Inside the Wells Building
Step inside the 15-story high-rise, which was the largest terra cotta building in the world when built in 1901.
The 2017 Doors Open Milwaukee takes place on September 23rd and 24th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Here’s a look at one of our favorite destinations of the annual event in our Best of Doors Open series.
On this, the next stop on our continuing Doors Open tour of Milwaukee, we visit the Wells Building, 324 E. Wisconsin Ave. I’m sure most downtown workers have visited this building, as it home to Cousin Subs, but I’d also guess that most haven’t really seen it.
Built in 1901 for Daniel Wells, reportedly the richest man in Wisconsin at the time, it was one of the earliest steel frame high-rise buildings in Milwaukee. And in fact, it was the largest terra cotta building in the world. Designed by Henry C. Koch, it originally featured a ornate stone cornice, which unfortunately proved too heavy and was replaced with plain brick. Milwaukee City Hall, the Pfister Hotel, and the Church of Gesu are also Koch designs.
The lobby features a spectacular dual marble staircase with brass railings. Numerous orange light fixtures, which are original to the building and were the cutting edge technology of their time, line the edges of the lobby’s ceiling. Today, these are being replaced with simple light fixtures throughout the building.
In 2011, Ascendant Holdings LLC, led by principals Eric Nordeen and Matthew Prescott, purchased the 15-story, 130,000 square-foot building for $2.9 million from the Zilber Property Group. At the time the building was mostly vacant, and in need of investment. Extensive remodeling and upgrades are currently underway. According to Tom Daykin, of the Journal Sentinel, by the end of 2013 they had spent $3.5 million on “a new heating and air-conditioning system, updated office space and other improvements,” and were bringing in new tenants.
Our photos share with you a magnificent historic lobby, a contemporary office space on the seventh floor, great views and many little details of the building.