When it was first built back in 1866 - the year after the Civil War ended - the triangular-shaped building at 704-712 Grand St. in Jersey City held one of the city's first libraries. But this use didn't last very long.
In 1867, two years after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the building held the first "Lincoln Ball" banquet for the newly formed Abraham Lincoln Association of Jersey City. To this day, the society commemorates the 16th president at Lincoln Park each February.
By 1871, the library portion of the building, which also held part of Town Hall, was discontinued due to waning public interest. The building went on to serve many other purposes throughout the years.
In the 1890s, the building was used by the Jersey City Police Department as the Fourth Precinct.
After that, it was known as Phoenix Hall, a rally spot for those sympathetic to the Irish Revolution that occurred from 1916-1921. Hidden staircase uncovered
These days, the building is seeing its newest use. Developers are converting it to 12 condominiums and two stores.
"One day I was looking at it and I said, 'I'm going to buy that building,' " said Jersey City resident Larry Brush. "I took a tour of the building with its then-owner, and when I got to the top floor, I was convinced that I had to buy the building."
Since January, Brush's company, Library Hall LLC, has been restoring the original brick façade and adding a penthouse floor.
They have uncovered many interesting features.
During the early construction, a stairway in the ground floor area that had been hidden for a number of years was uncovered. Also discovered were several coal chutes that were filled in with concrete and several window slots that were covered with sheetrock.
"We're not sure what this area was designated for, but we believe it was for the library," Brush said. "There may have been shelves for books."
Then, there's the beautiful twin staircases that lead up to the second floor and to an even more wondrous sight - a room with a ceiling over 18 feet above, which wooden beams span across.
"This was where the meeting hall was located, based on my research," said Brush. "You can tell they spent the money up here."
The condos are expected to be occupied in spring 2007, and the pre-selling has already started at $400,000.
"This is a great project," said Brush. "It's not cookie-cutter; it's not what everyone else is doing."
The white paint that once coated Liberty Hall has been entirely removed, revealing the red brick underneath. According to Brush, the brick had to be removed and filled in again with mortar, a process called "repointing."
"It was painted over, but with a cement mix to keep the bricks from breaking up," said Brush. "There are many buildings in Jersey City where there is so much of this cement mix painted over that it is difficult to restore the brick."
Brush said it took a couple of years to acquire the building. Then he and his partners had to wait for Wilson Rug and Carpet to move out.
Once the building was emptied, the walls were stripped down, revealing the unique brick and wooden antique architecture and hidden areas.
Brush said the former carpet store will be converted into two stores. Also, there will be parking spaces on the ground floor where cars can enter from Summit Avenue.
Three out of the 12 condos will be located on the first floor. Brush said there wasn't much on that floor that showed evidence of the building's history.
"There are no old pictures of this space," Brush lamented. "There was such a vague trail of what existed here."
But there is a little more that is known about the area.
The Library Hall building is located near the Bergen Hill section of the city, where the upper class resided in the early 1900s.
When Library Hall was first built, part of it was used as the Town Hall for the neighboring township of Bergen. But the township merged with the rest of Jersey City in 1870.
Historical sites surround the Victorian building. A few blocks away on Manning Street is the former Whitlock Cordage rope-making facility, which will soon be the site of 330 mixed-income townhouses.
"There is such history in this area that people may not be aware of," Brush said. "And it is a place where, in a few years, there will be much development and it will be vibrant."
For more information on the building in its current state, visit www.libraryhalllofts.com.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com "This was where the meeting hall was located, based on my research." - Larry Brush
WELCOME TO LIBRARY HALL - This is the old Library Hall on Grand Street, which is being transformed into condominiums. SIDEBAR
Other occupants of Library Hall
· The Miriam Investment Company came into possession of the building in 1917 and used it as a sawmill operating with a nearby lumberyard and woodworking plant.
· In December of 1945, the building was sold to Milton Michael, who ran Michael's Furniture until it became the National Rug and Carpet Store. That store closed last year.