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Restored council chambers in Annapolis honor former mayor

Gone are brightly-colored paintings of Colonial Annapolis life. Gone is the crumbling molding. Gone is the blue-painted trim.

Annapolis city officials last week celebrated their renovated council chambers in City Hall, starting the Monday council meeting with a ribbon-cutting to unveil the beige-and-cream paint scheme, new carpet, exposed wood floors and wireless sound system.

The $47,000 face lift coincides with the official renaming of the room as the John T. Chambers Jr. Council Chambers — "which I'm sure will be known as the Chambers Chambers," said Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen.

Chambers was the city's first and only African-American mayor, a barber and city alderman who was appointed acting mayor for a few months in 1981. He was appointed following the death of Acting Mayor Gustav J. Akerland, who filled the seat when Mayor John C. Apostol resigned.

A few dozen of Chambers' relatives — including his widow, Hannah — attended a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony at City Hall on Monday.

Hannah Chambers said her husband, who died in 2011 at age 82, would have been surprised at all of the attention being paid to him.

"He was very humble," she said.

Cohen recalled how the renaming came about after Chambers died.

The mayor said that at a home-going celebration at Mt. Olive AME Church, the Rev. Johnny R. Calhoun — in his booming voice — had declared: "We should name the City Council Chambers, the 'Chambers Chambers.' Do I have a motion? Do I have a second?"

Two months later, the city council made it official with a unanimous vote on a resolution renaming the chambers in the former mayor's honor. The resolution cited his "selfless devotion to his community and his willingness to shoulder the burden of office during a period of severe turmoil."

But before the renovation, Cohen said, the conditions in the room "were not suitable to bear his name."

A committee, led by Calhoun and Alderwoman Classie Hoyle, planned the renovation. The color scheme was selected to reflect how the room looked when it was first used for council meetings in the 1930s.

The design was not without some controversy. Several bright, oversized paintings were removed from the chambers, including large historic scenes created by artist Lee Boynton that will be moved to the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Other paintings that were removed include portraits of Harriet Tubman and Anne Catherine Green, publisher of the Maryland Gazette newspaper in Annapolis in the 1700s.

The renovation of the council chambers is part of a larger renovation of City Hall.

All told, the city is spending $2.65 million on City Hall projects. In 2012, several offices were moved. Currently, architectural and structural renovations are being made, and scaffolding covers the front of the building on Duke of Gloucester Street. In 2014, City Hall will get a new heating and air conditioning system.

The work inside the council chambers is not quite done, according to David Jarrell, director of the Annapolis Department of Public Works. The windows will get new blinds and the audience chairs — wood with dark red cushions — may be replaced.

An exhibit about former mayor Chambers also will be added. A formal dedication ceremony for the John T. Chambers Jr. Council Chambers is planned for Oct. 13.

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