We know that Patrick Cudahy was a savvy businessman when it came to meat packing – his very name conjures the scent of sizzling bacon – but the Irish immigrant was also a savvy real estate developer.
With his brother John, Cudahy – who was born in Callen, in County Kilkenny, in 1849 and arrived in Milwaukee with his parents a few months after his birth – ran Cudahy Brothers Land Investment Co., which developed the city of Cudahy (you can read a bit more about that as it relates to one specific home here), as well as other properties in the area, like the Walker’s Point commercial and residential building that is now home to Arts @ Large.
In 1908, Cudahy bought up a high-profile block of Downtown lakefront land and proceeded to build the stunning apartment building that all these years later still bears his name, 777 N. Prospect Ave.
“The purchase by Patrick Cudahy of the Hurson and Brooks property on Juneau Place (Prospect), north of Mason Street, means one of the most elegant and the largest apartment house in Milwaukee,” wrote the Milwaukee Sentinel in June 1908.
“It is understood that Mr. Cudahy will buy the Munkwitz homestead at Oneida (Wells) Street and Juneau Place, which will give him the entire block facing Juneau Park,” the paper added, setting the stage for an addition to the north that would come 20 years later.
"The Furlong homestead, Mason and Marshall Streets, is also said to be available, and the alley between could be vacated or bridged.”
Though the paper noted that, “Henry J. Rotier has already drawn sketch plans,” the seven-story structure, with a partial eighth floor, would, in the end, be the work of George B. Ferry and Alfred C. Clas.
And it was a stunner, clad in bright and shiny white glazed brick, with copious terra cotta ornamentation made by Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, which was the world’s largest terra cotta producer at the time, with facilities in Perth Amboy and Rocky Hill, New Jersey, Staten Island, New York, and Eastpoint, Georgia.
“When it opened in 1909,” noted the Wisconsin Historical Society of Cudahy's building, “its large windows and deep-indented light courts provided every unit with sunshine and fresh air. Its white-glazed brick cladding made use of what was then an innovative new material.”
Ferry and Clas, according to Ben Tyjeski’s “Architectural Terra Cotta of Milwaukee County,” were “playful with their use of ornament. Mythological characters exist at the upper and lower stories. Their expressions are also quite animated. It is as if their proximity to the ground is to encourage pedestrians to engage with them.
“Grapevines weave in and out of the latticework all the way up each side of the balconies to a balconet on the sixth floor. ... Guarding the roofline are lion heads perched on the cornice.”
When the building opened in spring 1910, one advertisement boasted that it had the, “finest location in city for those seeking high class apartments for a moderate rental."
Another said, “the interior decorations exceed those of any other apartment building in the city.”
A third noted, “this building, erected by Mr. Patrick Cudahy, is not only the best and most completely appointed of its class in the city of Milwaukee, but one of the best in the country, and every attention to construction and appearance has been given it. It is so arranged that each of its various apartments has a view of the park and lake, which in itself makes it a choice place of residence.”
The 78 apartments ranged in size from one or two rooms with a bathroom up to seven rooms, “with complete housekeeping appointments. Three and four room suites are provided with kitchenettes.”
There were passenger and freight elevators, its construction was promised to be both fire- and sound-proof, it was equipped with an alley – which, “enables all supplies and house fixtures to be brought in and carried to the various floors without disturbance to the tenants” – it boasted both a “complete internal telephone system and also connects with the Bell system,” and there was a central vacuum cleaning system that could be run by the janitor or the tenant.
Apartments had ice boxes and gas stoves, wood finishes, mantels and fireplaces, and the common areas tiled floors and marble vestibules.
Monthly rents ranged from $20 to $75.
The Cudahy Apartments are among the oldest surviving residential buildings Downtown, along with the 1903 St. James Court.
Although Patrick Cudahy died in 1919, his family still controlled the site to the north of the apartments and decided in the late 1920s to build the 14-story Cudahy Tower, drawn by Chicago’s Holabird and Root.
A rendering of the proposed $1 million design (an estimate later upped to $1.25 million) was splashed across the newspapers.
“The addition will contain about 130 apartments,” wrote the Journal. “The addition will have three floors (at the top) which will contain de luxe apartments of one to each floor. These ... will contain large living and dining rooms with wood burning fireplace, kitchen, three master bedrooms with two baths and a maids room with bath.
“The suites on the other 11 floors will vary in size from one room and bath to five rooms and bath. These apartments will be so arranged that the lessee can rent more rooms as his need may demand. On the ground floor of the addition will be a lobby paneled in walnut (pictured below), a lounge, women’s parlor cardroom and main and private dining rooms.”
The two buildings were to be connected but also to maintain separate entrances, an arrangement that persists today.
The tower’s architects, writes Tyjeski, “selected an opaque, semi-gloss white surface to match the glaze on the first building. Spandrels on the ground floor feature festoons and the belt course displays anthemion. High above on the south and north elevations ... are also bas-reliefs and terra cotta shields, They are charged with a fortress tower, a flower, a chequey and an upright lion with its paws ready to defend.”
But, adds the Wisconsin Historical Society, "its taut exterior, illustrating the fading classicism of the 1920s and 1930s, contrasts with the boldly modulated elevations of the (1908 building). The disparity suggests the revolution in taste that occurred in the early 20th century. Although joined on the interior since 1929, the two buildings have maintained separate identities.”
The terra cotta for the tower, Tyjeski notes, was manufactured by Chicago’s Northwestern Terra Cotta Works.
By summer, general contractor C.F. Haglin & Sons of Minneapolis had completed its work, and in July, the Patrick Cudahy Family Company was leasing apartments for October occupancy.
In a full-page newspaper ad, the company gushed, “In the splendid harmony of Milwaukee’s upper lake front skyline has been interpolated a new note of most inspiring grandeur by completion of the gracefully towering structure conceived and executed to augment the superior residence accommodations of the magnificent Cudahy Apartments.”
The apartments were lovely and they were coveted. Among the lucky residents was Fred Pabst.
In the 1960s, the buildings were sold to the Marshall Company, though when that business faltered, Michael Cudahy, grandson of Patrick, bought them.
“In 1977, I found myself with considerable success on my hands at Marquette Electronics, a company I had started in 1965,” Cudahy wrote in Milwaukee Magazine. “With perhaps a more reckless move than the family ever made, I offered to buy out the Marshall Company. Marshall was in trouble with the venture, so bargaining was easy. The banks loved the idea, too. Cudahy was buying the Cudahy Tower, so they generously helped with the financial arrangements.
“Then the fun began. Julie Cudahy, my daughter and an instinctive mechanic, and I set out to restore the place to its original condition.”
In 1989, the original building was remodeled and converted to condominiums, and the tower building remains apartments. On the ground floor of the tower is Bartolotta’s high-end Bacchus restaurant in the dining rooms, which were previously occupied by well-known restaurants the Boulevard Inn and Fleur de Lis.
This April, the Cudahy Owners Association (COA), Inc. inked an agreement with Founders 3 Real Estate Services, which now manages the 45-condo property.
”The Cudahy owners take great pride in what many consider to be Milwaukee’s crown jewel,” said Nancy Phelps, president of the COA board, at the time the deal was announced.
Founders 3 gave me a tour of the common areas of the building recently – the condos are all occupied and so I couldn’t see inside one – and it was nice to get a closer look at the exterior terra cotta, but also the lobby and corridors, which are all adorned with framed artwork and historic photos of Milwaukee and the building itself, which is an unarguably iconic facet of the Milwaukee skyline.
In the sub-basement, we could see some interesting and rarely seen spaces, as well as the long tunnel that serves mostly as a pipe chase, but which also houses a long row of terra cotta pieces that have come off the building over the years.
In another room, extra white glazed bricks are stacked.
“To be associated with such a beautiful, historic building is a great privilege,” said Founders 3 Executive Vice-President Scott Schmidt, “and we take great pride in being selected as The Cudahy’s first management company.”
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.