The Wouter’s Building, located at 335 North Broadway, was transformed from an ugly duckling into a prime business location, using historic preservation techniques. Extensive work and attention to detail earned the building a Historic Preservation Award in 2000 for Building Façade Rehabilitation from the Brown County Historical Society. On Broadway Inc., one of Green Bay’s most forefront redevelopment advocates, successfully nominated the Wouter’s Building to be included within the city’s revitalizing Main Street Program, which helped earn an additional award from the Wisconsin Main Street Program for the masterfully restored brick facade.
But what a journey she has had.
The original structure two-story, three-unit building was constructed in 1907 by Jacob Wouter, a Main St. dance hall proprietor at the turn of the 20th Century. In the late 1890’s Wouter’s Hall would play host to parties and meetings alike, including the area’s first farming cooperative which called for growers to, “drop all petty jealousies,” and share in the prosperity that was to come.
Two decades later and a few blocks away, Wouter began a new building that would be called, “one of the largest and most up-to-date of any buildings on Broadway,” by the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Taking advantage of the agricultural heft he in some small way helped organize, one half of the new structure became Wouter’s Grocery while the other was made for residential use. As years went by, the building would house Cabot's Shoes, The Grand Union Tea Company, and Chadwick's Tavern Supply.
According to Gail Ives, a historian focused on Fort Howard prior to its 1895 merger with Green Bay, the location known as 333 was taken over by Jacob Wouter's grandson Walter Taylor during prohibition and eventually became Taylor's Tavern. 331 changed hands many times and in 1952, the building was sold to the Denis brothers.
As time wore on and Green Bay’s downtown slowly began losing its glow, the building that once set the pace for the entire district was but a shell of its former self. Little more than a century after the building’s splendor was unveiled, its first-story front facade had been covered with plywood, concrete block and vinyl siding by various occupants. Architectural features of the original building were still evident on the second story, with its cornices, arched windows, and three oriel windows overhanging the sidewalk.
Neighboring buildings would be razed, leaving both the north and south sides of Wouter’s exposed and revealing deterioration on both. The south side was covered with stucco, itself covered with a mural, to prevent further degradation that may have doomed the building to the same fate as its former neighbors.
When the unsightly façade coverings were removed in the 1980’s, the original transform windows were still usable and hope glimmered for the pride of ol’ Jacob Wouter.
By 1989 a Christian coffeehouse, Cup O Joy, occupied the building alongside infamous tavern Blazing Saddles. In ten years, Cup O Joy would outgrow the then-dilapidated building’s uses and move to Broadway’s south side. Controversy surrounding Blazing Saddles was emblematic of Green Bay’s struggling district as violence, drug use, and prostitution would garner hundreds of police calls in just a few years.
Nearby businesses worried about the perception while residents feared for their safety. Widespread attention to the troublesome area, however, prompted momentum for improvement. The City of Green Bay would buy Wouter’s Building on North Broadway’s 300-block in 1998 and dedicate $3.1 million to reconstruct the street. On Broadway, Inc. was poised to facilitate such a feat by offering businesses low-interest loans and subsidies for building updates, marketing and planning professionals for renewed business strategies, and free business management advisement.
On Broadway, Inc.'s Design Committee helped repair the exposed brick where needed and enhanced the entire building by tuckpointing its weathered mortar, making an eye-grabbing attraction out of the former eyesore. Stucco still covers the south side, but it no longer has a mural. The original storefront windows were restored to invite excited glances and fresh sunlight to its exposed interior ceilings and vibrantly restored hardwood floors. The back of the building became pedestrian-friendly, pairing nicely with the surrounding areas of Broadway undergoing similarly dramatic restorations.
An infusion of $500,000 in private funds has helped sustain and grow Green Bay’s downtown redevelopment over the last two decades along with participation of several banks, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and On Broadway, Inc.
Now, the handiwork of Jacob Wouter has been revived, giving downtown an attractive building fitting for professional offices or unique retail stores to join a growing number of businesses and investors who are reigniting Green Bay’s forward-thinking, culturally-minded, community-oriented spirit of the early 1900’s.
Historic Preservation Award Winner