Mac Writt

Is Iron Block the Finest Historic Restoration Ever Done?

City officials are wowed at ribbon cutting ceremony.

By - Jul 29th, 2014 05:19 pm

“This is a first for me!” Mayor Tom Barrett chuckled as he helped snip the giant strand of ceremonial dental floss yesterday afternoon in the atrium of the newly restored Iron Block Building, at 205 E. Wisconsin Ave. The man-sized dental floss package and “ribbon” cutting ceremony marked the end of the 154-year-old building’s completed restoration process. Most of the 50 or so ceremony goers were employees, friends, and family members of Iron Block’s new tenant, Dental Associates. Dental Associates purchased the building in 2012 and immediately started the extensive, historically accurate restoration of the interior and exterior. The building is now the company’s headquarters and downtown clinic.

“The quality of the work was extraordinary, not only was the facade restored, but the actual cast-iron pieces were put back which over the years were moved for various reasons. It is probably one of finest restorations I have seen in the city of Milwaukee,” Alderman Robert Bauman rhapsodized.

Bauman and Barrett were joined by Dental Associates President Dr. Thomas Manos and Michael Marx, a downtown professional who is the clinic’s ceremonial first patient. Over the 30-month exterior renovation, Beloit and Milwaukee metal casting foundries pumped out thousands of new lion heads, grape vines, scrollwork, and moldings which decorate the building’s exterior. Each piece was molded to be identical to the 1860s castings.

The interior spaces have been completely reworked to create Dental Associate’s new corporate headquarters and dental clinic. The new clinic boasts recently furnished office and waiting room areas as well as newly installed, top-of-the-line dental equipment. The atrium, which historically separated the 1860s completed side from the 1890s completed side, is lined with polished marble and a huge glass skylight which streams sunlight from overhead. One Dental Associate’s employee jokingly said, “I might have to wear sunglasses to work with all this light coming through!”

Both Barrett and Bauman’s speeches harkened but to 1860. President Lincoln had just replaced then President James Buchanan, interestingly the only President to have served as a bachelor. Back then, the 50,000 square foot Italianate-style building’s intricate design and metalwork served as a testament to Milwaukee’s blossoming financial district. Over the years however the buildings pre-fabricated cast iron pieces and interior spaces fell in disrepair, despite the space being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The preservation work on the Iron Block Building as it neared completion.

The preservation work on the Iron Block Building as it neared completion.

Barrett mentioned that when he graduated from college in the 1980s, Downtown simply did not have the foot traffic and activity it does today. The Iron Block restoration is part of what Barrett called Milwaukee’s downtown “renaissance.”

“The fact that is renovation not only creates new jobs in downtown Milwaukee but protects historic architecture in the city is something that I’m very grateful (for),” he said. “If you haven’t worked downtown I think you’re going to like it.

Dental Associates operates 11 clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin with 850 employees and is adding an additional 17 new jobs with the opening of the new clinic and headquarters. As of July 1, 41 corporate employees will start work in Iron Block’s updated office spaces.

Iron Block Building Before and After Photos

Restoration Photos

Categories: Real Estate

8 thoughts on “Is Iron Block the Finest Historic Restoration Ever Done?”

  1. Justin A says:

    Why does it look like half of the west facing facade did not get finished?

  2. Jeff says:

    I think I recall that the facade colors are based on the original colors or are otherwise historically accurate. Either way, the dark brown is jarring and unattractive. But it’s great that the building was restored.

    Side note: I still miss the Harry W. Schwartz bookstore that was there!

  3. Justin A says:

    I was referring to the southern half of the building. The side that is facing the Chase Bank building. It looks like the southern half of the west-facing side of the Iron Block building is not finished while the northern half looks spectacular.

  4. That’s actually a different building constructed at a different time (~30 years later). It doesn’t match the original one perfectly.

  5. Justin A says:

    @Jeramey…Thanks for clearing that up. I guess I should have just looked at the “Before” photos.

  6. Interested Professional says:

    With a headline teasing that this may be “The Finest Historic Restoration Ever Done”, one would think the readers might be informed of who actually did said restoration. Involved in a project of this magnitude will be skilled architects and builders, both of whom certainly merit at least a mention, if not a full interview with published quotations.

    What the scribe has given us is stock quotations from politicos which could be identical from any number of ribbon cuttings, the name of Dental Associates’ President and a client. Those would be more appropriate in an article titled “Dental Associates hold Ribbon Cutting for Downtown Clinic”.

    Do better work, Writt. Journalism as an art needs more professionalism and effort, so be part of that solution.

  7. Rob says:

    the part of the building to the south was built in 1899 out of masonry after the building formerly in that location burned down. my firm (Spray-O-Bond Co.) did the restoration and I can give a couple of trivial points: 79 cast iron molds for approx. 4100 new pieces of cast iron attached to the building weighing approx. 31,422 pounds. 244 gallons of paint. grapevines are 5′ long. lion heads weigh 26 pounds each. new columns on west elevation are 13′ long and weigh 1400 pounds. all fun facts

  8. Meighan says:

    Spray-O-Bond Company did an excellent job! Robert Forrer and his crew restored the building with historic integrity and helping to improve the city skyline!

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