Recently, I read a book about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis that lamented the 40-square block neighborhood razed to make room for the arch and its park. In that area was the country's – and likely the world's – greatest concentration of 19th century buildings with iron facades.
Because we in Milwaukee know how lovely the Italian Renaissance revival Iron Block Building is, I can only imagine what St. Louis lost in that massive demolition.
Thankfully, our Iron Block, 205 E. Wisconsin Ave., remains on the corner of Water and Wisconsin.
Next Monday, June 17, the long-masked building will be unveiled after a full year of reconstructive work.
The building, designed by architect George H. Johnson, was erected in 1860 and the facade was made from pre-fabricated cast iron pieces that mimicked ornate carved masonry. Russell Zimmermann called it Milwaukee's only cast iron building and it is believed to be the only surviving example anywhere in the state.
It was such a novelty when it opened in 1861 that Milwaukeeans began calling it "The Iron Block," a moniker that has become official over the years. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
Zimmerman pointed out in his 1980 "Heritage Guidebook" that The Cary Building is an almost identical twin in lower Manhattan at Chambers and Reade Streets.
I have a special affinity for the building, in which I worked for a few years in the middle of the 1990s. It had been newly renovated at that point after having fallen a bit down on its luck. The building was legendary a couple decades earlier for having stellar parties.
At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Mayor Tom Barrett, Ald. Robert J. Bauman, building owner Dental Associates President Dr. Thomas Manos, Architect Mark Demsky and Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Executive Director Anna-Marie Opgenorth will be on hand for the unveiling.
Expect to be wowed. For this restoration, Milwaukee and Beloit foundries were hired to recreate original decorative pieces like lion heads, grape vines, scrollwork and molding, to bring the facade back to its 1860 appearance.
To send the Iron Block off on its journey to its next 150 years, Manos will christen the facade with a bottle of Champagne.
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.