By Kathleen Humski, Menasha Historical Society vice president
Photos by Nicholas Jevne, Menasha Historical Society president
A large, stately building has stood on Keyes Street in Menasha for over 92 years. Situated along the banks of the Fox River, the Memorial Building was constructed in 1928, bearing a plaque on the front of the building.
“God gave us sons, we gave them to our country and our country gave them back to God.
This building is erected by the citizens of Menasha in sacred memory of those from our city who gave their lives in the service of our country.”
The building was constructed at no cost to the city of Menasha. That was made possible by the generosity of a few public-spirited citizens and the use of $6,500 remaining in the war chest fund following the end of World War I.
The history of the building has been compiled from various local newspaper articles. After the end of World War I, people had more free time and worked fewer hours, leading to discussions on building a recreational facility in Menasha. Then-Mayor Nicholas Remmel allocated $25,000 to build a recreational complex on the Smith Park Shoreline, to much community support and enthusiasm.
The building was designed by Chester H. Wolcott, a Chicago architect. The local contractor was E.F. Dornbrook. The second-floor ballroom was used for military drills. The Parks and Recreation Department originally had its offices on the west side of the ground floor. Eventually, offices of the city nurse and dental hygienist were located on the east side of the building. CPR, first aid classes and babysitting clinics were held there as well. Early in its history, the building had also been used as a recreation center with vending machines, pool tables and locker rooms for men and women. The large ballroom on the building’s second floor has been the location of many dances, including the popular “Blue Inn” teen dances in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The building is currently home to the Menasha Historical Society, the Tiny Tots preschool program and several gymnastic programs.
In 1927, to make room for the building, the tennis courts were relocated across the street and into Smith Park. Excitement built as the opening neared.
On July 3, 1928, The Menasha Record reported, “the Fourth of July will be a gala event in Menasha. There will not be a dull moment from daylight until long after dark. The Memorial Building dedication, parades, races, fireworks and aeroplane stunts will be featured. Elwyn West, world famous aviator, is to give an exhibition at the park in the afternoon. Mr. West served as an aviator during the world war and has been giving exhibitions in various parts of the United States in the past eight years. Three bands will furnish music and numerous athletic events will take place including boat races, swimming and diving, tennis and hard and soft ball games. The fireworks display in the evening will take place at the riverfront, opposite the city park. The grand opening held on July 4, 1928, was a huge success!”
The Menasha Historical Society Museum now housed in the building is currently closed to ensure the safety of visitors. However, we hope to be open soon to continue our mission to “preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge of the history of Menasha.” We have thousands of photos and amazing artifacts to share.
We are justifiably proud of Menasha’s Memorial Building. Our hope is that it will remain in use to be appreciated by occupants and visitors for many decades to come.