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Municipal Group kicks off centennial celebration

Date: 10/10/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – The centennial celebration for the Municipal Group – City Hall, Symphony Hall and the Campanile – was kicked off on Oct. 4 with an announcement of up-coming activities and the presentation of a key to the city.

In this case, the ceremonial key that was discovered on eBay by the staff of the Spirit of Springfield is literally a key to City Hall that was given to Mayor John Avery Dennison in 1913.

Joining Mayor Domenic Sarno and Spirit of Springfield Judith Matt in making the announcement was Dennison’s grandson Jonathan Fantini Porter. Porter is the Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security.

The celebration marking the anniversary will be conducted Dec. 6 through 8 and will include a lighting ceremony in Court Square and a holiday open house at City Hall. The Springfield Symphony will be presenting its annual Holiday Pops Concert and there will be a free performance of the 215th Army Band from the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

According to information compiled by the Spirit of Springfield, the Municipal Group was built after the previous City Hall was destroyed in a fire in 1905. There had been an auditorium where a vaudeville show was taking place and a lit kerosene lamp was tipped over by a monkey.

The new series of buildings were designed by the New York City architecture firm of Pell and Corbett and constructed at a cost of $2 million. When they are completed, President William Howard Taft spoke at the dedication and called the group “one of the distinctive civic centers in the nation and indeed the world.”

Sarno added the construction of the Municipal Group helped create the Italian neighborhood in the South End.

“They ran out of craftsmen,” Sarno said, “and the brought over 2,000 stone masons [from Italy] to finish City Hall.”

According to a souvenir booklet published in 1914, author and publisher George Graves wrote the chimes in the Campanile cost $10,000 “and ring out their sweet tones every quarter hour during the day and hourly at night.” Graves predicted the tower would draw tourist to the city.

Executive Director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Patrick Sullivan credited Jim McCoubrey, the municipal building coordinator, with the condition of City Hall and said the details of a plan to repair and rebuild long-closed Campanile will be revealed in December.

Porter said his great-grandfather was a prolific writer and through his letters the present family sees him as “a loving father and husband, who loved Springfield.”

Dennison later served many years as a judge and died in 1950. Porter said his great-grandfather, most of all believed in civic engagement.” Among Dennison’s initiatives the installation of street lights, a progressive move in pre-World War I America.

Sarno met Porter by accident as Poster and his mother were recently visiting Springfield and asked if they could meet the mayor. Porter presented Sarno with a photo of Dennison from July 4, 1913 when he was mayor of the city.