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Former Wrightstown church transformed into music hall

Small-town church-turned-concert hall draws performers from across Northeast Wisconsin

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December 5, 2022

WRIGHTSTOWN – A lifelong dream of working and living in a former church led Musician Walter Croll to the Village Wrightstown and the historic, early 20th century (built in 1911) building – which was once home to the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation.

“I’ve always been interested in the acoustics of some churches,” he said. “For some reason, even as a teenager, I always thought it would be neat to live in an old church. So I started looking into it and one by one the bowling pins fell down, and I bought a church in Wrightstown.”

Croll – who has resided mostly in Southeastern Minnesota and portions of Western Wisconsin – said the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst that got the ball rolling on fulfilling his dream.

“I had reached a point in my life where my kids were all off to college, and after COVID, I didn’t have a lot going on performance-wise,” he said.

The original plan
When Croll began his search, he said it had more to do with the building, than the location.

“I did look at quite a number of places all over,” he said. “You don’t get to choose your location when you’re looking for such a unique kind of building.”

Croll said originally, he wanted to find a building he could teach and live in.

“Originally, my concept was I wanted to teach music – I am a music instructor, individual lessons,” he said. “So, I wanted to teach music in the building, and then I would like to live there – so the building would provide a living space, as well as somewhere for students to experience great acoustics.”

Croll said his primary criteria points were acoustics, repair needs and size.

“Of course, the building had to be in reasonable repair,” he said. “And it had to be the right size. I looked at some that were too small and others were definitely too big – so those were the driving factors (involved in my search).”

Croll said he did his due diligence when looking at the building but said that process is a bit different with a structure this size.
“This was a little more difficult to assess, because there are some areas and crawl spaces in the building that are difficult to get to,” he said.

In the end, the search led Croll to Wrightstown and the former St. John’s property – however, the decision to buy the property came with a slight change in plans, which in turn sent him down a path he said he never thought he’d take.

“Every municipality has a different set of zoning codes, and if I was going to have a business where I would have 40 or so students coming and going, I would not be able to live in the building,” he said. “So, that was a hurdle for sure.”

Still believing the Wrightstown property was the best fit, Croll said he moved forward with the purchase, rented an apartment and made up the difference by transforming the church into a music/concert hall – thus starting the Turner Street Music Hall.

“I’m promoting shows, which is a brand-new thing for me,” he said.

Croll said hosting musicians in the space allows him to take full advantage of the building’s natural acoustics.

“It’s unique in that the sound is very clear,” he said. “It has a low volume-to-feedback ratio, and it has the right amount of reverberation – not too echoey and not dead. So, in that regard, as a performer, it is a wonderful place to play.”

Croll said he seeks out performers he thinks would thrive in the environment. 

Some of the upgrades done to the Turner Street Music Hall building include the installation of a stage, as well as a sound and theater lighting system. Submitted Photo

“We’ve had a string quartet in there, we’ve had a 40-person male chorus, we’ve had an 80-person, girl choir, a bluegrass band, a jazz duo, a string quartet, brass quintet,” he said.

Croll said the space has only hosted concerts over the last few months.

As it is his passion and a part of the original plan, Croll said he is also teaching students within the building.

“I’m still teaching around 40 students a week,” he said. “I teach most stringed instruments – that includes the violin, viola, guitar, banjo, mandolin and the electric bass.”

Setting the stage
Croll said much of the first year was spent “getting the hall in shape.”

“The last real renovation on the building was in 1986,” he said.

Croll said some of the updates he has completed already include the addition of a stage, rearrangement of the pews, painting and the installation of a sound and theater lighting system.

Downstairs, Croll said he has added a handful of tables and chairs for the venue’s concessions but has plans for much more.
“There’s a lot I would like to do down there,” he said. “If I could snap my fingers and get it done, I would love to bring that downstairs area, the bathrooms and the kitchen, into modern times – because it’s a great space.”

Just recently, Croll said he discovered a treasure of sorts on the ceiling downstairs.

“Underneath the dropped ceiling tile in the basement is all of this stamped tin ceiling,” he said. “It’s really beautiful. They covered it up of course to put in updated ductwork and electrical, but these days, when you go into many restaurants, all of that stuff is still exposed. And this has the additional benefit of having some of that original 1911-stamped tin up there.”

Croll said he’s just begun to scratch the surface of what the building has to offer.

And though he plans to continue to update it as he can, a focus on preserving the past is a main priority.

“The overriding goal for me is to preserve the building – the structure of the place and also the interior feel,” he said. “It’s a beautiful, old brick building with some really beautiful stained glass windows – I think the two main ones are like 15 feet tall each, and they’re all in relatively good shape. It has a clock tower and a bell tower, which needs quite a lot of repair. And it has a fully functional organ, which seems to be in pretty good shape. There are still a couple of places in that building that I have yet to go into.”

Making a go at it
Croll said there are three aspects to the Turner Street Music Hall – the building, the music and the community.

“The building itself – it has some historic significance to Wrightstown,” he said. “I want to do stuff that’s not going to interfere with the look of the building, both inside and out.”

Croll said focusing on all three will help make the hall a success.

“When we have a concert there, and it’s filled with 100 people, and there’s a performer – it all makes sense,” he said. “There’s a beautiful space, where we have the community enjoying the music, and hopefully because I’m a performer, I also want the performers to love this place.”

Croll said the hall – located at 437 Turner St. – has received positive feedback from the community.

“In general, community-wise, it’s been positive,” he said. “For just showing up in the middle of someone else’s community, buying a building and coming in, I don’t think I could have gotten a better (welcome) – the community has been very supportive. People that have attended concerts have loved the venue. Then, of course, there’s all the feedback we get from the patrons and performers regarding the hall, and that has also been extremely positive.”

A look to the future
Croll said he’d love to get to a point where Turner Street is hosting 100 events a year.

“I think that is going to take a long time to get there,” he said. “If we can get 30 performances this year, I think that’s going to be a good start.”

Croll said that number could get as high as 50 in 2023.

“People are signing up faster than I thought,” he said.

Croll said his biggest obstacle in this venture is his lack of experience in promoting events.

“I have done some business ventures in the past, but that was around manufacturing and engineering,” he said. “I’m in a position now where a huge component of making this successful, has to do with marketing, promotion, advertising, connecting with people and in the past.”

As a music instructor, Croll said he’s used to being behind the scenes.

“I’ve always been – I show up and I teach lessons or when I was doing engineering, I would show up and it was somebody else’s project,” he said. “Now I’m learning to manage all of those things.”

Croll said though he loves people – he wouldn’t necessarily describe himself as a social butterfly.

“When we think about a showman, somebody who’s promoting stuff – a certain aspect of that, I think is necessary, and I’m learning to do that a little bit,” he said.

Croll said he is also reaching out to others for support.

“I’m also actively seeking out people who can do certain functions better and more easily than I can,” he said. “That’s the barrier, I think, that most small businesses have – how do you find people that fit those functions? And it’s their natural state of being to do that, just like my natural state of being is playing music and building stages.”

Croll said he knows that in order for The Turner Street Music Hall to be successful, he needs to reach communities outside of Wrightstown.

“Wrightstown is a small town, with just more than 3,000 people,” he said. “A music venue like this will not survive with just our immediate surroundings. People are busy, they have a lot going on, and coupled with the fact we are doing a variety of types of music here – they may or may not even want to go to many of those.”

The goal, Croll said, is to tap into the Greater Green Bay and Appleton areas.

“Just in the last few weeks, I have got someone on board who’s doing promotion and marketing for us,” he said. “When I say surrounding community, I’m not even sure what that means in terms of the small towns around here, because I’m not from here.”

Croll said he knows of places like Chilton or Two Rivers – knowing of them is about as far as his knowledge goes.

“So, it’s a bit of an experiment, and at this point, we’re putting as much time, effort and money into promoting as we can,” he said.

More on the Turner Street Music Hall and its event line-up can be found at

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