City Hall & Fire Station – Kearney NE


Kearney made an application for funding for a city hall in 1935, however the bond issue failed and the Public Works Administration (PWA) money was never allocated at that time. In 1938, Kearney was given a grant from the PWA for the construction of a new city hall, however the project would once again have to undergo a bond issue election, which meant that a political campaign was quickly initiated by the proponents of the project. Petitions for the special election were submitted within two weeks of notification of the grant, signatures having been largely obtained by Kearney firemen who were anxious to have a new facility. Despite the speed with which the petitions were filed, the city council delayed in passing an ordinance necessary for calling the special election to such a degree that the grant was in danger of being lost. And worse, when bonding houses were contacted about the prospect of buying the bonds, the city attorney discovered that it was illegal to use municipal bonds to purchase equipment, as stated in the petitions. The process had to begin again. Upon passing a new ordinance, the city council set September 30th for the special election.

In addition to a flawed petition and ordinance process, by September architects McClure and Walker hired verbally had not been given a signed contract for their services. Mayor Wort worried about committing the city to their $5,000.00 commission without knowing “what they were buying.” Walker had to remind him that the city was purchasing their services, not a building, and further explained that without direction from the city council, they were “workmen without a boss.” Mayor Wort promised to comment on preliminary sketches the following day and sign the contract.

If the bonds were to pass on September 30th, construction would have to begin no later than November 1st. In order to be ready to commence construction as soon as possible, the city council approved plans and the location for the boiler house which would occupy a basement room. McClure and Walker were also able to publish a drawing of the proposed building in advance of the election in order to give the public an idea of what they were voting on. The architects pointed out that the existing city hall building was built entirely of wood frame construction, and that the brick in the foundations and walls were soft and crumbling in order to exhibit the need for a new building. Despite false rumors stating that no Kearney labor would be used to build the building, the bond issue passed by seven votes. Work on the boiler house was scheduled to begin on October 31st.

The city received a grant of $8,000.00 from the WPA to demolish the existing city hall and clear the site in preparation for construction of the new building. Although the site for the city hall was cleared by early January, and the boiler house was completed, the plans for the new building were not complete or sent to Omaha for approval until late March, 1939. The building committee felt strongly about making an educated decision about the design for the new building, and chose to make many research trips to visit other recently constructed city hall buildings to gather ideas.

The new city hall was estimated to cost $100,000.00, of which $45,000.00 would be provided as a gift by the PWA. To ameliorate the problems of the previous building, the new city hall and fire station would be completely constructed of concrete, minimizing the fear of the city hall catching fire. Likewise, the floors were planned to be terrazzo, and the front steps would be constructed of granite. The exterior of the building would be finished in varying colors of buff brick. The asymmetrical entrance would be located about one third of the distance east from the corner of 22nd Street and Avenue A. The city clerk’s office would be found in the southeast corner of the building, and would include a work vault. A similar vault would be housed in the water commissioner’s office opposite the city clerk’s office. The mayor’s office would be located adjacent to the water commissioner, with the police and garage occupying the entire east wing north of the city clerk. The first floor of the west end would house the fire station, with entrances on 22nd Street. A bunk room for the fireman was planned to be located just above the fire station. The second story contained city council chambers and a committee room adjacent. The remainder of the second story would be office space.

Knutzen and Hillberg were given the contracts for building the new city hall. Work commenced on April 24, 1939, and was projected to be completed in 121 days. Unexpected delays were experienced that caused the project to fall behind, including shifting sand, heavy rain, and a near cave-in of the garage building just north of the city hall site. Mr. Knutzen agreed to install flood lights and work double shifts to catch up. Additional delays occurred in July when the delivery of steel roof supports was anxiously awaited. The concrete roof was poured on July 24th, which would allow bricklayers to begin their work the next day.

Fifty Masonic Lodges from around the region were invited to the laying of the cornerstone on September 6th. In addition, the public was encouraged to attend the full afternoon and evening program. The city hall was largely completed by the end of October, allowing city officials to move into the building by November. City officials hoped that everyone would be able to move in prior to December 1st in order to avoid paying another month’s rent for office temporary facilities.

Source notes

Kearney Daily Hub, 22 June 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 11 July 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 29 July 1938
Kearney Daily Hub, 3 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 7 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 7 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 24 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 29 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 1 October 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 26 October 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 19 September 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 27 March 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 17 March 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 29 November 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 15 April 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 15 April 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 24 April 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 6 June 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 20 July 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 24 July 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 4 September 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 10 October 1939.

Project originally submitted by Jill Dolberg on July 21, 2015.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

18 East 22nd Street
Kearney, Nebraska 68847

Location notes: NWC 22nd and Avenue A, Kearney, NE

Coordinates: 40.696808, -99.080864

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