Cream of the Cream City Award Winners: 2007
The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission's Cream of the Cream City Historic Preservation Awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation and heritage education in the city of Milwaukee.
Button Block Column Restoration
500 N. Water Stree, Button Block LLC/Taxman Investment Company
The Button Block may have raised a few eyebrows when first constructed in 1892. For a community used to pale cream-colored brick, the brash red brick and bright sandstone would certainly been a novelty. The building was commissioned by industrialist Charles Pearson Button to honor his father, pioneer Milwaukee druggist Dr. Henry Harrison Button, who had been born in a hotel that once stood at this site. Milwaukee’s reputation as the Cream City was beginning to change as architects like Crane and Barkhausen introduced a new color palette into buildings like this one beginning in the 1890s.
The building is located within the East Side Commercial Historic District that has both National Register listing and local historic designation. Time had not been kind to the building. Its brilliant hue was hidden under soot from decades of coal dust. The sandstone trim was crumbling. Foundation problems were occurring. Fire damaged the building in 1992. Little by little, the owner had been addressing the many restoration needs of the building.
With the Historic Preservation Commission’s assistance, the condemnation orders on the building were set aside and the fire damage was repaired. The crumbling sandstone sills were replaced in kind with new sandstone and a major belt course was replaced with a high tech fiberglass look-a-like in 2005. The granite corner column, a signature feature of the building, began to crack and tilt by 1996, and repair work was done to the piles beneath. Further work was needed as the timber piles below the adjacent load bearing walls began to fail and the granite column suffered more damage. Experts were called in to assess the damage and come up with a restoration plan.
The project manager, Timothy K. Luettgen described the process: This past year’s plan was to repair the damaged granite column, sandstone base and deteriorating timber pile foundation. We did this by supporting the corner of the building with a temporary concrete and steel structure with its own sacrificial pile foundation system. We then removed the existing granite column, sandstone base and limestone pier down to expose the existing timber piles. These piles were then cut down to solid material and a new concrete pile cap and pier were constructed. Additional repairs were done to rotted timber piles underneath the exterior load bearing walls. These were repaired one at a time by cutting them down to solid material, placing a steel jack on top of each pile and then back filling the entire excavation with concrete slurry.
Among the experts involved in the project were Pierce Engineers, Thornton Tomasetti (Chicago), Jim Ronning, J.P. Cullen and Sons, and H. Russell Zimmermann who created the detailed drawings for the new column and base. A new type of laser measuring was employed, through the firm SightLine, LLC, ensuring that the curved entasis of the new column matched the original exactly. Quarra Stone from Madison produced a nearly exact match for the granite in the column as well as matching sandstone for the base.
The Historic Preservation Commission is impressed with the efforts and commitment made by Button Block LLC/Taxman Investment Company to address complex engineering problems and return the building to its former prominence.
James Brown Double House
1122 N. Astor Street, Brico Fund LLC
This 156-year-old structure, one of the earliest houses built in the Yankee Hill neighborhood, is a rugged survivor that has adapted with the times. Its neighbors once included the homes of the E. T. Mixes, the B.K. Millers, the Ilsleys, the Allises, the Goodriches, the Tweedys and other high profile Milwaukeeans. More mansions came and went. Churches were built. Hotels and apartment buildings made inroads into Yankee Hill. Commercial enterprises took root in the older structures. Fortunately the Brown Double House had a succession of good stewards.
Its builder, James S. Brown, is one of early Milwaukee’s most remarkable, if almost forgotten, individuals. Brown was known for his brilliant legal mind and political accomplishments, serving as Wisconsin’s first attorney general, then mayor of Milwaukee and then congressman. Brown built the double house in 1852 and lived in the south half. It was during his ownership that he served as Milwaukee’s 11th mayor in 1861. Brown first rented, then sold off the north portion of the building. He sold his portion in 1863. Each side remained in separate ownership and was remodeled and added onto differently. By the late 19th century, each half of the double house had different dormers, rear wings and front porches. With a change in the neighborhood, the first floor of the building was eventually converted into business space in 1927.
One of the original businesses to move into the building in 1927 was Zita’s Inc., an exclusive ladies wear shop. It occupied Brown’s former unit at first but eventually came to occupy the entire building. Margaret (Peg) M. Bradley became associated with Zita’s around 1947, then acquired the business. Her husband, Harry Bradley, was one of the founders of the Allen-Bradley company. Eventually both portions of the building were consolidated under the Lynde Bradley Foundation. A major remodeling in 1992 resulted in a rounded portico addition to the front, an exit stair tower to the south elevation, and the application of new cream color paint to the exterior.
When Zita’s decided to consolidate at its Whitefish Bay store in 2006, many members of the community were worried about the future of the Astor Street double house. Their fears were groundless. The Bradley descendants within Brico Fund felt a strong connection to the building and wanted it restored.
The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. were chosen to oversee the restoration of the building. Beyer Construction provided the work crews. Their first task was to determine the period to which the building would be restored. The date of 1890 was chosen. Another hurdle was determining how to proceed with the restoration since both portions of the double house had evolved in different ways. It was determined to remove the 1992 portico and give the building a unified porch treatment but retain the unique rear wings and different dormers. The stair towers had to remain per City codes.
Forensic testing was done to evaluate and replicate mortar and other materials. The face brick was stripped of paint and the ribbon tooling of the joints was replicated. Lime putty render was applied to the common brick at the back. Half of the front elevation had to be rebuilt due to structural problems and the original brick was re-used. All existing windows were restored and new storm/screen combination units were installed to increase efficiency. The Queen Anne style front porch was recreated from historic photos. The one remaining original interior staircase was restored along with three original remaining fireplaces. Sustainable practices included the recycling of the interior retail cabinetry and non-original woodwork, installing efficient lighting systems, retaining city steam system for heat, using materials with recycled content, and using low VOC products.
The project was long and involved and unanticipated challenges had to be met along the way. The Historic Preservation Commission recognizes the Brico Fund for its commitment to excellence and the successful integration of preservation and sustainability in an urban environment. The project demonstrates that preservation is not only about looking to the past but utilizing the tools modern technology can provide so that our historic buildings remain relevant for the future.
Pritzlaff Hardware Building Restoration
1033 N. Old World Third Street, 1033 Old World 3rd LLC/Salvatore G. Safina
Most people today associate the name Pritzlaff with the large complex of buildings located at Plankinton and St. Paul Avenues. Few know that the hardware company giant originated at Old World Third Street.
A German immigrant, Pritzlaff worked with a succession of iron and hardware merchants before opening his own business on Old World Third Street in 1850. Success led to the construction of the present building in 1861. Architect Leonard Schmidtner designed it as a three story building but a fourth story with mansard roof was added in 1893.
This building was a catalyst for future development and signaled Old World Third Street’s emergence as a major commercial district for the German immigrant community. In 1874, Pritzlaff’s business had grown so large, one of the three largest hardware dealers west of the Alleghenies, that he relocated to Plankinton Avenue where expansion continued into the 20th century. Number 1033 N. Old World Third Street is the second oldest extant building in the district after the Bauer Building next door which was constructed c.1858.
The Pritzlaff Hardware Company Building is a fine example of the Italianate style and is part of a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as having local historic designation. The building had suffered from the kind of change that afflicts so many older commercial buildings. The cream brick was obscured by atmospheric contaminants. A fire escape had a position of prominence on the front façade. The storefront was altered in 1939, 1944, 1975 and again after 1984 when stucco covered much of the façade. In 2005, the current owners decided to restore the building to its historic appearance. The brick and limestone trim were cleaned, the pressed metal Queen Anne style cornice was painted, the fire escape was removed, windows were replaced with new, true divided-light replacements, and a new, historically-appropriate storefront was installed complete with double leaf entry doors.
The Historic Preservation Commission recognizes the extensive work done on the project and hopes that the Pritzlaff Building will serve to encourage the restoration and re-use of Milwaukee's fine but finite collection of buildings built with locally manufactured cream-colored brick, the brick that once earned Milwaukee the nickname “The Cream City.”
St. Hedwig Church Preservation Stewardship
1716 N. Humboldt Avenue, Three Holy Women Parish
Church buildings are powerful symbols and they anchor their neighborhoods like no other structure can. St. Hedwig church has been the visual and spiritual heart of the Brady Street neighborhood since its completion in 1886. Founded by a group of determined Polish immigrants, St. Hedwig Church is now part of Three Holy Women Parish that also incorporates Holy Rosary Church (Irish origins) and St. Rita’s Church (Italian origins). The parish reflects the melting pot that is the Brady Street area.
People marvel at the costly materials used in these buildings and wonder why their congregations bothered. But what better way is there to convey the sense of spirituality, permanence, eternal commitment and pride than with a house of worship that will withstand the test of time. As sturdy as these materials are, however, they still require diligent maintenance and sometimes even replacement after generations of service. St. Hedwig’s roof is a case in point.
The replacement of the copper roof at St. Hedwig Church is a story of both tradition and new technology working hand in hand. The green patina on the church’s copper roof and spire had evolved over decades of oxidation and formed a familiar visual feature of the cream brick structure. It is thought to have been a second generation roof, an early 20th century replacement for the original which had failed for reasons not known today. By the 21st century, pinholes and stress cracks had developed in the copper, some of which are thought to have been caused by the fasteners used at the time. Water was coming into the building.
Langer Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc. did a thorough analysis of the problems. They determined a thicker gauge copper was required along with stainless steel fasteners. Especially challenging was the steeple roof. The feather-like, herringbone pattern was a traditional European design but in the old country, was often executed in lead not copper. The copper was not holding. Langer devised a method to replicate the look of the old steeple roof and yet allow for slight expansion and contraction to alleviate tearing. The new steeple roof is virtually indistinguishable from the old yet retains the unique Old World patterning. Langer also utilized modern computer equipment to bend the copper in forming the cornices and gutters. They too are accurate to the originals. Restoration projects are only as good as the materials chosen and the contractors who work on them. It appears that St. Hedwig Church was in good hands.
The Historic Preservation Commission recognizes St. Hedwig Church for their dedication to the original intent of the design of the building and all the extra effort and expense that entailed. The parish’s commitment to excellence will mean that the church will remain a landmark in the community for generations to come.
Scranton Stockdale Renovation
2865 N. Hackett Avenue, John and Kimberly Kramer
What do you do with the “smallest and ugliest house on the block”? That’s the question that Paul Kramer and his wife Kimberly asked themselves when they purchased their home in 2005. Luckily John Kramer had an undergraduate degree in history and a true love for historical neighborhoods/houses. Their efforts turned an ugly duckling into a house that can stand alongside its neighbors with pride.
Their house had not always been an ugly duckling. It was built in 1921 at a cost of $5,200 by the noted builder Scranton Stockdale who advertised himself as a “builder of cozy homes.” While not as grand as some of the adjacent architect-designed houses, this Stockdale-built house had good bones and an attention to detail characteristic of his other projects. Stockdale houses stand out in the neighborhoods where they were built. You can see Stockdale houses all through the city from Bay View to the St. Joseph Hospital neighborhood. Dutch Colonial, Colonial, English Bungalow and Arts and Crafts Bungalow style houses were the company’s specialty.
Do repairs or cover it up. Fix it right or fix it fast. Why fix it when you can remove it. These were the choices past owners faced when the house needed some maintenance. Unfortunately, the quick fix was selected. The entire front porch was pulled off at an unknown date. Steel siding was installed in 1972. Surely the past owners were content thinking the house was “maintenance free” but at what price. The Dutch Colonial now stood out as the anomaly on its block and the “remuddling” only emphasized its modest scale.
By the time the Kramers purchased the home, it was listed in the State and National Registers as part of the Kenwood Park-Prospect Hill Historic District. Lacking historic photos, the Kramers worked with city Historic Preservation staff to draft a period-appropriate design for a full-length front porch and matched the footprint shown in old fire insurance atlases. The old steel siding was removed and revealed small windows on the south elevation that had been covered over. Millwork was re-created to frame the windows since details had been chopped off during the installation of the siding. Other repairs were done. New landscaping will come next. As John Kramer stated, “I felt a civic duty to the neighborhood to bring the house up to specs with the other homes in the neighborhood. (Trust me, we haven’t seen a financial gain from doing this!) Now, we have just the smallest house on the block.”
While some might question that the project is just a “simple house,” the Historic Preservation Commission recognizes the Kramer’s commitment to quality work and appropriate details and materials. They truly turned their ugly duckling into a modest, but handsome swan. Their efforts should be an inspiration to others.