PE of Yore: The Mystery of the Town Hall Roof Parapet

Instead of merely adding some minor technical detail to my blogs, my brother, being the Technical Editor, has ventured out and written a whole article. He always has the knack of examining the minutiae of photographs and in doing so, discovers unnoticed anomalies or points of contention or interest.

As technical editor without portfolio (or pay), it behoves me to point out that PE has been inordinately reckless with its historical heritage, to wit, the parapet wall on the City Hall in this case.

PE was very careful with the money spent on its glorification and saw no reason to plaster the rear wall of the Town (as it was then) Hall.  During the various maintenance actions and particularly its rehabilitation after the great fire of 1977, they stayed true to the historical record and did not plaster the rear wall.

However there is a pesky detail that, through the years, has bemused me.  It concerns the parapet wall.  From the early drawings we can see that the roof was fringed with a parapet wall that comprised sets of pillars or columns (or balusters to give them their true name).  We can presume that they never put one at the back for the same parsimonious reason that they never plastered the rear wall.  But what about the parapet wall on the Baakens Street side.  Did it ever exist?  The grand old lady is like a photographic model who has a preferred profile. She seldom revealed this aspect in her earlier photos.

But suddenly, circa 1900 when she was 40, she got over shyness and revealed that side of herself.  There as plain as the nose on my face or the tower on her portico, she had no parapet wall on the Baakens Street side.  Was this a birth defect that she was shy about or was it a disfigurement that she acquired as a young lady. 

The next I have of her is from 1938 when she was 78.  Age was taking its toll and like aging beauty queens, felt the need to use fillers to give her a youthful look.  In her case, this consisted of filling in between the pillars to make a solid parapet.  I suggest that she took the opportunity of her face lift to fix up her disfigurement and had a parapet added on her western aspect.  

I have no evidence of this except that her ordeal by fire in 1977 revealed her beauty for the facade that it was and low and behold there was the Baakens Street parapet wall.

The City Hall after the fire that almost resulted in its demolition. Fortunately the preservationists prevailed

The subsequent rebuilding returned the parapet wall correctly to having pillars but took away the western parapet.  Are they telling me that they were historically accurate which meant that the building was only ever built with two parapets or were they seduced by photos from c1900 which showed that later it was so or were they just being parsimonious again.

You decide.

Your Obedient Servant of all Things Physical and Technical

Blaine McCleland

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