Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Roy Wilkins Auditorium

Address: 175 Kellogg Boulevard W
Saint Paul, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Year built: 1932
Major Alterations: Significant Alterations
Historic Function: Theater/concert hall
Current Function: Theater/concert hall
Architect or source of design: Clarence W. Wigington
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Concrete
First Owner: City of Saint Paul

Saint Paul

Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.9449084° N, 93.1010839° WLatitude: 44°56′41.67″N
Longitude: 93°6′3.902″W

The Roy Wilkins Auditorium is named after the prominent Civil Rights leader who began his long and impressive career in civil and human rights in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Auditorium is significant to the African American heritage of Minnesota not only because of its association with Roy Wilkins, but also because it was designed by the well-known African-American architect Clarence 'Cap' Wigington.

Roy Wilkins

Wilkins started out as an editor for a small Black newspaper called the Northwest Bulletin. By 1931 Wilkins' talent had captured the eye of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and before too long he became the editor of its journal The Crisis. In 1955, after 24 years service in various NAACP positions, Wilkins accepted the role as the organization's leader. Wilkins contribution to the civil rights cause saw him fight several major pieces of legislation including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Outside of his NAACP work, Wilkins held many other significant leadership posts and was an advisor to several US Presidents such as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Awards he received for his outstanding involvement in civil and human rights issues include the NAACP Spingarn Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the latter was presented to Wilkins by President Lyndon B. Johnson and is the highest civilian honor in the nation. In 1995 a Wilkins memorial was unveiled on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall.



The St. Paul Civic Center Auditorium was built in 1932 and was renamed the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in 1985. In 1932 the Auditorium could seat up to 5,000 people; renovations carried out in 1986 increased this to approximately 5,800. The Auditorium was designed in Wigington’s Moderne style that is characterised by solid rectangular forms and minimal ornamentation. The Roy Wilkins Auditorium has undergone several upgrades and was incorporated into the major development of the Saint Paul River Centre, which opened in 1998.

The Architect – Clarence 'Cap' Wigington

The architect of the Roy Wilkins Auditorium – Clarence 'Cap' 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 was involved in the community and was a member of the Urban League, the Sterling Club, the Elks Lodge and the St. James Episcopal Church.

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.

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. 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.

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