Thursday, November 29, 2007

As "attractive a small theater. . ."

Work concluded in March 1913; on the 15th of that month the Auditorium was opened with a Saturday afternoon matinĂ©e performance of “Modern Eve.” The daytime show was scheduled for the “benefit of our of town patrons,” with consideration also extended to the children of the community. The discounted fifty-cent seats in the balcony were reserved for children twelve years of age and under. The formal dedication of the auditorium occurred that evening with the presentation of “The Only Son.” Prior to the performance, Richland Center’s Mayor P. L. Lincoln addressed the audience and extended public thanks to the community, to the building committee and to the contractor. Within months of opening, the success of the auditorium required the city to expand the width of the sidewalk in front of the building to accommodate crowds congregating before and after performances; at that time the city also placed two ornamental electric light posts at each corner of the building.

Shortly following the completion of the auditorium, journalist Walter A. Dyer visited Richland Center and wrote a piece for the New York-based publication World’s Work. In the August 1915 issue Dyer shared his complimentary perceptions of Richland Center and provided a national audience with a glowing description of the community, which he said exemplified cooperative action and the spirit of the Middle West. Dyer’s article offered an excellent description of the features and the arrangement of spaces in the new auditorium. He commented that it was “as attractive a small theater, opera house, and lecture hall" as he had ever seen, and offered further that “its decorative beauty scarcely conceals its look of confident efficiency.” In his final analysis of the building he wrote,

The Richland Center Auditorium has undoubtedly contributed in a degree to the community spirit and democracy of the place, and it has given the leaders a confidence in social experimentation. It is a popular institution with no taint of philanthropy, and it is used by the people largely because they built it themselves.

(Photo courtesy of the Richland Center History Room)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Historic Street Scene, Richland Center, WI

A crowd gathered one summer evening over a half century ago outside the Municipal Building and Auditorium in the hills of Richland Center, WI. When it was built in 1913, it was the first City Hall in Wisconsin to include an entertainment venue managed by the city.

At the turn of the 20th century Richland Center was home to several womens groups who were dedicated to securing equal opportunities for themselves, in addition to providing community service. Collectively they lent impetus to the construction of a new city office building that also housed an auditorium, so that this rural community could enjoy theater, professional musical performances and political debate.

As a center of community activity for nearly a century, the building has provided a focal point to the business district and a place where city dwellers mingle with their rural neighbors and all share in entertainment and socializing.

(Photo courtesy of the Richland Center History Room)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wisconsin Historical Society, c. 1900

A beautiful collection of photographs that were taken by Superintendent of Construction Francis Grant during the building of the Wisconsin Historical Society are part of the society's collection. They can be seen at its archives.

Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room, 1954 Remodeling

Although the volume of the Reading Room was maintained, significant changes were implemented in the remodeling that took place in 1954. The Reading Room and circulation areas were painted, large areas of flooring were replaced, skylights and historic fixtures were removed and fluorescent lighting installed. The spaces contiguous to the Reading Room and its circulation area also were modified.

In the Reading Room a suspended ceiling was installed that concealed the original decorative ceiling and diffused new ambient illumination provided by fluorescent tubes. Furniture was moved. Most significantly a new circulation desk was built that spanned between the columns in the Reading Room; the card catalog was moved from the circulation area to assume a new prominence at the center of the Reading Room. In this location, it also served to divide the space into two discrete zones.

What had been conceived as a space with a single function, “reading,” was modified to perform as a multi-use space. The long tables were removed from the north side of the room, where smaller tables containing reference collections, conversation areas and newspaper reading stands were installed. While the older circulation desks remained in place the areas behind them, including the former delivery areas, became more fully dedicated to the use of staff.

(Photo Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Appleton celebrates the opening of Fox River Locks

The "7Cs" approached the filled chamber of Appleton Lock 2 on Saturday May 19th. The paddle wheeler arrived with community and state dignitaries aboard, along with members of the Navigational System Authority, to celebrate the reopening of the Appleton Locks. The occasion was marked by music, speeches and a great deal of applause for the accomplishment of the Navigational Authority in completing this phase of the work.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Cedars," Little Chute, WI

The next lock to be restored on the Lower Fox River is known simply as "Cedars." It is very near the site where in 1836 the Menominee Indian nation ceded approximately 4 million acres of land to the United States for about 17 cents an acre. The "Treaty of the Cedars" was the result of an amicable six-day meeting that reportedly was characterized by mutual respect and a sense of fairness. The agreement enabled the US government to begin developing the Lower Fox River to better facilitate trade and settlement. Within the next decade work was underway to create a system of locks and dams.

Sunshine and Shadows on Freshly Cleaned Stone

The masonry chambers of the locks that comprise the Lower Fox River navigational system are being tuck pointed and cleaned as part of their restoration. The railing and hand levers of the lower gate at Appleton Lock #2 cast a shadow across the freshly repaired stone wall. The shadow of the latticed spar that opens and closes the gates also is visible.

Appleton Lock #2

Aside from the completion of some site work, the restoration of Appleton Lock #2 has been completed. The stone chamber has been tuck pointed, the gates re-built using as much of the historic metal as possible and the valves and operating mechanisms have been fully refurbished and put back into good working order. The Appleton Locks will be in full operation within the next two months--once the ice fully melts and the canal is reflooded.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Survey and Documentation at the Wisconsin Historical Society

Jim Sewell, a Preservation Architect with the Wisconsin Historical Society, traveled the upper reaches of the Reading Room aboard the precarious-looking Genie to have a closer look at the panels that were installed in the 1950s to replace the historic decorative glass. When modifications were made to close the skylights on the roof and a floor was put in on the level directly above to create additional office space, a generous gap was left above the Reading Room ceiling. This may someday facilitate restoring the appearance of back lit decorative glass in the space.

Light as a Decorative Finish

For more than a century, a beautiful pattern of light occurred at the start of each sunny day on the wall opposite the windows in the east facade of the Reading Room.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Appleton Flats

Appleton Lock 3 is situated in the industrial area of Appleton long referred to as "the Flats." For years the community turned its back on the Fox River, largely due to this industrial association and the pollution that resulted from the river having been in service to manufacturing for over a century. With strategies now being implemented to clean the river and restore some of its recreational potential, the old factories and warehouses lining its banks are being rehabilitated as spaces for working, living and gathering. The restoration of the turn-of-the-century navigational features is a part of the river renaissance.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Obscured by Plexiglass

The decorative plaster elements in the ceiling coffers of the Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room were exposed last week when the plexiglass panels that conceal fluorescent tubes were removed. Modifications made to Society Headquarters in the 1950s and 1960s that were intended to modernize the building have compromised the architectural integrity of spaces through out. However, the Reading Room has retained a good deal of its original historic fabric along with its monumental volume. Having been "tucked away" for fifty years may have spared these decorative elements from further alteration.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Appleton Lock #4

Work is being completed on the first phase of the restoration of the Fox River Navigational system in Appleton. Above, two images from Appleton Lock 4 illustrate some of the repairs and improvements. A wood Lock Keepers shack was installed at the site, replacing a utilitarian metal structure from the 1970s or 1980s that had, in turn, replaced a wood shack that was similar to this replica. The design of the wood structure was based on historic prototype as revealed by old photographs and extant examples of the circa 1915 buildings that remained in place at Appleton Lock sites 2 and 3. The simple post light fixtures lining the edge of the chamber are based on a 1929 Corps of Engineers drawing for a nearly identical lamp that had illuminated this lock for at least five decades.

The lower photograph illustrates the refurbished metal flywheel and gears that are used to manipulate the gates that flood the chamber. The lattice spar that extends from the wall is attached to the gate and another hand-operated mechanism (not visible). A similar apparatus is attached to each of the four gates and is used to open and close them.