In Marketplace

I.M. Salvage is 50,000 square feet of recuperated building materials.

In Marketplace

Owner Ralph Gollnick got his nickname, "Bones," because people used to treat old buildings like graveyards.

In Marketplace

Hundreds, if not thousands, of old toilet lids and other parts are available.

In Marketplace

This Pepsi "monument" fits on a 12-by-8 trailer disassembled.

In Marketplace

Check out the old gas stoves, some of which were in Milwaukee's first apartments.

In Marketplace

A spiral staircase rests in the yard - not its final destination.

In Marketplace

Gollnick owns the building and rents out parts he doesn't need (yet).

I.M. Salvage finds treasure in destruction

(page 2)


A large, arched wooden door from a mansion currently sits in the warehouse, accompanied by an orderly pile of sandstone trim that once surrounded it.

"I've been followed by a half dozen people, none of them too successfully, and non-profits like Habitat for Humanity (with its ReStore retail salvage shops). Before people jumped on the green bandwagon, we were here," says Gollnick.

Gollnick remembers representatives of Habitat for Humanity touring his warehouse when it was located on Loomis Road, asking questions about where and how he amassed all that stuff.

I. M. Salvage usually had more time in the beginning, Gollnick says, even working months on some larger structures – and salvaging 99 percent of them. They once took a mansion apart entirely by hand – no wrecking ball or other large equipment – salvaging almost everything down to nearly the last brick.

Now there are more rush jobs. And Gollnick's crew has shrunk since the onset of the Great Recession.

"One time, when I had a crew of eight guys, I was supposed to have a week to do a mansion in River Hills, but then the owner gave us one weekend. At 10 a.m., we were pulling out the rec room, a massive amount of kitchen cabinets, all the windows, doors and door frames and two bathrooms. We were out at 1 p.m.," says Gollnick.

I. M. Salvage crews often work right alongside the demolition crews.

"If you make a mistake, there's no forgiving in this business," says Gollnick, "You can walk down a hallway one day and the next day it's gone."

I. M. Salvage is part of the Building Materials Reuse Association (BMRA), an international group representing companies whose goals are to avoid filling up landfills and to reduce the use of new materials. BMRA has an annual convention, which was held one year in Madison, and Gollnick says Wisconsin really impressed everyone there.

"The next one is in Seattle. It's usually held at a university and co-sponsored by student groups involved in recycling, saving the earth and all that," says Gollnick.

Gollnick has salvaged some impressive structures in his day, including a school in Cudahy, police stations, the old Schwinn mansion on Lake Geneva (where a new one now sits), a seminary in East Troy and the Ambrosia Chocolate Company, but he takes all jobs, including removal of dog houses and outhouses.

"Outhouses were expensive at that time, mostly because Martha Stewart used one as a tool shed, I believe," says Gollnick.

One of Gollnick's jobs was the Wisconsin Theater, located at 6th Street and Wisconsin Avenue. It was built in 1924 and demolished in 1986, but the grand old theater was first split into two cinemas in 1963. Ornate features like the gilded trim work were painted over or covered by new walls.

Gollnick uncovered all this and salvaged much of it, including a gargoyle-like decorative piece he calls his "self-portrait" and hangs in his office.

I. M. Salvage also recuperated much of Gimbels Department store, which was also built in 1924 and located on Wisconsin Avenue. The display cabinets from Gimbels were reused and Gollnick salvaged them again before their second home was torn down.

Cupolas that Gollnick and his crew salvaged from the roof of the Milwaukee County Mental Institution are now spread all over, some have been reused, one is at a surplus store in Baraboo.

Gollnick says nearly everything in the restaurant that is now the Water Street Brewery in Delafield came from his salvage jobs.

"I remember where stuff comes from and how to put it back together, even if it was 30 years ago," says Gollnick. "But don't ask me the names of the medication I take."

The Montgomery Building on Michigan Avenue Downtown was one of Gollnick's first – and most memorable – jobs. Gollnick's father worked for Plastronics when it was located in the building.

"As kids we would roam those halls, even doing some painting and cleaning the floors. I remember climbing the staircase to his work; 30 years later I went back to tear it down," says Gollnick.

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