21 August 2015

Wisconsin: Downtown Green Bay

My knowledge of American geography is hazy at best – after all, the USA is a huge country – but, when my friend Trudey invited me to visit her, even I had heard of Green Bay, Wisconsin, if only because it’s home to the Green Bay Packers football team.

Turns out Green Bay is also the county seat of Brown County, and sits right at the mouth of the Fox River, situated appropriately enough on Green Bay, an offshoot of the mighty Lake Michigan. It’s an industrial city, known for its meat-packing plants and paper mills and … that football team.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown Green Bay during my visit but I did find a few architectural gems during a photo-wander one hot July afternoon.

Brown County Courthouse
Undoubtedly the most impressive building was the three-storey county courthouse, with its shining copper-clad dome. Designed by Charles E Bell and constructed between 1908 and 1911, this beautiful building was created in the classical-inspired Beaux Arts style that was popular prior to the First World War. I didn’t get to see the interior but, apparently, the artworks contained within the building are just as impressive as its architecture, with various murals depicting scenes from Wisconsin’s past and the interior of the dome painted with the themes of Justice, Agriculture, Industry and Commerce.

Jefferson Court
This Greek Revival-style building started its life back in 1903 as one of Andrew Carnegie’s libraries, though it was officially named the Kellogg Public Library because, although Carnegie donated the $45,000 required for its construction, Rufus B. Kellogg, president of the Kellogg National Bank, magnanimously agreed to fund the annual operating costs. An additional wing was added to the building in 1926 to house the Neville Public Museum, and the whole lot was restored during 1983-84 to become the Jefferson Court building, which now houses the United Stated District Court – Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Columbus Community Club
The Columbus Community Club was built in 1924, as a recreation and social centre, by the Knights of Columbus, now the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organisation. The building is Neo-classical in design and cost at least half a million dollars to construct. The building has seen many uses during its long life: in 1941 the Knights of Columbus sold it to the Norbertine Order and it became the Green Bay Central Catholic High School. A decade later, the building changed hands again, with WBAY radio moving in, and it was from here, on 17 March 1953, that WBAY made the first Green Bay television broadcast.

Northern Building
This may look like a fairly bland exterior but look more closely at the architectural details. This 1930 office building is Art Deco at its finest, from its restrained clean straight lines to the superb highly stylised floriated frieze running along the top of its six-storey façade just below the parapet. And just look at those wall lights (below) – simply stunning.

St Willebrord Catholic Church
Designed in the High Victorian Gothic style and constructed in 1891, the St Willebrord Catholic Church was built to accommodate the large number of Dutch immigrants who had settled in Green Bay and wanted to form their own separate Dutch church. The main façade originally contained a single large stained-glass rose window but that was later filled with the large cut stone design you can see in the centre photo. The central cross is surrounded by eight large petals, which are in turn surrounded by eight large leaves to form one enormous flower. It’s a remarkable piece of masonry.

St Francis Xavier Cathedral
Not far from St Willebrord’s is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, St Francis Xavier. Built in 1876, with additions in 1903, 1917 and 1959, the style is Romanesque Revival. The twin steeples are particularly splendid, as is the decorative brickwork. Like the church of St Willebrord, this building also has a large circular window in the front façade, this one with a central rounded cruciform shape surrounded by eight large round windows.

Captains Walk Winery
Something entirely different now, just because it caught my eye as we were driving from one street to another. Though this is now a venue for educating the palate on the finer aspects of wine-tasting, it was originally built in 1857 as the private house of local businessman Elisha Morrow. This is apparently an ‘excellent late example of the transition that took place between the Greek Revivial style and the succeeding Italianate style’. Personally, I just liked that cute little cupola perched on top.

Green Bay Packers Memorial
No blog about Green Bay would be complete without some tribute to the Packers and here it is. This is the Packers Heritage Trail Plaza, the centrepiece of the heritage trail, a self-guided walking tour that leads you around the streets of Green Bay to discover where the history of the city intersects with the team and its players.    

If you’re a Green Bay local or a visitor with an interest in historic buildings and architecture, the Neville Public Museum is running an exhibition, from 16 April 2015 to 13 March 2016, to celebrate 100 years of architecture and design in Brown County

Most of the detail about the buildings shown above was extracted from the records of the Wisconsin Historical Society which has an exemplary website containing a wealth of information about the families and properties, culture and history of the state.