The first stone of the foundation of City Hall was laid on August 12, 1872. The following is from Illustrated Philadelphia, Its Wealth and Industries, 2nd ed. (1889), at 96-97. This quote indicates how proud Philadelphia was of its City Hall: (also called the "Public Buildings") during the time it was rising.
Among the most noted public institutions... is [the] Public Buildings, we have told but little of the gigantic marble pile itself bearing this designation. It is, in truth, Philadelphia’s modern architectural monument—the largest edifice for municipal purposes in the world. Its tower, when completed, will rank as the third highest edifice in the world, the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower at Paris being the other and taller structures. Certainly no city in the United States has anything to show in comparison with it.
Perhaps it might also be added, none so costly, for it has already exceeded the original estimate by $5,000,000, and has occupied so far eighteen instead of ten years in its erection. Five years more may elapse before it is thoroughly finished and the cost accurately gauged. The true Philadelphian, however, counts neither time nor money, but aims at the thorough completion of the grand pile, to which generations yet to come will point with pride, as it lifts its snowy marble height into the blue sky, and acts a beacon for the home-comer.
It stands at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets, and practically has four fronts, none of which lack in dignity of treatment and care of design. The north and south fronts measure 470 feet, and the east and west front 486 1/2 feet in their extreme length. Though it stands at the intersection of such a leading thoroughfare it offers little or no impediment to traffic. Through its ample gateways and its noble quadrangle the streets it appears to block are continued, an advantage the busy residents of the section cannot fail to appreciate. The court-yard in the centre is 200 feet square, all flagged with massive stone...
On the north side of the square interior rises a grand tower of White granite and marble, which, when completed, will make it, as above stated, the third highest tower in the world. It is to be surmounted with a bronze statue, twenty feet high, of William Penn. Ground was broken for the building August 10, 1871. The first stone of the foundation was laid just a year later, August 12, 1872, and on July 4, 1874, the corner-stone was laid in the presence of an influential throng of state and civic dignitaries and other citizens, impressive ceremonies governing the occasion.
Some idea of the preliminary work for the vast, structure may be gained from the fact that the excavations for cellars and foundations required a year’s work and necessitated the removal of 141,500 cubic feet of earth. The most remarkable trait attending the design for this work has been the recognition of the possibility of future growth of the city. Building for posterity has not hitherto been a feature of American architecture, the cry of being cramped for room being the most often heard. In the Public Buildings of the Quaker City it is fair to suppose will be found adequate accommodations for many years to come.
The style is that of the Renaissance of the French order, modified to suit the exigencies of the requirements. It is distinguished by a wealth of ornamentation, which nevertheless is rigidly held within the bounds of good taste, so that nothing incongruous or meretricious strikes the observer. Pillars, pilasters, niches, statues, caryatides, and other sculptured work enliven the façade in the interior. The whole makes an agreeable, and lasting impression, but there is a shade of doubt as to the effect likely to be produced by the Penn statue, which cannot be wholly solved till it is placed in position.
John McArthur is the architect, and the work is being done by a commission of which the chairman is Samuel C. Perkins. The building contains 520 rooms aggregating a floor space of 14 1/2 acres. Though, as has been pointed out, the building has four "fronts," the natural and proper front is to the north on Broad Street...