The site was chosen in 1890, the architect two years later. Construction began in the spring of 1893; the cornerstone was laid early the following year; and when City Hall was dedicated in December, 1895, the basement and six of the eight floors were finished. Completion of the seventh floor followed in 1896-97, the eighth floor still later. Total expenditures for the building and its furnishings came to more than $1,000,000.
The competition held in 1891 to select an architect for City Hall attracted eleven entries and sparked heated debate in the Common Council before the commission finally went to H. C. Koch and Co. The black and white perspective rendering submitted by Koch survives, and, as noted, is displayed at the Bureau of Bridges and Public Buildings. Drawings were also entered by James Douglas and Co., Schnetzky and Liebert^ W. A. Holbrook, Van Ryn, Andree and Lesser, and Rau and Kirsch--all of Milwaukee, Fred Vogel of Cleveland, Henry Ives Cobb of Chicago, P. I. Kiegharn of New York, C. Reed Dewey of St. Paul, and Morrison and McEwen of Boston.
The ten-ton bell in City Hall's tower bears this inscription:
"When I sound the hour of day From this grand, and lofty steeple Deem it a reminder, pray To be honest with the people."
Installed in 1896, it first tolled the arrival of the year 1897. Thereafter it marked the hours until 1925, when it was found that the vibrations were adversely affecting the tower. Since then the bell has sounded only on July 4 and occasions of civic celebration.