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Isn't It Ionic?

Birchard-Follansbee Block, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Birchard-Follansbee Block, 331 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, before restoration.
Birchard-Follansbee Block, 331 E. Wisconsin
Ave., Milwaukee, before restoration.

When Alanson Follansbee built his large four-story corner building in 1867, he topped it with a mansard roof, reflecting the popular French Second Empire style. Later owners, the Birchard family, remodeled and added to the corner-most portion of the building in 1899. They removed the mansard, and rebuilt the fourth floor in brick and stone. They added a fifth floor and a bracketed cornice, thus changing the building from Second Empire to Italianate. Today, the corner portion reads as a separate building, which it is in fact for all intents and purposes. Its neighbor still sports its original mansard roof.

After restoration
After restoration.

The building housed many commercial uses over the years. Long-time owner Reckmeyer Furs bought the building in 1939 and maintained it well, for the most part, until they closed their business in 1996. They did modernize their store in 1954, adding a contemporary storefront of black marble and aluminum. On the interior they added bare modern finishes, including gleaming mirrored column covers.

In 2000, Johnson Bank bought the building, located in Milwaukee's East Side National Register Historic District, and began converting all five floors to their Milwaukee offices. The new owner chemically cleaned the brick, so that it now lives up to its "Cream City" name. They opened up the storefront's glass transom, rebuilt the display windows and entry doors in wood, constructed an historically appropriate storefront cornice, and replaced the black marble with stone pilasters to match the historic stone.

Modern first floor commercial space before restoration. Note dropped ceiling and mirrored columns.
Modern first floor commercial space
before restoration. Note dropped
ceiling and mirrored columns.


Interior during restoration, with old details exposed.
Interior during restoration, with
old details exposed.

Project completed with beamed ceiling and Ionic columns restored.
Project completed with beamed
ceiling and Ionic columns restored.

Inside was the biggest surprise. The furred out walls, dropped ceiling and mirrors on the columns were removed to reveal ornate window trim, a wood beaded-board and beamed ceiling and classical columns with Ionic capitals. Designers used these time-honored details as a foil for the modern office interior. The new bank successfully uses the architecture of the old building to reinforce a corporate image of longevity and stability.


 

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