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Civic Center Historic District

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1910–1933; 1922 plan, Harland Bartholomew. Bounded by 56th and 58th sts., Sheridan Rd., and 10th Ave.

In 1905, when local women’s club leader Harriet Head Yule spoke of “The Town Beautiful”—a future Kenosha with cleaner streets, stately parks, and inspiring, monumental architecture—she tapped into a powerful reform impulse of the era. Yule’s City Beautiful vision meshed with other Progressive ideals: comprehensive planning to render urban landscapes more rational and municipal reforms to make government more efficient. A civic center with classically styled government buildings arranged around a grand public plaza would produce these goals. Kenosha hired prominent city planner Bartholomew to design its new civic center in 1922. That same year, Kenosha turned its municipal operations over to a Progressive-style professional city manager, becoming Wisconsin’s first municipality to do so.

Bartholomew’s comprehensive plan included many elements besides the civic center, but the center was the most impressive idea that actually took shape in stone and mortar. All five buildings around Civic Center Park are classical and monumental in design, and each fills nearly an entire block. Kenosha’s Joseph Lindl worked with Milwaukee’s Charles Lesser and Albert Schutte to design the Kenosha County Courthouse and Jail at 912 56th Street. Lindl also designed the Old Moose Lodge (1927; 5516 10th Avenue). The Beaux-Arts classical courthouse’s Indiana limestone walls rise three stories above a raised basement. On the main facade, projecting corner pavilions flank a magnificent colonnade of eighteen Ionic columns interspersed with narrow, two-story windows. A dentiled cornice trims the building’s top. The completion of this building in 1925 led in 1931 to the demolition of Kenosha’s courthouse of 1885, designed in part by Daniel Burnham, father of the nationwide City Beautiful movement.

Federal architect George Daidy designed the U.S. Post Office (1933; 5605 Sheridan Road) in the same Beaux-Arts classical mode. The one-story building conveys monumentality through its careful proportions and well-chosen details. Large arched entrances framed by pairs of pilasters dominate the projecting pavilions at each end. A broad central section includes pairs of Doric columns and a parapet wall with pilasters and panels carved with eagle shields and festoons. This post office replaced its predecessor of 1910, which stood in the lot just behind. In 1933, that older building was moved to the west side of the Civic Center to serve as the Kenosha Public Museum at 5608 10th Avenue. The one-story structure features a colonnade of paired Ionic columns separating windows and doors topped by ocular windows festooned with garlands. Above the main entrance, a bald eagle breaks an arched pediment. In designing this building, federal architect James Knox Taylor drew inspiration from the Beaux-Arts pavilions designed for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, which effectively introduced the City Beautiful movement.

The three-story Kenosha Central High School at 913 57th Street, bordering the square on the south, completes the Beaux-Arts ensemble. Designed by John D. Chubb of Chicago and completed in 1926, it features Corinthian columns and pilasters, rooftop balustrades at the corners, and a pedimented entrance pavilion.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Civic Center Historic District", [Kenosha, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-KN4.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 178-179.

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