The buildings I most associate with Milwaukee are almost never Gothic structures. No, to me the German Renaissance and the Romanesque say "19th century Brew City." But, let’s not forget Milwaukee is a city of steeples and spires and there is certainly no shortage of churches inspired by the Gothic cathedrals of Europe in our city.
And in Milwaukee, as in many other places, Gothic architecture is most heavily represented in ecclesiastical works with their soaring towers the way to heaven, ornate stained glass windows with thick tracery, impressive rib-vaulted ceilings, light-welcoming clerestories and classic pointed arches.
One could expend a lot of verbiage on Gothic churches here, so to make sure this list of 10 great Gothic buildings in Milwaukee doesn’t become a list of 10 Gothic churches in Milwaukee, I’ve limited myself to one house of worship.
You may or may not agree about these buildings being the best examples of Gothic architecture in Milwaukee – presented here in no particular order – but you can’t deny they are all landmarks and lovely ones at that. Share your favorites using the talkback feature at the bottom.
1. North Point Water Tower, North Avenue at Lake Drive – Charles A. Gombert designed this Victorian Gothic tower that is the most recognizable symbol of Milwaukee’s East Side. Constructed out of Wauwatosa Niagara limestone, the slender, tapered 175-foot tower – with its turrets and gables – was built in 1873 and added to the National Register of Historic Places a century later. Despite our best attempts, we’ve still never gotten inside and climbed to the top. A matching limestone and cream city brick pump house at the foot of the bluff was razed in 1963.
2. Goodrich Residence, 2234 N. Terrace Ave. Otto Strack designed this striking Gothic residence along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in 1894, in view of the North Point Water Tower. Owner William Goodrich’s wife was none other than Marie Pabst, daughter of Capt. Frederick Pabst, for whom Strack designed a World’s Fair pavilion that forms part of The Pabst Mansion. Strack also designed the Pabst Theater. The balanced design of this heavily ornamented – especially with prickly finials – includes two prominent turrets that are themselves quite spiny.
3. Goldberg Residence, 2727 E. Newberry Blvd., was, according to Russell Zimmermann’s "Heritage Guidebook," the first house erected on the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Newberry Boulevard. Lawyer Benjamin Goldberg hired John Moller and George Ehlers (who designed some Milwaukee public schools, too) to create this impressive French Gothic mansion with its turret and large carriage house. Begun in 1896, work ceased when Goldberg ran out of money. The incomplete house was sold to George Martin Jr., who finished it. Here's a deeper look.
4. St. Joan of Arc Chapel, Marquette Campus, is by far the oldest building in Milwaukee. You can read all about it here.
5. Ristorante Bartolotta, 7616 W. State St. Built by The Pabst Brewing Co. in 1902 as the Charles Jacobus Saloon, Zimmermann notes that the triangular, battlemented building, which looks like a mini-castle, was constructed of cream city brick by mason Fred Yahle. It’s not only the Pabst logo at the top that links it to the Captain’s brewery. The bulk of the Pabst brewery buildings were Gothic in style, or as in the case of the Jefferson School, were retrofitted in Gothic clothing once purchased by Pabst. Here's a deeper look. Which brings us to...
6. Forst Keller, 1037 W. Juneau Ave. Long part of the Pabst complex of buildings, this now out of the way Gothic structure was built in 1872 at the First German Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1896 the congregation moved and sold this building to Pabst, which had architect Carl Linde add Gothic battlements to better match it to its surroundings. For years it was known as the Forst Keller, a beer hall, and later as a training center for the brewery. I stand by my theory that it would make a great live music venue. Here's more.
7. Downer College, Hartford and Downer Avenues. I spent a lot of time in these hallowed, but by then renovated and modernized, halls during my time at UWM and although I loved being in them with their low ceilings and quirky passages, I didn’t spend enough time outside looking up at Merrill Hall’s battlemented tower and the ornate decoration above the entrance to Johnston Hall. Designed by Alexander Eschweiler and executed in red sandstone, terra cotta and brick, the buildings embrace a nice little grassy patch that’s great for studying.
8. St. John deNepomuc Rectory, 4th and Court Streets, has always intrigued me and I’d be eager to see inside. This Gothic Revival church, which looks abnormally vertically stretched, was built in 1869 when the neighborhood was much more bustling than it is these days. Though it’s so grimy that it’s hard to tell, the building was constructed of cream city brick. Zimmermann notes that is was built by Father Joseph Gartner as a mission house for visiting Czech priests. See inside here.
9. Old Main, National Soldiers’ Home. Designed by Edward Townsend Mix, the soaring Old Main tower is one of Milwaukee’s undisputed landmarks. Read all about it here.
10. All Saints Episcopal Cathedral, 828 E. Juneau Ave. The one church I decided to include is All Saints. Built in 1868 by Edward Townsend Mix, the cream city brick church has an impressive soaring spire, a prominent clerestory and surviving support buildings surrounding a courtyard that create an entire cluster of cream city Gothic beauty.
Honorable mention: The Kenwood Masonic Temple/former Italian Community Center, 2648 N. Hackett Ave., which is a rare example of Venetian Gothic in Milwaukee. Designed by Leenouts and Guthrie, and built in 1915, this palazzo has terra cotta ornament, a recessed Italian-style two-story loggia and Gothic arches with quadrifoglio decoration. All that’s missing is the Grand Canal. The building was home to the Italian Community Center until the current home was built in the Third Ward.
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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.