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As St. Paul’s first city architect, Charles A. Hausler left a mark on the capital’s built environment

Hausler designed libraries, schools and other civic buildings around St. Paul.

photo of charles hausler
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Charles Hausler, ca. 1920s. From the Minnesota Historical Society's "Minneapolis Times" photos and clippings collection (III.55), Box 2.
Over his long career, the architect Charles A. Hausler had a major impact on the built environment of St. Paul. As the first person to hold the office of city architect, he designed many public buildings, including the three branch libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie. He also designed churches, commercial buildings, and homes in a variety of styles, including Classical Revival, Prairie School, and Art Deco.

Hausler was born in St. Paul’s West Seventh Street neighborhood in 1889. After attending Mechanic Arts School for a few years, he apprenticed for several of the top architects in the Midwest, including Clarence Johnston in St. Paul, Harry Wild Jones in Minneapolis, and Louis Sullivan in Chicago. This was all before he was twenty, by which time he had returned to St. Paul and begun practicing architecture. He worked with a number of young, talented partners, including Percy Bentley, who became one of the leading Prairie School architects.

St. Paul created the office of the city architect in 1914, and Hausler, who was only twenty-five, was the first person to hold the position. Under his direction, the office designed schools, fire houses, police stations, garages, and park buildings. In 1915, Hausler hired Clarence “Cap” Wigington as the office’s senior draftsman; this was the beginning of Wigington’s distinguished career as a municipal architect in St. Paul.

One of Hausler’s first duties as city architect was overseeing the construction of the main branch of the library on Rice Park. Electus Litchfield of New York designed the building, and it was Hausler’s job to make sure it was built according to plan. A few months after he was appointed, Hausler inspected the building site and determined that the contractor was using substandard bricks in the walls. He ordered the contractor to replace them. The contractor went to the mayor to demand that Hausler be fired, claiming that he was “inexperienced and unqualified.” The city stood by the young architect, and the contractor agreed to remove the questionable bricks from the building site. Hausler saw the construction of the new library through to its completion.

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Meanwhile, Andrew Carnegie donated money to St. Paul to build branch libraries in the Arlington Hills, West Side, and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods. Hausler designed each of these in the Classical Revival style, and in 1984, they were added to the National Register of Historic Places. As of 2018, the St. Anthony and Riverside (West Side) buildings still operate as public libraries; East Side Freedom Library has operated inside the Arlington Hills building since 2014.

Hausler also designed several St. Paul public schools in Classical Revival style, including the Como Park Elementary School at 730 Wheelock Parkway West and the Randolph Heights Elementary School at 348 Hamline Avenue. He designed Prairie-style buildings for the city, including a variety of park structures. One of them—the pavilion in St. Paul’s Mounds Park— became a popular picnicking site.

During Hausler’s years as city architect he continued his private practice, specializing in Prairie-style home designs. Examples include the homes at 1058 St. Clair Avenue in Summit Hill, 633 Holly Avenue in the Summit-University neighborhood, and his own home at 526 Grace Street in the West Seventh neighborhood.

Hausler’s eight-year tenure came to an end in 1922 when he was elected to the Minnesota Senate. He represented St. Paul in the Senate until 1939, starting out as a progressive Republican and ending up as a member of the Farmer-Labor Party. His architectural practice thrived during this period, and he enjoyed success designing Art Deco buildings. Two of these—the Minnesota Building in downtown St. Paul and the Minnesota Milk Company Building on University Avenue in Frogtown—are listed on the National Register. Although Hausler remained centered in St. Paul, he designed buildings throughout the Midwest into the 1950s.

A significant part of Hausler’s practice involved churches, which he used to experiment with Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine Revival styles. One of these, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hague, North Dakota (built 1930), was listed on the National Register as part of a historic district. It is a Romanesque Revival building with Byzantine touches, designed for a German-Russian parish that had lost its original church to fire.

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