Each year the Historic Preservation Committee of the Brown County Historical Society presents awards to businesses, organizations and individuals for their efforts to preserve, restore, and adapt for reuse, vintage and historic buildings in Brown County. These awards are presented at the Society’s annual meeting each February.
The following is a listing of our most recent honorees, the 2017 recipients of the BCHS Historic Preservation Awards:
Ferguson Family YMCA, Green Bay
The YMCA in Green Bay had an uncertain early history. In 1873, a group assisted by Madame Tank built the first Green Bay area YMCA building in Fort Howard (the building has since been relocated to Heritage Hill). After that unofficial group disbanded, a new organization built a new larger Fort Howard building in 1892, but unfortunately, this building burned in 1908. Under the leadership of Mitchell Joannes, a downtown Green Bay site was purchased, and based on a design by Green Bay architects Foeller, Schober, and Stephenson, the present seven-story YMCA building was dedicated in 1925. The original building remained largely unchanged, even after the south addition was built in 1968 and then expanded upward in 1979. In 1988, the upper floor dormitory rooms which had fallen into disuse were closed. By 2016, with the building showing its age and in desperate need of modernization, the “Y” embarked on a $13 million renovation. Work concentrated on the first three floors with a new central atrium introduced to create an open design and fill the building with natural light from skylights above. The façade of the 1968 addition was also replaced with windows to bring in more ambient light to workout areas. Roofs were replaced, masonry tuck-pointed, mechanical and lighting systems replaced, and new activity spaces, locker rooms, lounges, lobbies, and ADA access were provided. The building, which was placed on the National Register, now has a new look and feel while preserving its ornate interior and exterior historical features.
St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay
After five years of construction, the Romanesque style Cathedral was consecrated in 1881. The subsequent sacristy mural (1883), twin tower belfries (1904), eight beatitudes paintings (1911), and three-story sacristy (1918) essentially completed the construction. Aside from remodeling work in the 1930s (painting restoration), the 1950s (installation of the Memorial Rose stained glass window and construction of the three enclosed entrances), and the 1980s (installation of the pipe organ), few improvements had been made to the original building. Restoration of the steeples was done in 2006, but the congregation soon realized that the building would eventually require much more repair and restoration work. In 2013, a committee was tasked with developing a 50-100 year preservation plan, and after identifying 18 separate projects and successfully raising the necessary funds, work could begin. The 2015 exterior phase included replacing the roof, tuck-pointing the masonry, insulating the attic, and restoring tower bells that had not swung since World War II. The 2017 interior phase, for which the church was shut down for three months, included rebuilding the organ console, removing and restoring the pews, replacing the floor and updating the 60-year old in-floor heating system, installing a new sound system, and restoring the artwork on the sacristy and side walls, which required that the church be filled with scaffolding. After a December 3, 2017 reopening on the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, the fully restored Cathedral is once again on full and beautiful display.
Bay Beach Amusement Park, Green Bay
Bay Beach has been a source of entertainment for more than 100 years. In the early 1890s, in an area already popular for swimming and picnics, developers purchased overgrown land on the bay with the intention of building a resort. By 1900, construction included a hotel, dancehall, bandstand, bathhouses, and a long pier to accommodate excursion boat traffic from downtown. Around 1905, Frederick Rahr (Rahr Brewing) and Frank Murphy purchased the “Bay View Beach” property and started additional development, including a new dance hall, roller rink, roller coaster, carousal, and most notably, the Park’s crown jewel, the 1909 Pavilion building which survives today. Also included was the Park’s first major ride, the steam powered “Shoot the Chutes” modeled after a similar one at Coney Island, where a boat full of thrill seekers hurtled down a 50’ tall ramp and skidded across the waters of the bay. By 1920, the park had fallen into disrepair and was donated to the City of Green Bay (which necessitated the formation of the City Parks Department). Bay Beach Park then became a setting for civic events, including the 1934 appearance by President Franklin Roosevelt for the City’s Tercentennial celebration, and a 1940 performance by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. In the 1940s, the Park had been renting amusement park rides each season, but the 1950s saw a return to permanent rides that remain today, including the Merry-Go-Round and Train (1953), “Big Eli” Ferris Wheel (1955), bumper cars (which were installed in the old roller skating hall in 1959), Magic Mountain Big Slide (1970), Scrambler (1977), Tilt-A-Whirl (1982), Scat (1985), and three kiddie rides purchased from Door County’s Thumb Fun Amusement Park (1998). In the 2010s, the Park reached back to embrace its history. Nearly 75 years after the park’s last roller coaster, and with much fanfare, the ride returned to Bay Beach with the 2010 acquisition and reconstruction of the Zippin’ Pippin’, which has increased annual Park attendance to more than 3 million. In 2011, Leadership Green Bay volunteers researched and erected historical markers for each ride. In 2013, the Friends of Bay Beach was formed to fundraise for the preservation, revitalization, and expansion of the Park for future generations. With the addition of modern rides such as the Sea Dragon (2014), the Bay Beast (2016), the Rockin’ Tug (2016), and the Falling Star (2018), historic Bay Beach Amusement Park is positioned for a strong future.