Building Info

Construction workers putting finishing touches on the Iron Block Building.
  • Address:
    205 E. Wisconsin Ave.
  • Taxkey:
  • Architect:
    George H. Johnson, Architectural Iron Works
  • Architectural Style:
    Renaissance Revival
  • Status:
  • Assessment:
    $3,337,000 (2015)
  • Year Built:
  • Size:
    40,670 sq-ft

Recently restored office building located at the intersection of N. Water St. and E. Wisconsin Ave. The best example of cast-iron architecture in Milwaukee.

From the 1981 Landmarks Commission/Department of City Development report…

The Iron Block ranks among Milwaukee’s most important Civil War era buildings. It is the only remaining major example of cast-iron architecture in Milwaukee and is one of a few of its kind left in the Midwest. The Iron Block was built in 1860-61 for James B. Martin, a grain dealer, real estate agent, insurance executive and banker. Originally known as the Excelsior Block or Masonic Hall (the Excelsior Masonic Lodge had its meeting rooms on the top floor) and at times referred to as Martin’s Block, the building was not widely known as the Iron Block until after 1880.

The architect was George H. Johnson, manager of the architectural department of the Daniel Badger’s Architectural Iron Works in New York City. Badger and James Bogardus were pioneers in the prefabrication of cast-iron and its used in building technology. From Badger’s company one could order by catalog a variety of pilasters, columns, window fenestrations, cornices and entablatures which could be shipped to the site, bolted together and erected. The use of cast-iron facades was widely accepted for the materials’ fireproof qualifies and economical cost. Unusual to its design is a foundation of inverted semi-circular arches of brick between the courses of stone. It was believed that foundations of this type would reinforce the walls against inward collapse and distribute the vertical load over a greater wall area.

The design of the Iron Block was influenced by the North Italian Mode of the Renaissance Revival which first appeared in the United States around 1850. It was a style of sculptural ornament which created strong contrasts using light and shadow. The cheap cast-iron technology greatly popularized the style and was commonly used in commercial architecture over the next thirty years.

When it opened, Milwaukee’s Iron Block was prestigious business address. It initially housed a bank, four stores, numerous offices, and a law library. Painted white, the structure was a striking commercial block int he heart of downtown Milwaukee.

Through the years it has significantly altered. All of the original ground floor has been removed and the cornice has been severely cut back. The interiors have been substantially remodeled. However, an elevator installed in 1879 is still in use and is believed to be the oldest one still operating in the Midwest.

From Guides to Historic Milwaukee: Juneautown Walking Tour by Mary Ellen Pagel and Virginia Palmer (1965)…

J. B. Martin asked the designer of his office building to use a new form of construction which he had admired in New York City. Johnson complied, and cast-iron units for the street facades, planned to resemble those on fashionable eastern store fronts, were shipped to Milwaukee by schooner from the Rochester (New York) Iron Works. When the building was completed, several Masonic lodges rented quarters in the upper stories, and Martin named the block Excelsior in honor of the lodge to which he belonged. But the public, fascinated by the ususual cast-iron construction, refused to call the building anything but Martin’s Iron Block. Looking at the building’s North Water Street side, one detects the location of its entrance in the days when the heaviest traffic was along this street.

Photos

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Activity

IDDateTypeDescription
ELEC_LV-17-004102017/08/19Permit
Low Voltage Permit.
ENF-2017-174382017/06/23New Service Request
DNS Activity:EXHAUST PIPE IS LEAKING.
PWOP-17-008412017/06/22Permit
ROW Occupancy Permit.
PWOP-17-008422017/06/22Permit
ROW Occupancy Permit.
PWOP-17-005042017/04/29Permit
ROW Occupancy Permit.
ELEC-16-019742016/12/21Permit
Electrical Permit.
11751372016/04/13Permit
Plumbing-Repair
7866002016/02/02New Service Request
Graffiti; on side of 219 E Wisconsin https://itmdapps.milwaukee.gov/XY_ESR/CASEIMAGES?CASEID=101001435756
119148112016/01/28Violation

~~
~~~~Permit required
~~Basement
~~~~Provide a performance test report for the rpp bfp
~~~~Install approved backflow prot dev-no permit reqd
~~~~Provide an approved air gap or break serving the
~~MAIN STERILIZATION
~~~~Install an approved backflow protection device
~~~~Properly install indirect or local waste piping
~~~~Properly install illegally installed water piping
~~~~Install an approved fixture supply connector
~~~~Install an approved control valve serving the
~~3RD FLOOR STERILIZATION
~~~~Install an approved backflow protection device
~~~~Properly install indirect or local waste piping
~~~~Install an approved fixture supply connector
~~~~Install an approved control valve serving the
~~ROOF
~~~~Install approved backflow prot dev-no permit reqd
7860572016/01/28New Service Request
Graffiti on East side of building on the alley.
118360912015/12/02Violation

~~
~~~~Sprinkler sys/equip shall be in operable condition
116724512015/09/02Violation

~~
~~~~Perform dry standpipe 1hr hydrostatic test 200psi
11313092014/12/11Permit
Elevator-New Handicapped
11299652014/11/26Permit
Plumbing-Addl Fee
11260812014/10/23Permit
Alteration
11205012014/08/22Permit
Elevator-Remod Passenger
11166392014/07/15Permit
Sign-On Premise
11133752014/06/12Permit
Occupancy
11121912014/06/02Permit
Elevator-Remod Passenger
11106332014/05/21Permit
Low Voltage-New Install
11089442014/05/02Permit
Elevator-New Handicapped
11046482014/03/21Permit
Elevator-New Passenger
11003102014/02/03Permit
Low Voltage-Alteration
11000222014/01/30Permit
Electrical-New
10845402013/08/22Permit
Asbestos Project
10836602013/08/15Permit
Electrical-New
101120212013/04/04Violation
WI REG #18246Test hydraulic cylinder annually and repl if leak
IDDateDescriptionType

Press Releases Referencing Iron Block Building

Citations