds, chair rails, picture rails and plaster cove
moldings at the plaster ceilings, Vinyl tile
typically and ceramic tile at baths make up original
floor materials. The stairs used mosaic tiles at
stair landings. Beyond the third floor, the exposed
stairs become metal treads and stringers, metal
newel posts, metal balustrades, oak handrails and
are typical at the stairs.
North and West Tower elevation
3rd Floor Corridor
Only one stair exists
within the building. Doors are oak panel with custom
brass hardware wearing the seal of the City on the
mounting plates at the handles. The second and third
floors of the building have record vaults with metal
doors. The ninth floor Is used for Otis Elevator
Equipment. It was determined that an elevator was
not built into the building until 1927, some 12
years after the building's original construction.
The 1915 cornerstone is engraved at the northeast corner of
the first floor as well as a bronze building plaque at the
north facade. A seal of the City is cast in stone over the
main entry doors at the north facade. A benchmark indicates
that the building Is 19.511 feet above sea level.
An ornamental copper dome constructed from a square base
crowns the building. A 27 foot high flagpole with brass ball
tops the dome.
info on this page comes from a
1981 report prepared by S. Keith Bailey, AIA, for the
Dept. of the Interior, Historic American Buildings survey.
See this pdf for an extremely detailed description of the
building, inside and outside.