Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turner Halls of Oshkosh

Turner organizations could be found in many American cites with a large German population in such states as Texas, Missouri, Minnesota, Indiana Ohio Kentucky and Wisconsin. In Europe the turners were primarily a gymnastics organization but with a strong political philosophy.
After the suppression of the revolution of 1848 many Germans immigrated to the new world and some formed turner halls. Oshkosh was no exception. After the great fire of 1874 the city's turners asked William Waters to draw plans for a suitable building for their purpose and to be located on the northeast corner of Merritt Avenue and Jefferson Street.
For many years I had searched without success for an image of the hall built in 1874. Recently the Oshkosh Public Museum opened an online photo gallery, which has proved to be a great boon to my research efforts. I applaud archivist Scott Cross for his work. With the aid of the gallery I was able to find two images showing a portion of the building from which I was able to extrapolate the look of the entire structure. By the look of it the hall was a large wooden structure, very utilitarian in nature, not unlike a warehouse of some sort. The
building served for nine years when the Turners undertook a remodeling project that was to transform the hall into an opera house. The old wooden building saw seven more years of service but was replaced in 1890 with an elegant brick building on the same site.
The new hall was also designed by Mr. Waters, of the latest Romanesque style and looked something like the Grand Opera House. The hall was used for a verity of functions; it could be an opera house, recital or exhibition hall as well as a gymnasium. It eventually became the Company B armory and was used to that purpose until it was razed in the mid 1960's to make way for an automotive repair shop.
Mr. Waters was also hired in 1886 as architect of the South side Turner Hall. The hall was located on the south east corner of South Main Street and Tenth Avenue and was immense, magnificent wooden structure, in the Queen Anne style, featuring a souring corner tower. In 1902 the building became the Badger Club and later it was converted to warehouse for storing paper. It was destroyed by fire in 1920.