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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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Carl Ringer, front left, at a dinner in his honor in 1932. On his left is William George Bruce. (Photo: Milwaukee Public Library)
Carl Ringer, front left, at a dinner in his honor in 1932. On his left is William George Bruce. (Photo: Milwaukee Public Library)
Ringer's former Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, now Bethel Baptist. (Photo: Google)
Ringer's former Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, now Bethel Baptist. (Photo: Google)

An architectural Ringer?

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a 1926 article about the earliest architects working in Milwaukee. One sentence particularly caught my attention.

The 1926 article, which appeared in the pages of The Wisconsin Magazine of History, is "Early Day Architects in Milwaukee," written by Alexander Carl Guth – himself an architect, who had served as secretary of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Institute of Architects and of whom Time magazine once described as a, "recent ardent convert to modernism," noting that on a tour of Milwaukee Guth, "said a few words to set Milwaukee conservatives' hair acurl."

The line: "Carl F. Ringer, Sr., can well lay claim to the fact that he is today the dean of Milwaukee architects."

Who?

My fingers couldn't click over to Google fast enough. I learned that Ringer, who worked in the city as an architect since 1881, had also served as city building inspector in 1911-12 and was a member of the Harbor Commission board, too.

When he died in April 1939 at the age of 88 he was remembered as a pioneer of the Socialist movement in Milwaukee, too.

Learning about Ringer is starting to remind me of when I first heard of Charles Malig and the effect he had on Milwaukee's landscape.

I was most interested to learn that Ringer was the architect of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church/Bethel Baptist Church, 2030 W. North Ave., a church I pass often and wonder about nearly every time I see it.

Because it sits on a high point along North Avenue, the cream city brick church is visible for a good distance along the avenue.

Like his contemporary, Henry C. Koch, Ringer was born in Germany and got his start in Milwaukee in the office of George Mygatt. He also worked as an apprentice to Edward Townsend Mix and as construction foreman for James Douglas. Those are pretty stellar credentials.

Ringer struck out on his own in 1881 and according to the historic designation prepared on the church, Zion was one of his first major commissions. (Though the two towers that flank the taller main tower were added in 1908 and designed by architects Herman Bruns and Benedict Bruns.)

"Ringer was adept at working in the period revival and commercial architectural styles of his day and his designs were popular with the city's German-American patrons," the report says.

"He is also believed to have maintained strong family and social ties with his German homeland where, incidentally, his sister Bertha lived with her husband Carl Benz, who was one of the designers of the Mercedes-Benz automobile."

It was in 1911 that socialist mayor Emil Seidel appointed Ringer building inspector, though he only held the post until a new mayor, Gerhard Bading, was elected the following year.

"Bading reportedly clashed with his inspector over a building permit Ringer granted to make structural repairs to a downtown building that the mayor wanted torn down," the report says.

"Ringer challenged his firing and took the matter to the state Supreme Court where he won a decision in his favor in August, 1912 and was reinstated to his position will full back pay. Feeling vindicated, however, Ringer immediately submitted his resignation. His victory was sweetened after the controversial building was repaired and then kept in service for years after that."

Afterward, Ringer went back to his firm, which by then became C.F. Ringer & Son, because his son, Carl Jr., had come on board in 1904. Ringer kept working until his death and among the other extant buildings drawn by the firm are the 1981 Meinecke Toy Company, across from the Milwaukee Rep, at 110 E. Wells St.; the crocker wholesaler Edward Wild's house at 2932 W. McKinley Blvd.; and  the cool 1927  Frei Gemeinde Society Clubhouse on Fond du Lac Avenue near 26th Street.

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