Is this a "shame" or did the front help save the back?
Is this a "shame" or did the front help save the back?

Urban spelunking: Wisconsin Avenue's hidden mansion

In the past, I’d noticed that German Renaissance Revival mansion peeking up over the low retail space on the northeast corner of 26th and Wisconsin. But until yesterday, I hadn’t realized that they’re actually connected.

Up front, right at the sidewalk, there’s a two-story retail space that houses Boost Mobile, Golden Chicken and a check-cashing business. This building wraps around onto the west side of the property, too, along 26th Street.

I had assumed the entrance to the mansion, designed by Crane & Barkhausen and built by A. Kroening & Son in 1897 for distillery owner and wholesaler Gerhard Winner, was behind the retail structure. In fact, the retail structure – designed by Schneider & Schaefer – was added in 1952 as a used car showroom, something I learned from a great article John Gurda wrote about the building in 2014.

Thanks to a Facebook post of the images you see here, which I snapped yesterday, I also learned that the retail space for a time housed the wonderfully named HiFi Fo Fum, owned by the Jack Rosenberg.

A newspaper article published around 1897 – and shared by Greg Buscher – included a rendering of the mansion as it presumably originally appeared (it was drawn by the architects, and buildings sometimes looked a bit different by the time they were complete).

The article called the home, "one of the most completely appointed and beautiful residences to be erected this summer. ... The brick work will be in a dark brown, pressed brick. The outside trimmings for the first story (which we can no longer see) will be of Portage Entry red sand stone. Above the first floor the trimmings will be of terra cotta. The roof will be of slate with copper ridges and flashings. The interior will be finished with hard woods throughout."

Among those woods were curly red birch, quartered white oak and red oak, sycamore, gumwood. There were also Italian marble, nickel and other materials used in the interior details. It’s unclear what might survive inside, but I hope to get in there to see and will report back.

In the meantime the posts on social media drew a variety of responses, from "disgusting" and "what an abomination" to "it helped save the house" and "I like the new bit more than the old bit."

Folks may also remember a similar situation on the southeast corner of 20th and Wisconsin, where retail spaces had been built in front of another 1897 grand German Renaissance Revival home at 1925-33 W. Wisconsin Ave.


(PHOTO: Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society)

The shops and the home have since been razed and it's now a vacant lot. It's a case where the "new" buildings could not save the old one forever.

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