Join me this Saturday, 9/16, for the Cap Wiginton History and Architecture Bike Tour

There's an exciting tour coming up this Saturday. My friend (and occasional tour-taker) Jeremiah Ellis and I have been working together over the last few months to organize a tour in honor of Clarence "Cap" Wigington, one of Saint Paul's most notable historical figures.

I didn't know much about Wigington's story before I began thinking about this tour -- indeed, the ball got rolling because of my interest in watertowers! -- but as it turned out, Wiginton's legacy was all around me. Wigington was Saint Paul's "city architect" from the late 1910s well into the 1940s, which turned out to be an absolutely crucial period in the history of Saint Paul architecture. Most of the city's civic buildings built before that time did not stand the test of time, while many of the buildings built after the war lacked what you might call "monumentality."

To my mind, Wigington's career matched perfectly the growth of Saint Paul into adulthood, the birth of a sense of civic purpose, and the "city beautiful" era of design thinking. This was, in fact, the birth of the time when Saint Paul and most other American cities began emerging from the patronage-based "city machine" style of governance and began attempting to create an independent sense of civic identity, with institutions that might rise above the swamp of quid pro quo politics.

(Some might say these efforts have not been completely successful! But if you think it's bad today, you should have seen it before...)

At any rate, the first City Plans for both Minneapolis (1917) and Saint Paul (1922) date to this era. And I imagine that the birth of a more professional class of bureaucrats seeking to represent and do their best for all citizens (rather than their friends and social networks) might have opened up opportunities in new ways, and finally allowed African-Americans into the professional classes. Wigington's career is a shining example of this, as he was able to use his talents in an amazing variety of ways. His buildings -- many, but not all, done in collaboration with other Saint Paul architects -- display great variety of style. His first Saint Paul building, the Como Park Elementary School (1916) seems to me a dead ringer for contemporaneous neo-classical designs like the city's three Carnegie libraries. But his later work ranges into modernism, art-deco, and a bunch of other architectural styles that are beyond my limited knowledge.

My favorite example is that Wigington was the sole architect of five different ice palaces during Saint Paul's Winter Carnival heyday. What fun it must have been for him -- and for Saint Paul's carnival-goers -- to have free reign, within the structural limits of ephemeral ice, to design anything he could imagine. (His palaces put our modern attempts to shame... though I suppose we can hold out hope for the 2018 ice palace.)

So let's go see it for ourselves! This will be a bike ride beginning at the Highland Water tower (1928) and ending at the Wigington / Harriet Island pavilion (1941). This will be great fun. I'll be speaking about City Beautiful design thinking and what water towers mean to us as monuments and objects that create places. Later we'll be hearing from others. I'll be learning a lot, and I can guarantee you will as well.

[FACT: I have referred to this as the "eye of Mordor"]
Here's the description from the eventbrite page:
On Saturday, September 16, you will hear the unique perspectives of Keon Blasingame of the National Organization of Minority Architects’ MSP Chapter, ice palace historian Bob Olsen, urban geographer Bill Lindeke and documentary producer Daniel Bergin.

During this nine mile (mostly downhill) bike tour, we will be able to visit only five of the nearly thirty Wigington designs which remain today. Our local volunteers will share of their expertise at the Highland Park Water Tower, the Hamline Recreation Center, Saint James A.M.E. Church, the Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the Wigington Pavilion at Harriet Island. Members of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota will serve as our ride marshals along the route.
Thanks to Jeremiah Ellis for putting this together, and I'm honored to be a part of this experience.

What: Bike tour to look at buildings designed by, and learn about, Clarence "Cap" Wigington, Saint Paul City architect
Who: You, or anyone who wants to bike six miles; event is free
When: Saturday 9/16 leaving at 1:00 pm (gather beforehand)
Where: Meet at the Highland Water Tower
Why: Because it's there

[Some of the 60 still-existing Wigington landmarks, and a few that don't exist.]

[1937 ice palace.]

[1941 ice palace.]
[Wigington's Roy Wilkins' auditorium, 1932.]
[Harriet Island Pavilion, 1942]

[Como Park Elementary 1918.]

[Hamline Park rec center, 1940.]

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