Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Oshkosh City Hall

The decades following the civil war were marked by great economic growth. The nations westward expansion called for more manufactured goods. By the 1880's Oshkosh had become an important Wisconsin center of population,commerce and manufacturing. Only Milwaukee had more inhabitants. The city was well connected politically as well. U. S. Senator Philetus Sawyer and Congressman Richard Guenther both called Oshkosh home. In 1886 the city leaders decided it was high time Wisconsin's second city have a city hall which reflected its lofty position. "A substantial and ornamental" edifice was needed, the call went out for architects to submit appropriate plans. Architects from Milwaukee, St. Louis and two from Detroit competed for the job. In the end the council awarded the contract to William Waters.

As the plans were made public objections arose regarding the style of the new hall. A newspaper description from the time of construction cites critics as favoring the Romanesque style over the Queen Anne style. The plans detractors considered the Queen Anne style suitable for residential architecture but hardly appropriate for a structure intended to serve for many generations. The great civic buildings of the day were of the Romanesque style, Queen Anne was pass'e.

The hall was constructed in 1887 on the northwest corner of Otter and State Sts. Mr. Water provided plans for a most visual exciting building. City Hall displayed Romanesque styling with the arch windows and entry ways. The turret at the southeast corner of the building seems to be most Queen Anne feature of the design. Perhaps the structure would have looked more Romanesque had it been constructed solely of limestone. It was built of red brick with a high limestone foundation and arched entries on the south and east elevations. A slate roof capped it off. The asymmetry of the building made for a very playful fenestration with window having lintels of red sandstone. Other building trim was of the same red sandstone and the walls had bands of sandstone. One puzzling feature of the building was that the portion housing the council chamber was at a different angle to the rest of the structure. Some years later the entrance on State St. was altered, the arched entry removed and windows added on the second floor. The changes were sympathetic with the original architecture and may have been drawn by Waters.

The hall did serve for many generations. By the 1960's however it had become inadequate to the purposes of city business. The once proud building looked shabby and dilapidated. The tower roof was removed at the level of the bell deck. It fell to the wrecking ball to make way for a parking lot.

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