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Cap Wigington, 1940
On this date in 1883 the birth of "Cap" Wigington is marked. He was a Black municipal architect.
Clarence Westley Wigington (his name at birth) was from Lawrence, Kansas. His family soon moved to Omaha, where he was raised in North Omaha's Walnut Hill neighborhood. At age 15, he graduated from Omaha High School. Wigington left an Omaha art school in 1902 to work for Thomas R. Kimball, then president of the American Institute of Architects. After six years he started his own office.
In 1910 Wigington was listed by the U.S. Census as one of only 59 African American architects, artists and draftsmen in the country. While in Omaha, Wigington designed the Broomfield Rowhouse, Zion Baptist Church, and the second St. John's African Methodist Episcopal Church building, along with several other single and multiple family dwellings.
After marrying Viola Williams, Wigington received his first public commission, to design a small brick potato chip factory in Sheridan, Wyoming. He ran the establishment for several years. As senior architect for the city, Wigington designed schools, fire stations, park structures and municipal buildings. Aside from his work in Omaha, Wigington also designed the building which originally hosted the North Carolina State University at Durham.
It was in Saint Paul, Minnesota where Wigington created a national reputation. He moved there in 1914 and by 1917 was promoted to senior architectural designer for the City of St. Paul. During the 1920s and '30s, Wigington designed most of the Saint Paul Public Schools buildings, as well as golf clubhouses, fire stations, park buildings, airports for the city. Other Wigington structures include the Highland Park Tower, the Holman Field Administration Building and the Harriet Island Pavilion, all now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
Wigington also designed monumental ice palaces for the St. Paul Winter Carnival in the 1930s and '40s. Nearly 60 Wigington designed buildings still stand in St. Paul. They include the notable Highland Park Clubhouse, Cleveland High School, Randolph Heights Elementary School, and the downtown St. Paul Police Station, in addition to the Palm House and the Zoological Building at the Como Park Zoo. Four of his buildings are recognized by listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
He was among the 13 founders of the Sterling Club, a social club for railroad porters, bellboys, waiters, drivers and other Black men. He founded the Home Guards of Minnesota, an all-Black militia established in 1918 when racial segregation prohibited his entry into the Minnesota National Guard during World War I. As the leader of that group, he was given the rank of captain, from which the nickname "Cap" originated. Renamed to honor Wigington in 1998, the Harriet Island Pavilion is now called the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion. His architectural legacy constitutes one of the most significant bodies of work by an African American architect.
After retiring from the City of St. Paul in 1949, Wigington began a private architectural practice in California. Soon after moving to Kansas City, Missouri, he died there on July 7, 1967.
Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906