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Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

205 E WISCONSIN AVE

Architecture and History Inventory
205 E WISCONSIN AVE | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
NAMES
Historic Name:EXCELSIOR BUILDING / Martin's Block
Other Name:IRON BLOCK (Promised Land Co.)
Contributing:
Reference Number:16292
PROPERTY LOCATION
Location (Address):205 E WISCONSIN AVE
County:Milwaukee
City:Milwaukee
Township/Village:
Unincorporated Community:
Town:
Range:
Direction:
Section:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
PROPERTY FEATURES
Year Built:1860
Additions: 1861
Survey Date:1984
Historic Use:retail building
Architectural Style:Italianate
Structural System:Timber Frame
Wall Material:Metal
Architect:GEORGE H. JOHNSON
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished?:No
Demolished Date:
DESIGNATIONS
National/State Register Listing Name: Iron Block
National Register Listing Date:12/27/1974
State Register Listing Date:1/1/1989
National Register Multiple Property Name:
NOTES
Additional Information:A 'site file' (Iron Block) exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the State Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation.

THE ONLY REMAINING BUILDING IN MILWAUKEE WITH A CAST IRON FACADE. HABS WI-251.

This building is also a contributing resource in the East Side Commercial Historic District (listed 9/23/86).

Milwaukee's only building with a cast iron facade. Possesses integrity of form and appearance with many of its original decorative elements extant.


The Iron Block, Milwaukee's sole surviving cast-iron-fronted commercial building, recalls America's first real attempt at prefabricated architecture: the mass production of cast-iron decorative panels. In fact, between 1850 and 1870, cast iron formed many storefronts and commercial buildings. The material had much to commend it. It was strong, durable, fire-resistant, and capable of being molded into an endless variety of decorative shapes and textures. When painted, it could convincingly simulate carved stone. Most important, cast-iron cladding made in a faraway foundry could be shipped almost anywhere in the country, eliminating the need for skilled artisans, such as stonemasons, on the construction site. Cast-iron designs permitted remote American towns to erect buildings as ornate as those in the nation's largest cities.

The Iron Block was a speculative venture for James Martin, an early Milwaukee settler, who ordered the cast-iron front from Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works in New York City and had it shipped to Milwaukee by boat. Here, Martin had the front installed on a timber and brick building skeleton. The building sports rusticated walls, round-arched windows, and Corinthian columns. Piers at the corners and between the bays are made of vermiculated blocks topped with a lion's head.

Originally called the Excelsior Block after the Excelsior Lodge of Masons who occupied the top floor, the structure was extensively altered at the shop-front level, but a 1984 restoration project recreated its original appearance.

Facades restored and interior rehabbed in 1984.
Bibliographic References:THE DATE OF CONSTRUCTION AND THE NAME OF THE ARCHITECT ARE FROM THE NR NOMINATION. BUILT IN MILWAUKEE, LANDSCAPE RESEARCH, P. 77. MILWAUKEE HISTORIC BUILDINGS TOUR: JUNEAUTOWN, CITY OF MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT OF CITY DEVELOPMENT, 1994. Tax Program. Buildings of Wisconsin manuscript.
RECORD LOCATION
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, State Historic Preservation Office, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory Citation
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