by Juliet Aylward
BBC News Online
The centre of political power in London is a landmark building on the south bank of the River Thames near a world-famous tourist attraction.
County Hall has been a riverside landmark for 80 years
Not the ultra-modern glass edifice of City Hall near Tower Bridge, but County Hall, the headquarters of London local government for most of the 20th Century and now home to the brand new Saatchi Gallery opening this week.
County Hall sits on the riverbank opposite the Houses of Parliament and was specially built for the capital's first citywide government, the London County Council (LCC).
Now, with the neighbouring London Eye and South Bank Arts Centre, it is becoming a tourist attraction in its own right.
Designed by Ralph Knott, a then unknown architect, it was officially opened in 1922 by King George V.
I think County Hall will always be significant to Londoners precisely because Margaret Thatcher abolished their city's government
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London
Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, told BBC News Online:
"The quality of its craftsmanship is undisputed, and of course it has a fantastic setting, but its construction was delayed by World War I and it was already seen as a little old fashioned and unimaginative by the time it was finished.
"It's a building which Londoners have grown to love."
The LCC was the first metropolitan-wide form of general local government and took a leading role in school reform and town planning.
The Labour party first took control of the LCC in 1934 with Herbert Morrison as leader and the party's control went almost unchallenged for the next 30 years.
By the late 1950s and 1960s the Conservative government wanted to create a new local authority which reflected London's growth and which might have a chance of being Tory controlled.
County Hall and the London Eye draw tourists
The first Greater London Council (GLC) election was in 1964 and again Labour won control.
Ken Livingstone, now London's first elected mayor, won a seat on the GLC in the 1970s.
Later he became GLC leader and his pursuit of a leftist agenda brought him into conflict with the Tory government - just across Westminster Bridge.
The then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, finally decided to abolish it and divide its responsibilities among the borough councils.
Mr Livingstone told BBC News Online: "I think County Hall will always be significant to Londoners precisely because Margaret Thatcher abolished their city's government.
"County Hall had been the home of the London County Council and then the Greater London Council so its associations with democracy and London runs very deep."
The GLC was abolished on 31 March 1986 and the building was sold off.
It is now home to enterprises including the new Saatchi gallery, London Aquarium, a Salvador Dali exhibition, two hotels and several restaurants, and has been joined by the adjacent London Eye ferris wheel.
City Hall is the new home of London government
Mr Livingstone said: "I toured the Saatchi exhibition this week so I got to see parts of County Hall I haven't seen for years.
"I have to say it was quite moving but I'm pleased that so much of the building is now open to the public after years of being closed off."
For 14 years London was the only major city in the world without its own central authority.
With the election of a Labour government in 1997, moves were made to restore a citywide administration.
Ken Livingstone was elected the first mayor together with a London Assembly in May 2000.
But with County Hall sold off, there was little choice but to commission a new building - named City Hall.