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Conversation Hall Panoramic

Conversation Hall
If you were to take the grand stairs from the north Central Portal you would come to this dramatic room. Conversation Hall was originally designed as a richly detailed, domed, five and a half story space linking the then bicameral municipal legislature.

This ceremonial room was to be used for discussions among the Select and Common councils as well as for public lobbying. The space was almost 86 feet high and had a balcony located at the fourth floor reached by a monumental curved granite staircase from the second floor tower apse. Unfortunately, in 1894, before the hall was completed, the weight of the stairs and balcony slabs were causing structural problems and cracks on the inside and outside walls of the tower became visible. Modifications were made to stabilize the tower walls so they could continue building higher and add the 37-foot, 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn on top. The balcony and stairs were demolished and an additional floor was installed at the fourth level to tie the walls together.

Two fine rooms with different functions emerged. City Council decided to abandon the second floor and move all of its major meeting rooms to the fourth floor. The upper room of the original space became the City Council Caucus Room.

Conversation Hall went through two unflattering eras. Once it lost its role as a Council room, it sat unused until the City decided to fill it with weekly trash, which was bundled in burlap bags and dropped over the beautiful balcony to the waiting trash truck below.

By 1955 the city needed more space for the City Representative and Director of Commerce. This extraordinary space was cut into a two-floor warren of offices with all the handsome stonewalls, ornate plaster ceiling and elegant bronze chandelier covered and hidden away. Luckily for admirers of amazing baroque architecture, the architect in charge of this renovation appreciated its beauty and created a system of enclosures to protect the original splendor. He left a five-inch space between the old and new walls and placed protective panels over Calder’s sculptures. The chandelier was enclosed and at its base a second floor was created. A staircase was built in the Southwest corner to take workers to the upper cubicles. For many years the original room’s presence was kept a secret.

In 1982, in honor of the 300th Birthday of the founding of Philadelphia, the room was uncovered and restored. It was a six-month $700,000 restoration project paid for by a non-profit group, the Friends of Conversation Hall. Funding came from corporations, foundations, and private individuals.

The executive branch now primarily uses this stunning room for meetings and receptions. Outside groups can request to rent this room and the Mayor’s Reception Room for special events, both public and private. Rental fees are used for the beautification of the rooms (Greenberger).

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