10 great romanesque buildings in Milwaukee
Milwaukee has a "look" when it comes to architecture. For a lot of folks that look is the romanesque, and more specifically Richardsonian romanesque, a late 19th century architectural revival.
For a perfect, and iconic Milwaukee example, look no further than our Turner Hall, designed by a local champion of the romanesque, German-born architect Henry C. Koch.
Even our tallest buildings built in the waning decades of the 20th century pay tribute to the romanesque, with copious arches and symmetrical designs.
What is romanesque architecture? It is the architectural styles of medieval Europe, with semicircular arches, a rock-solid feel, generally simple facades (in comparison to later gothic buildings), arcades, and structural columns and smaller, decorative colonnettes.
In the second half of the 19th century architect Henry Hobson Richardson began designing influential buildings in a very stylized romanesque that featured recessed portals, round towers with pointed caps and lots of rustication.
Milwaukee has its share of extant romanesque treasures, many designed by Koch, a Richardson disciple. Here are 10 of them, plus a bonus: the inclusion of the eclectic City Hall:
Turner Hall, 1034 N. 4th St. Henry Koch, born in Hanover, Germany in 1841, got his start working in the office of George Mygatt, reputed to be the first professional architect in Milwaukee. He became Mygatt's partner in 1870 before striking out on his own. Koch designed the symmetrical Turner Hall, which was built in 1882-83, the heart of the era in which he was designing most of Milwaukee's public school buildings. So, if you look closely and think Turner Hall looks a little like a school, with its copious windows and broad arched portal, you shouldn't be surprised.
Steinmeyer Building, 1044-1050 N. 3rd St. The Steinmeyer building was constructed as a grocery store and warehouse in 1883 – to plans drawn by no less than Milwaukee's own George Ferry and Alfred Clas (they designed the Central Library, too) – with the addition of the two southernmost bays on 3rd Street 15 years later. Though the quirky alternating larger and smaller arches and the brick corbelled cornice survive, a beautiful glass and iron canopy over the entrance on 3rd Street is long gone.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 914 E. Knapp St. Built in 1884 and designed by Edward Townsend Mix. The heavily rusticated building is striking for its use of red Lake Superior Sandstone and for its massive collection of Tiffany stained glass windows.
Loyalty Building, 611 N. Broadway. Erected in 1886, the Loyalty Building was once home to Northwestern Mutual Life. The building – designed by Brooklyn-born architect Solon S. Beman, who also drew Milwaukee's iconic, but razed Pabst Building – features rows of arched windows on three of its five stories and the main entrance features a stunning portal with multiple arches and colonnettes. The Loyalty Building is currently being renovated to house a Hilton Garden Inn.
Fourth Street/Mineral Street Schools, 1555 N. Martin Luther King Dr./1210 W. Mineral St. While we're talking about Koch and schools, why not mention his twins. Fourth Street (now Golda Meir) and Mineral Street (now Kagel) are basically the same design and both are highly visible Milwaukee landmarks. Golda, built in 1889-90 sits at a high point on 4th and Galena, making it easily seen for blocks around. Kagel (built in 1891), meanwhile, can even be easily spied from I-94 south and west of the Marquette Interchange. Read more about the schools here. Other extant Koch schools include 8th Street and the northernmost section of the old building at Maryland Avenue. Alas, some of Koch's schoolhouse gems, like Jackson, South Division and 18th Street have not survived.
Sentinel Building, 225 E. Mason St. Walter Holbrook designed this nine-story office building that was the new home of the Milwaukee Sentinel when it was built in 1892. The facade includes just two arches, in the center at the eighth floor. There is also a decorative frieze running the entire width of the facade, just below the roofline.
The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave. Another Koch work, The Pfister Hotel was built in 1893, with heavy rustification on the lower floors making use of local Wauwatosa Limestone, and brick on the upper stories. A brick corbelled cornice runs along the top.
The Saddlery (The Joys Building), 233-243 N. Water St. This building with its unusually wide arches was constructed in 1894 for the Young Saddle Co. It was designed by Tharinger and Bruecker. One hundred and two years later, the six-story structure – and later additions – was transformed into The Saddlery, with offices above, and, on the ground floor, the Milwaukee Ale House.
Federal Building, 517 E. Wisconsin Ave. W. J. Edbrooke designed one of Milwaukee's most imposing and recognizable romanesque buildings: the former post office and still federal courthouse. Despite its solidity and weight, the building's sleek tower and pointed dormers lend it an alluring lightness. Erected in 1899.
City Hall, 200 E. Wells St. What is there to say about Milwaukee's most recognizable landmark, the towering City Hall, which at the time it was completed was among America's tallest buildings? Not, strictly speaking romanesque revival, the building is a example of Koch's ability to blend the romanesque with other styles, such as German Renaissance Revival and Queen Anne (his Jackson/Detroit Street School, now demolished, was another example). This mix of styles has also led to some dubbing City Hall "Victorian Eclectic." It is as remarkable inside – with a breathtaking atrium – as it is on the outside, with its 353-foot tower.
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