What They Found Inside City Hall


I don’t know how closely you’re following the public debate about Lansing’s municipal infrastructure. I admit having suspicions. Anyway the biggest debate, as measured by height above street level, is about the David M Hollister City Hall. They named City Hall for Mayor Hollister last year. Mayor Hollister was mayor back a couple decades so he’s in the sweet spot right now. Nobody remembers what the heck his big scandal was, but they do remember he’s alive. That latter one puts him up over the guy who succeeded Hollister, whom Wikipedia tells me was Mayor … Mayor M Lansingmayor…son?.

They’re talking about moving to a new City Hall. This seems like a dis on Hollister, but nah, he’s fine with it. He never liked the building to start with, which makes naming the place after him seem like an even bigger dis. I’m starting to wonder if somebody does remember whatever the heck his scandal was and is playing headgames. But the major talk about moving is that the current City Hall was last maintained in any form in 1973. This was when they painted over the sign reading “Court of Oyer and Teminer” after learning Michigan has never had one of those.

The alt-weekly had a piece last week about how bad the building is. The building’s from 1958, so it’s got that swinging mid-century modernist style like a setting for one of those Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons. And it’s great for regrouping after heavy rains destroy a parade. But I have to admit some of these problems seem dire. For example:

Stalagmites. There’s those steady water leaks through the cement causing trouble all over. Last month somebody voting in an absentee ballot came back to the basement garage and found a limestone iceberg had completely enveloped his 2017 Buick Verano and also a wooly mammoth. And the vote was on whether to extend participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement. The vote passed but was it really worth the loss of his car and mammoth? Oh, probably. Regionalization is good for this kind of thing.

The Eighth-Floor Bathroom. It’s got faded orange walls. It’s also got that thing with a cloth towel looped into some kind of metal dispenser that’s been rusted in place since 1959. It’s like, it’s supposed to turn so you aren’t wiping your hands on the filthiest piece of fabric known to humanity, but it doesn’t? Also there’s a four-by-five-foot hole in the floor that looks over a hole in the floor below that’s the same size. Also the floor below that, and so on, down to the second storey. Yes, yes, on that second storey there is a trampoline. The city isn’t reckless. Oh, but also when you enter, some phone navigator voice calls out, “Please continue on the current route”. No one has any explanation for this phenomenon.

David Hollister’s Middle Initial Is ‘C’. I know, that hardly seems to make sense, does it? It would flow so poetically if his middle name started ‘M’. But he insists on ‘C’ and there’s no arguing him out of this. They are saying if they move to a new city hall it’ll be the David C Hollister City Hall and I guess we’ll swallow our tears over the ‘M’.

Climate Control. The building’s original, dials-and-levers, steam-based control system hasn’t worked in decades. Instead management has to use a set of signal flags, based on a code book used by the Royal Navy at the Battle of Ushant 1778. I know, you’re giggling thinking about how well that worked out for the British, right? It causes so much confusion. People on the maintenance floors have to keep stepping away from their big, rusty blocks of metal that makes alarming banging noises to clarify things. “Do you really want us to send the sixth-rate frigates to lee?” “No, no, we just need the property tax appeals to be about three degrees cooler.” It’s a lot of trouble.

The Upper Floors. Between the strong, hypnotic horizontal rows of alternating blue and black windows, and the regular vertical aluminum linings, there’s definitely a Saul Bass credit sequence forming. This isn’t by itself a problem. But it does need someone to extract the credits. Zoo officials recommend placing it at the start of a tight 95-minute thriller about a man who saw a book about the Byzantine Empire in the wrong section of the library, checked it out on a whim, and found himself on a wild transcontinental race for the secrets of an atomic supermarket that were hidden on a folded sheet of paper on between pages 383 and 384. Movie goof: you can’t fit a sheet between pages 383 and 384! The book is only 352 pages long.

The Lobby Escalator. When the state put up a spite office building right infront of City Hall the town had to wall off the escalator. The partitions are still there. Two years ago the courts ruled that the city had to open enough of a hole in the drywall to let the people trapped on the escalator free. “We don’t know how this happened,” said the assistant city manager. “We would have sworn the escalator was too far from the courtroom for any judge to hear them.”

There’s more, but it gets into some weird territory. But now I understand more why they figure they need a new building. They’re not figuring to demolish the current City Hall, though. They figure they can turn it into a hotel. That sounds like it’ll be a much more interesting place than the last Red Roof Inn I stayed in. They barely even had any weird candy in the vending machine.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

4 thoughts on “What They Found Inside City Hall”

  1. Hollister was the name of Marlo Thomas’s boyfriend on “That Girl”. So my advice to you is before anyone else gets the idea go down to City Hall and secure all the permits necessary to film a parody opening for “That Mayor!” It’ll attract the TVLand generation to his message and cause. Before long you’ll have cemented your reputation as a top political P.R. commercial strategist.

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    1. Oh goodness, I had forgotten that entirely. You’re right.

      I’ll see who I can talk to about this. There’s a shortage of movies and TV shows filmed in Lansing, in that the city didn’t even get a mention in the James FitzPatrick Traveltalk about Michigan, and those things would film anything you could photograph.

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