Wigington Pavilion, Harriet Island, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Wigington Pavilion

Neighborhood/s: West Side, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Ramsey County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1941
Primary Style: Art Deco/Art Moderne
Major Alterations: Intact
Historic Function: Park building
Current Function: Park building
Architect or source of design: Clarence 'Cap' Wigington
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Concrete
Material of Roof: Terra Cotta
First Owner: City of Saint Paul

West Side Saint Paul Ramsey County

Wigington Pavilion, Harriet Island, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.9371879° N, 93.0966075° WLatitude: 44°56′13.876″N
Longitude: 93°5′47.787″W

The Wigington Pavilion located on Harriet Island in St Paul is named after its architect Clarence 'Cap' Wigington. Wigington is celebrated as Minnesota's first African American registered architect and quite possibly the nation's first African American municipal architect. During the years he lived in St. Paul, Wigington and his wife Viola spent most of this time at their home at 679 St. Anthony Avenue. Wigington was actively involved in the community and was a member of the Urban League, the Sterling Club, the Elks Lodge and the St. James Episcopal Church.[1]



Wigington's career was extensive and ranged from civic buildings to ice palaces. Prior to accepting his position with the State, Wigington also designed creameries at Elk River and Northfield, and was commissioned to design the St. James A.M.E Church (now remodelled) – one of the St. Paul's oldest Black congregations.

Clarence Wesley Wigington was born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1883. The Wigington family moved to Omaha, Nebraska when Clarence was in his teens and it was in Omaha that he came to study architecture and train under the renowned architect Thomas R. Kimball. During this apprenticeship he was personally tutored by Kimball in architectural design as well as studying at the studio of T. Lawence Wallace of the Western School of Art.[1]

After several years working and living in various States, Wigington and his family arrived in St Paul, Minnesota, where the architect took a civil service exam for a position with the City Architect's office. It is a well known fact that Wigington scored the highest in this test out of all those who completed the exam and he was subsequently appointed as the senior draughtsman for the Office of Parks, Playgrounds, and Public Buildings. His position as a municipal architect meant he primarily designed city buildings and public structure; including several schools – Monroe and Wilson junior highs and Washington High School – as well as fire stations, park buildings and the Highland Park Water Tower. Although Wigington's style in these civic buildings has been described as "simple, strong and clean", his impressive vision and design for the elaborately decorative ice palaces associated with St. Paul's Winter Carnival, were by no means architecturally restrained.[1] Ice was of course a cheap material and Wigington's mission was to create a sense of wonderment to engage the public – something he was so successful at that he went on to design six palaces, the record for a single architect.

Building Description

The Wigington Pavilion was constructed in 1941 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was originally known as the Harriet Island Pavilion. Harriet Island is sited in a public park on the Mississippi River next to downtown St. Paul. The building, like the park, serves a recreational purpose and it is the only building on the island. Constructed of concrete block with a Kasota limestone veneer, the central mass of the pavilion's gabled roof is finished with terra cotta tiles. Wigington’s design of the Pavilion is in the Moderne Style and is characterised by its large rectangular form and simple low relief bays. Some classical elements can be noted however in the symmetrical organization of the arcades, the simple engaged pilasters and inclusion of single story wings that flank the main section of the structure. The adjoining flat roofed wings with stone coping and piers do not have any type of ornamentation and in this sense are most representative of the Moderne Style.[1]

The Wigington Pavilion has retained its architectural integrity and has not had any major alterations. A ramp has been added to the west elevation to allow for disabled access and again another smaller ramp added to the east wing doors. Flood damage has proven to be an issue over the years and has contributed to some deterioration. In the past decade Harriet Island has been revitalized and during this investment, the Wigington Pavilion was 'winterized' so as to ensure year-round availability to the building.[1]

Memories and stories


According to Jane King Hession: “Wigington’s legacy is exceptional in that he designed structures for the ages as well as fantasies for the moment. His schools, fire stations, and park shelters remain essential elements of the civic fabric of St. Paul to this day. His ephemeral, long-gone ice palaces will always remain magical, frozen impressions in the collective winter memory of the people of Minnesota" [1]


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