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Historic local Japan gov't office with art deco spiral staircase, dome to be demolished

This photo shows the spiral staircase with its dome that has skylight windows in the western main building of the Odate municipal government office in Akita Prefecture on Feb. 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Hikoshi Tamura)
This photo shows the dome at the top of the spiral staircase in the western main building of the Odate municipal government office in Akita Prefecture on Feb. 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Hikoshi Tamura)
This photo shows Odate municipal government office, with the western structure on the left, in Odate, Akita Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of the Odate Municipal Government)

ODATE, Akita -- With the construction of the new main building at this northern Japan city's municipal government office, the current one, which boasts an art deco spiral staircase and a dome, will be demolished.

    The new main building is set to open near the current one after the "Golden Week" holidays in May, and demolition of the current building will begin as early as August. Its western section is a three-story reinforced concrete structure built in 1954; it was the city's first government building and came after a massive fire in the city's Furoyamachi district burned down its government offices the previous year.

    The building's spiral staircase in its main entrance hall and the dome they lead up to are considered historic monuments, and have been beloved by residents for more than 65 years. City officials have not considered preserving it, and so it is expected to be demolished.

    The main building in central Odate consists of the western section and a steel-framed three-story eastern extension built mainly in 1976. The west structure's total floor space is about 2,700 square meters, some 800 square meters larger than the east one. Its art deco spiral staircase leads from the entrance lobby to the fourth-floor ceiling dome -- measuring 6 meters in diameter -- which also has skylight windows that look like polka dots. The unified composition of the staircase and dome is eye-catching.

    According to the city's general affairs division, Katsumi Yamamoto (1905-1991) is said to have designed the building. Born in Tokyo and a graduate of the Tokyo Fine Arts School (present-day Tokyo University of the Arts), Yamamoto worked for companies including construction firm Obayashi Corp. before going independent in 1950. He designed numerous buildings including the Toyama municipal folk museum, commonly called "Toyama castle". He is also known as the father to actors Gaku, Kei and Sen Yamamoto.

    A seismic diagnosis on the current main building conducted by the city in fiscal 2009 and 2010 revealed that it did not meet the Building Standard Act's quake-resistance standards. Following discussions by a committee consisting of 20 citizens selected from among applicants and experts as well as a special committee consisting of 10 members, the city decided to build a new one. However, preserving and making use of the existing monuments was apparently not discussed during the process.

    Kisaku Hasegawa, 70, a resident of Odate who studies the historic monuments and puts out information online, submitted a written request to the city government on Feb. 12 to preserve and use the building as it is.

    "This is the city's first municipal government building and was designed with hopes for recovery from the massive fire. The combination of the spiral staircase and the dome is something valuable that conveys human love and hope as inspired by Yamamoto's experiences in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped," Hasegawa stressed. "The western structure should be registered a tangible cultural property or preserved as it is."

    An official at the city's general affairs division said: "In responding to the seismic diagnosis, we prioritized what to do about the western side of the building, and did not reach the point of having separate discussions on monuments. Though the design drawings have not been found, as the monuments are precious, we'd like to record them in some form, perhaps pictures, and consider passing them on to future generations."

    (Japanese original by Hikoshi Tamura)

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