When horse-drawn carriages on Broadway were the main transportation, and not simply a tourist draw, the lions guarded City Hall.
They were taken away in the 1930s, casualties of an age that favored a simpler architectural style.
This year, the cast-iron lion sculptures will return after the City Hall front steps are reconfigured to resemble their original square appearance when City Hall was completed in 1871.
“The steps needed to be done. They’re falling apart,” said Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, commissioner of public works.
City Hall’s front entrance will be closed off for the two to three weeks that it takes to demolish the crumbling concrete steps and rebuild new ones, he said.
Part of the fan-shaped front staircase has been cordoned off since late last year because of deteriorating concrete. “They’ve been patched a number of times,” Scirocco said.
The Department of Public Works is now getting price quotes to replace the steps, and Scirocco hopes to get the work done before summer.
“I’m excited about getting it done. I think people are going to be real happy with the end result.”
He hopes to install granite stairs with radiant heat to make winter salting and shoveling a thing of the past and prevent the weathering that wore away at the current stairs.
“I would like to see someday all the sidewalks on Broadway have radiant heat,” he said.
He also wants to reconfigure the front entrance, making it more like the original, although Scirocco wouldn’t put in the revolving door he remembers as a child.
There is about $100,000 in the capital budget to replace the steps and do some other work on City Hall, Scirocco said.
Most locals remember these cast-iron lions from their separate perches at East Side Recreation Field off Lake Avenue and West Side Recreation Field off Beekman Street, where the lions were split up and stayed until a few years ago when they were taken away for restoration.
The lions were a draw for local kids, who learned quickly not to climb on them when the sun was beating down.
“You’d get on one of those things or get near one of those things, you’d get burnt,” Scirocco recalls from his own days playing on the west side.
Now the lions are in storage at the city garage on Division Street. They’ve been painted brown, but Scirocco is considering another finish, such as bronze.
In historical photos, City Hall — then called the Town Hall — is shown with the lions sitting on pillars on either side of the stairs. Originally, a bell tower also graced the front of the building, but it was removed in 1936 after the heft of the 5,276-pound bell reportedly weakened the structure.
Scirocco talks about bringing back the bell tower. “I think at some point, I would like to restore the bell tower on City Hall.”
The original bell was used to announce fires, missing children and other emergencies. Scirocco sees using a tower for communication — although a more modern kind.
It could be a clever way to conceal a cellular tower, bringing in revenue for the city as well as serving a useful purpose.