two months after partial, but extensive, demolition of the
structure began, the city Department of License & Inspections
provided access to extensive demolition and reconstruction plans
in response to a request filed by Delaforum under the Delaware
Freedom of Information Act.
Delaforum efforts to obtain details about the project from both
bank and city officials have been unsuccessful. The city Law
Department did not respond to a portion of the Freedom of
Information request to access related correspondence,
memorandums and other documents nor did it provide a reason for
not responding within the time specified by city government's
public information policy.
M.B.N.A.'s public relations department did not respond to a
renewed Delaforum request for comment as this article was being
show that the bank, which operates one of the nation's largest
credit card businesses, intends to almost completely gut the
interior of the Public Building and construct a warren of
offices. The three-story-high rotundas at both ends of the
building and their circular staircases and balconies are
essentially the only interior features to be retained.
The base of the rotundas is
identified as the building's first floor because it is accessed
by the main
off King Street. There are two floor beneath that with the lower
one on a level with French Street.
The grand corridor which connected
the rotundas on the first floor will be restored. It was removed
after city and county government offices moved out in 1976 and
the sections of the building they formerly occupied were
converted into an expanded courthouse. When that work was
completed, the courthouse was renamed in honor of Daniel
Hermann, a former Delaware chief justice who is now deceased.
In the place of the row of offices
which once lined the grand
bridge across 11th Street -- erected recently
without fanfare -- now connects M.B.N.A. Bank's main
headquarters building (left) with the former Public
Building, which the company is remodeling to house
its executive offices.
corridor and served such functions as issuing marriage
licenses and recording wills and property deeds will be
the bank's accounting department. The positioning of the
old offices gave rise to identifying the elected officials
who head those administrative functions as 'row officers'
-- a term that is still used although it is anachronistic
by more than a quarter of a century.
Demolition work now underway is
providing for an extensive rebuilding of the southeast side of
the building, which is shaped like an inverted 'U'. The wing
which once housed the Bureau of Police is being extended to be
flush with 10th Street and to match the wing on the northeast
side, which was the original courthouse section.
The police station included a
lockup, the so-called 'drunk tank' and a police court. Known as
Municipal Court and the equivalent of a justice-of-the-peace
court in the state system, the latter was not a night court, but
was especially busy on 'the morning after' -- particularly if it
was Saturday morning following Wilmington's traditionally
festive Friday night.
The courtyard between the French
Street wings, which served such useful functions as providing a
secure spot for unloading prisoners transported to court
hearings, will be retained but evidently closed off from public
access to become, appropriately enough, an interior open-air
A less-extensive but nevertheless a
significant change in exterior appearance will be replacement of
the front steps with a sort of porch running between the two
doors off King Street. The porch will have a railing supported
by concrete balustrades with the only access to it being a short
flight of steps on the side near
The wing at the
southeast corner of the building is being enlarged
and extended to match the one at the northeast
corner. A succession of Wilmington mayors occupied
offices on the third floor in this part of the
The neo-classic pillars supporting
the front of the building will remain.
In addition to balustrades, which
are used as decorative features on other M.B.N.A. buildings
standing on two sides of the Public Building, there will be a
subtle effort to meld the appearance of the old structure with
the recently constructed buildings which make up the rest of the
The renovation plan calls for
replacing "existing trees, pavement, sidewalks and light shields
with M.B.N.A.-Bracebridge complex type materials." It
specifically provides for 'Schofield tan' sidewalks.
worker stands sentry duty at an opening in the green
barricade surrounding the building. Neither city nor
company officials will explain why the project is so
Bracebridge V -- the 'V' evidently
is intended to be the Roman numeral five -- is to be connected
with Bracebridge I and Bracebridge III by elevated pedestrian
bridges across 11th Street and French Street, respectively.
Superstructure for the one over 11th Street was put into place
during the weekend of Sept. 27 and 28. Contrary to precedent set
when the Du Pont Co. placed and removed similar bridges over
Tenth Street and Orange Street, the latest bridge building was
completed without attracting media attention.
has been unable to obtain comment from city officials about why
there has been an apparent cloak of secrecy shrouding a project
with obviously favorable economic implications involving
so-called 'adaptive reuse' of the city's premier landmark. Built
in 1914, the Public Building housed city and county governments
-- the latter going back to the old Levy Court -- for 62 years
and was the seat of New Castle County for 88 years.
Starkley, commissioner of license and inspections, said that the
permit applications were handled administratively within his
department, a procedure which he said was normal. It does not
provide for hearings or other public involvement in the process
nor City Council action unless a zoning change is involved, he
deputy, Lawrence Carson, said the only issue involved in
completing the process was consideration of "historic
implications" of the M.B.N.A. project. That matter, he
explained, was both raised and resolved "within the department."
Starkley said Rodney Square and the buildings abutting it are
officially classified as 'eligible for inclusion' on the
National Register of Historic Places, but none of them are on
has learned from other sources that part of the agreement to
sell the Public Building to M.B.N.A. included a provision that
no measure of historical preservation protection would be sought
for it before the sale was consummated.
Margriff, executive director of Preservation Delaware, the
area's principal historic preservation organization, told
Delaforum that he was unaware of
both the M.B.N.A. project and of the
significance of the Public Building. He joined the Delaware
organization in July, coming from a similar position in
made available by the city department show that Gilbane Building
Co., which lists a Wilmington address, is the general contractor
on the rebuilding job. The value of its contract is given as
$14,350,000. Central Salvage Co. of Narberth, Pa., has a
$300,000 contract for demolition work and Marcor Remediation
Inc., also a Pennsylvania firm, will be paid $52,000 for
asbestos removal. Bracebride Corp., M.B.N.A.'s real estate and
property affiliate is listed as the property owner.
apparently is no date specified for completion of the project.