Built in 1893, Corning’s original City Hall was designed by Rochester architect A.J. Warner. Warner chose a popular historic revival style that drew from European architectural styles of the Middle Ages. Elongated and pointed windows suggest Gothic influence, but as the heavy stone arch and massive overall appearance reveal, the main source of inspiration was the earlier Richardson Romanesque style. Corning builder Thomas Bradley used brick, locally quarried limestone, and terra-cotta in the construction. The entire project was completed for less than $29,000, funded by a bond issue.
From 1893 to 1974 what you see today as The Museum Store was the Corning Fire Station. The horse-drawn fire engines were first, followed later by the gas-powered trucks. The three large windows on the front of the building were once the fire wagon/truck doors. The original tin ceiling remains and is a beautiful architectural detail that complements the polychromatic design with local brick and rusticated limestone quarried in Corning.
The Museum galleries you see today were everything from jail cells to community dance space. The first floor housed the City Clerk, City Court, Police Department and jail cells. The second floor was the Mayor’s office and at one time, was the living quarters to the firemen. The City Council Chambers, Public Health Department, and dentist offices all resided in the building up until 1974. The third floor, now permanent art collection galleries, was once the community space for fairs, dances, concerts, a youth center and even the public library.
By the late 1960s, the building had begun to deteriorate. In the Flood of 1972, the basement and much of the ground floor were submerged and suffered extensive damage. Despite its condition, the old City Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) bought the building from the City of Corning for $1.00 and paid for the adaptive re-use renovation in order to create appropriate space for the museum collection. Architect John D. Milner developed plans for this renovation, and City Hall reopened as the Rockwell Museum in 1982.
The building went through another major renovation early in 2000. Corning’s City Hall undertook a $6.25 million renovation providing excellence of architectural design, sound engineering, and excellent construction in the context of a building of great historical importance. The completed was in time for the Museum to reopen in May 2001, its 25th anniversary.
The Rockwell Museum benefited not only from excellent architectural design but also from the excellent execution of the plans. Welliver-McGuire, the project general contractor, won the GBC 2001 Build New York Award for their outstanding work in construction.
Appropriately for The Rockwell’s collection of art about America, its home in Old City Hall, is distinctly American.