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Hempstead wants to add ‘Old Town Hall’ to historic registers

Town officials want Hempstead's "Old Town Hall," seen

Town officials want Hempstead's "Old Town Hall," seen here on Oct. 5, 2017, added to state and federal historic registers. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nearly 100 years after construction began on the second Hempstead Town Hall, officials are seeking to add the Colonial Revival-style building to the state and federal registers of historic places.

The town board voted on Oct. 3 to begin the registers’ application processes for the two-story building at 350 Front St. in Hempstead Village, now known as Hempstead’s “Old Town Hall.”

“It’s an important part of the town’s history,” Town Supervisor Anthony Santino said last week in a phone interview. “I think that maintaining it and preserving it, just to ensure that for generations to come, that building is there.”

“Old Town Hall” is a bit of a misnomer because it is actually Hempstead’s second town hall, according to town historian Tom Saltzman. The first, a wood-frame building that looked like a Victorian house, was built in 1879 at Front and Liberty streets and demolished when its successor was built. A third structure, the adjacent “New Town Hall” at 1 Washington St., was built in 1968.

“The new building is a nice building, but it’s a 1960s squat box building,” Santino said.

In 1918, officials, including then-New York Gov. Charles Whitman, laid the cornerstone for “Old Town Hall” and buried a copper box time capsule that contained the names of residents fighting in World War I and the town’s first tax roll, according to town spokesman Mike Deery.

“It’s entombed in the building’s construction itself,” Saltzman said of the time capsule.

By 1929, the town had outgrown its original structure and built an addition on its eastern side, Saltzman said. In 1950, another addition was necessary, this time on the western side.

“Those two additions make up what you see now when you look at ‘Old Town Hall,’ ” he said.

In 1985, the town board designated “Old Town Hall” as a town landmark, meaning any renovations must be approved by the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and stay true to the original design, Saltzman said.

It is one of only three town landmarks that are owned by the town government; the other two are Rock Hall in Lawrence and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale, he said.

A priority of Santino’s tenure as supervisor has been the $2 million restoration of “Old Town Hall” and its clock tower. The broken clock was “one thing that always bothered me,” Santino said.

“The clock was right twice a day, that was it,” he said. “It was stuck and it never worked.”

The clock’s $160,000 overhaul was unveiled in March. Other renovations included a new roof and reconstruction of the exterior staircase, Deery said.

If “Old Town Hall” is added to the state and national registers of historic places, grant funding will likely be used for interior restoration, Santino said, such as refurbishment of a stairwell and the courtroom.

“This building is a gem,” he said. “It deserves to be preserved.”

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