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 2018 recipients of the BCHS Historic Preservation Awards:
UWGB Grindbygning (Viking Saga House), Green Bay
As a sidelight to their professional careers, Owen and Elspeth Christianson have studied Viking-age Scandinavia and been Viking reenactors for more than 40 years. In 2011, they decided to share their love of Viking life with others by carefully researching, designing, and building a 14’x28’ 11th-century re-creation of a Norwegian grindbygning (timber-frame house) on their property near Stratford, Wisconsin. It was always their dream to share the house to enable others to learn and experience Viking culture, and starting in 2013, the couple hosted Viking camp weekends for UWGB medieval history students. More recently, as the Christiansons contemplated moving out east for retirement, they considered what would become of their Viking House. Based on their strong relationship with UWGB, they decided to donate the building to the university to be used as a hands-on educational tool. In September 2017, UWGB students worked with the Christiansons to document the building, marking each piece prior to disassembly and loading onto a flatbed tractor-trailer for its journey to Green Bay. Re-using the same materials, including slate shingles and timber framing secured with wooden pegs, the building was quickly reconstructed. In addition to continuing to serve as an outdoor classroom, there are plans to host educational seminars, particularly with craftspeople such as blacksmiths, leatherworkers, and those trained in period culinary arts. It is believed that the UWGB Viking House is the only such educational opportunity on a teaching campus anywhere.
Daanen/Vainisi Residence, 922 N. Broadway, De Pere
In 1915, Otto Gretzinger, manager of the Central Lumber Company in De Pere, married Hilda Dedrick, a local school teacher, and later that year, purchased a lot on North Broadway in De Pere and built a fine Bungalow style house. The design is distinctive for its exterior full length curved front porch and wide overhanging eaves, and its interior fine Craftsman style oak built-ins and trim. Over the years, there had been few alterations or modifications made to the house. While this served to preserve period architectural features, it also left the house very dated and lacking modern amenities. In January 2018, local preservation-minded contractor Pat Drury visited an estate sale at the house, and soon after, negotiated to buy the house itself. He proceeded with plans to modernize it on speculation, confident that the house would appeal to a like-minded owner. In the meantime, for more than 30 years, Katina Daanen had always had a fondness for the house, and when she drove by and saw Pat’s company sign out front, she decided to inquire. When Katina and her husband Sam Vainisi first walked through the house, they struggled to see past construction debris and bare framing stripped of plaster, but were still able to imagine the original 1915 appeal. They agreed to purchase the house and work with Pat to design the remaining renovation, which would include all new plumbing and electrical wiring, and reconfigured spaces for a modern kitchen and baths, all with period paint schemes and refinished original woodwork. The beautifully restored house once again takes its place among the architectural gems of the North Broadway Street Historic District.
Hotel Northland, Green Bay
Around 1912, Walter Schroeder of Milwaukee decided to become a developer of fine hotels, and in the 1920s, he built or acquired at least nine lavish hotels, including the Astor and Schroeder Hotels in Milwaukee, the Loraine in Madison, the Retlaw in Fond du Lac, and, particularly, the new Hotel Northland in Green Bay. At the time of its opening in 1924, the Northland was the largest hotel in Wisconsin, was billed as Green Bay’s original “million dollar hotel”, and quickly became Green Bay’s business and social center. It hosted VIPs such as JFK, and was the team hotel for visiting NFL teams. By 1972, however, the hotel had fallen on hard times, and was purchased from the Schroeder estate and converted into a mixed-use apartment building named the Port Plaza Inn. In 1979, it was converted again into subsidized low-income apartments and renamed Port Plaza Towers. Over the years, there had been interest in returning the building into a hotel, but finding new housing for the subsidized residents would prove an obstacle. Finally, in 2011, the Port Plaza residents were relocated to a new housing development, and with the Northland building now empty, renovation talks could begin in earnest. In 2013, a $44 million renovation project was announced, and once development partners finally secured funding, renovation work began in January 2016. However, the project soon became mired in delays and cost overruns, and when a bank was forced to pull its funding, work stopped later that year. New funding proved elusive, and in 2017, a receiver was appointed to rescue the project. Finally, in early 2018, it was announced that the Hotel Northland would become a Marriott brand hotel, managed by Greenwood Hospitality, with work performed by a new general contractor. With new funding by Octagon Credit Partners, debts owed to unpaid subcontractors were satisfied, and work ambitiously resumed toward a goal of beginning to reopen the hotel by the end of 2018. After a long history of grandeur, then decline, then uncertain progress, the historic spaces of the Hotel Northland, including the Crystal Ballroom, the Walnut Dining Room, and the main lobby, have been restored, and now, with modern luxury guestrooms, welcome a new generation of visitors.