Cap Wigington, St. Paul's architect

Cap Wigington
Cap Wigington worked for the city of St. Paul for more than 30 years, and was one of the first African-American architects to gain national attention.
Minnesota Historical Society

Architecture remains one of the least-diverse professions in the United States.

Of the approximately 100,000 architects in the United States in 2005, only about 1,500 were African-American, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This fact makes the story of Clarence "Cap" Wigington even more remarkable.

Wigington would have turned 127 years old Wednesday, and in the early 20th century, he became the city of St. Paul's lead designer for public buildings.

He was responsible for designing schools, parks, bathhouses and other structures to meet the needs of a fast-growing city. Using the tenets of the "City Beautiful" movement -- which theorized that beautiful surroundings would inspire better citizenship -- Wigington designed buildings that were both functional and inspiring.

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Wigington also designed several majestic ice palaces for the St. Paul Winter Carnival in the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

The best-known Wigington buildings still standing in St. Paul are probably the Harriet Island Pavilion -- which was renamed the Clarence W. Wigington Pavilion after it was renovated in 2000 -- the Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the Highland Park Water Tower.

Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer visited Harriet Island to talk about Cap Wigington's legacy with Annette Atkins, who teaches history at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.

For more information about the life and work of Clarence "Cap" Wigington, Annette Atkins suggests these books:

David Vassar Taylor with Paul Clifford Larson, "Cap Wigington: An Architectural Legacy in Ice and Stone" (St. Paul: MHS Press, 2001)

Larry Millett, "AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul" (St. Paul: MHS Press, 2007).