Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Club House of the Oshkosh Yacht Club

With the renovation two years ago of the erstwhile "Legion on the Lake" into "The Waters", this post is long over due. I'll start by congratulating Bill Wyman and company for a superlative job of reuse and restoration. I think I understand Mr. Wyman's motivation for this undertaking. Like him, I too grew up in that neighborhood, near the foot of Washington Avenue. As a kid I recall the regattas, the crowds, the boats and the sails stretched out on the front lawn to dry before being folded and packed away. Behind it all stood the "Grande Dame", the club house. It was sad to see the decline of this fine and historic building. I'm thankful that Mr. Wyman sought to save this gem of Oshkosh history.

Now a little bit about that history; The Oshkosh Yacht Club was organized in 1869 as a means to codify and regulate what might be described as a difference of opinion between skippers. The club organized regattas and invited yachtsmen from other cites to participate. In 1897 the Inland Lakes Yachting Association was formed and it's first regatta was held in Oshkosh. At the time what passed for a club house was a large barge with a two story structure atop it, called the "sail-loft". It is pictured below, moored in the Fox River. The sail-loft didn't reflect the prestige the races were taking on. Yachts from other clubs were brought in by rail and the yachtsmen would lodge at the likes of the Athern Hotel. Regatta week was the social event of the summer season; clearly a grand club house was called for.

Getting things started proved to be a slow process. There was talk in 1896 of wealthy business men building a club like the Deutcher Club of Milwaukee; there was no mention of yachts however. There was mention made of a suitable plot of land on which to build such a club.
At the foot of Washington Street, William Waters owned a sizable lot with a fine view of the lake but well away from the center of the city. Waters had acquired the house in 1890 from Peter McCourt and had used the place as a summer home. For the next seven years there were no announcements concerning a club house. Then on April 4, 1903 the papers reported that two architects were drawing plan for a club house for the yacht club. Both William Waters and E. E. Stevens were to submit plans for consideration. From then on there was a great deal of activity; talks with W. G. Maxey of the waterworks about property at the end of Merritt Avenue, the sale and removal of the house on the Waters lot and finally the news on the twenty fifth of April that the Oshkosh Yacht Club had secured the Waters property and that Mr Waters' design was chosen for the edifice. The old house was razed and work begun.

As the twentieth century started many architects embraced more classical forms, Waters did as well. Mr. Waters' design for the new club house is an exercise in classical architecture. The building has a transverse layout with the front elevation dominated by a two story portico and veranda which runs the width of the building and around the sides. Brackets under the eves support the roof and at the very center of the roof is a cupola like structure with a flag mast.
The new club house was finished in August of 1903 in time for the ILYA annual regatta and was said to be the finest club house in the Midwest. So impressive were the accommodations, the yachting association decided to hold the regatta in Oshkosh every year. The years were not kind the place however, pictured here is the club house at perhaps its lowest point. This photo, taken one hundred years after it was built, shows what the once proud building had become. Many windows had been covered with siding and the veranda enclosed with no thought given to style or detail. Then in 2008 the building was restored to it's former grandeur and the city once again has a stunning gem on the lake shore.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oshkosh Post Office

In recent years there has been a misunderstanding about the Oshkosh Post Offices and the roll William Water played in their design and construction. Mr. Waters had a hand in two Oshkosh Post Offices. After the great fire of 1875 the architect designed the building that would serve as the post office for the next fifteen years. It was located on Washington Street next to the First National Bank. The Waters firm had its' office on the second floor of this building. A new Federal Court House & Post Office was built next door in 1890.

There are those who believe William Waters to be architect of the structure constructed in 189o. Michael J. Goc in his book "Oshkosh at 150" credits Waters with the design but this is not the case. Confusion may arise because of the similarities with the Oshkosh City Hall built in 1887.
Both buildings were built of red brick with lime stone trim and featured an imposing central tower on the south elevation as well as transverse section at the north end of the building. The two building were similarly located each on the northwest corner of an intersection. Consequently photos of both were taken from the same vantage point and may have been the genesis for mistaken identity. In an article published September 13,1887 in the Oshkosh Northwestern it is reported that Mr. Freret took over the planning fromMr. Bell and was showing the plans to Senator Sawyer.
There were two prominent architects named Freret, James and William A. Freret. They were cousins and natives of New Orleans. The latter was Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1887 to 1889 and the Mr. Bell mentioned in the article was Mifflin E. Bell, William Freret's predecessor in that post. Mr. Freret designed several federal building in his tenure with the office. The Oshkosh building may have been a collaboration of a kind, the designs came due during a time of transition. The idea that William Waters was the architect may come from an article from May of 1888 which names the Oshkosh architect as Superintendent. In the July 12, 1888 edition of the Oshkosh Northwestern it is again reported that Mr. Freret is the architect of the new Federal Building.