The Highland Park Water Tower was designed by the nation’s first Black city architect

13 June 2022

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Highland Park Water Tower

Completed in 1928, the octagonal tower sits at the corner of Snelling Avenue and Highland Parkway, adjacent to the Highland Park National Golf Course and the Charles M. Schulz Ice Arena. Though it ceased to supply water in 2017, it is the only architecturally significant water tower in the city, and a major neighborhood landmark.

The plaque at the west entrance lists Frank X. Tewes, who supervised Wigington, as the tower’s architect. Wigington’s initials on project drawings, however, provide evidence that he was its designer. In 1928 he had already designed multiple local schools, as well as the exterior of the St. Paul Auditorium. The tower is in the Mediterranean Revival style—an unusual architectural style for a water tower. It was among the many revival styles that proponents of the City Beautiful movement (1890s–1900s) preferred, as it emphasized constructing beautiful public buildings and structures.

At 134 feet tall, the Highland Park Water Tower contains three sections: a base, a shaft, and an observation deck. The base is made of a smoothly dressed, random ashlar Kasota stone, and has two entrances: one on the north side of the structure and one on the west side. The shaft features tan, pressed-face brick, and the observation deck is made of coursed ashlar Bedford stone. The roof is adorned with terra cotta clay tiles and a small cupola. Notable design elements include stone dentils, shields, downspouts, and lion-head relief sculptures adorning all eight sides of the observation level exterior.

Work began on the structure in 1927, with the tower costing $69,483 to construct. It was built by the Feyen Construction Company and William Selby. The Wilcox Cut Stone Company supplied the stone, and the St. Paul Foundry Company supplied the steel for the tank. A 151-step circular stairway that leads up to the observation deck surrounds a riveted, steel-plate tank with a capacity of 200,000 gallons.

Until it was taken out of service in 2017, the tower served the western part of the city north of West Seventh Street. The water was pumped from a reservoir into the tower and flowed by gravity to about 9,000 homes in its service area. As the city grew, so did water demand, and two underground reservoirs with a combined capacity of 28 million gallons were constructed both north and south of the tower. The Highland Water Tanks, two newer, steel water towers built in 1959 and 1989, are located just northeast of the tower. They have a combined capacity of 2.5 million gallons. In 2014, the south reservoir was decommissioned, and it was demolished in 2021.

The tower was designated an American Water Landmark by the American Water Works Association in 1981, and it is one of over 150 such landmarks in North America. In 1986, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as significant to architectural and engineering history.

Around World War II, the Highland Park Water Tower was closed to the public and remained so until 1976. Today, it is maintained by St. Paul Regional Water Services and is open to the public on two special neighborhood occasions: the annual Highland Fest in the summer and observing fall foliage in October. Virtual views from the observation deck offering panoramic views of the Twin Cities are available online.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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