A sheet hangs outside the historic neighborhood mainstay with black, blue, yellow, green, purple and pink letters reading “Germantown City Hall.”
Atop two flights of stairs featuring makeshift wooden handrails and yellow caution tape, and through a chain-link gate, sits a look into the neighborhood’s recent past.
As part of the Hidden City Festival, Germantown Town Hall was reopened for the first time since 1997 on Thursday. Festival-site manager Robyn Hampson said Friday that 23 people came through on opening day.
The first was a man who, though his father worked there, had never been inside.
Later, a curious 11-year-old ambled in, telling Hampson that he used to sit on the front steps with friends, but never knew what was inside.
“Visitors,” she said, “have wanted to discuss the building and the neighborhood, which is the intention of the project.”
What he saw was a ragged, disused place which organizers toiled to make somewhat presentable. As in, they had to scrub through more than a decade of neglect.
Down a long hallway, beyond several side rooms being repurposed to serve as a community gathering place through the end of June, sat a “Mayor’s Neighborhood Community Service Center.” There, it seemed as if former workers just packed up necessities and never looked back.
Stacks of paper, deflated birthday balloons and a desk calendar open to Dec. 1995 remained in an office that time seemingly forgot. Also inside for the long haul was a payphone, rotary phone, semi-deflated kickball and walls semi-covered by the paint which hadn’t chipped off.
But the scene was not all about the past, as Oakland, Cal. artist Jacob Wick set out to open the building to serve as a functional city hall.
To that end, the “Information Department,” or ID, served as both a free copy center and a call for visitors to fill out cards answering questions like “What matters to Germantown?” and “What should we be discussing?”
Across the hall, neighborhood artists were discussing how to make the most of this Hidden City opportunity.
Back by the front door, in the entrance rotunda, Hampson said that she used to live within eyeshot of the building, and always wondered about its back story when she looked at it through her kitchen window.
“I was here the first day we could get inside [to prepare for Hidden City] and we couldn’t even see the design on the [rotunda] floor,” she said, noting that the pattern by which light emerges through the windows “is like a sundial.”
A big board near the front door allows individuals and groups of all varieties to schedule time to host meetings inside as well.
Among the post-it pads affixed to that board was a blue one reserving the rotunda from 4 to 5 p.m. on Saturday. For that hour, trumpeter Messiah Patton will take over the room for what may be the first music Germantown Town Hall has heard since the late 90s.
Germantown City Hall will be open from noon until 7 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free on Thursdays, and for Germantown residents.