Now & Then: Deco Detail

The State Office Building is an Art Deco gem. The building at 1 W. Wilson Street–conceived when Art Deco design was widely popular for commercial, institutional and government buildings–took nearly thirty years to complete. The first section to be built was the north wing (on the left as you face the main entrance), completed in 1931. The taller central pavilion was completed in 1939 and the south wing in 1959, by which time modernism ruled the day and Art Deco was passé. Th e State Offi ce Building retained remarkable design integrity in spite of changing tastes during the long span of its construction.

Arthur Peabody, who was Wisconsin’s state architect from 1915 until 1939, is credited with the design. While his name appears on state building plans throughout his tenure, the degree to which he participated in any given project is difficult to determine. The State Office Building is exceptional no matter who deserves the credit.

The exterior displays lively Art Deco styling. Bas relief details enliven the exterior with zig-zag patterns, motifs inspired by nature, simplified takes on classical themes and incised medallions with eagles spaced regularly around the facades. The metal light fixtures and entryways are also eye-catching.

The public spaces inside don’t disappoint, either, with wonderful grille work, elevator doors and light fixtures. Unfortunately, modern-day security makes it difficult to enter the building and fully enjoy the gleaming brass and marble.

The building recently underwent extensive repair and renovation. The exterior granite masonry was cleaned and repaired, original steel window frames were repaired, and front stairways were rebuilt. The work on the National Register-listed property was completed to National Park Service standards.

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