Jeramey Jannene
Eyes On Milwaukee

Pabst Mansion Celebrates Its Survival

Unique Gilded Age mansion built in 1892 almost became a parking lot 40 years ago.

By - Apr 30th, 2018 10:27 am
Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

It’s hard to believe today, but there was a time when the most likely future for the historic Pabst Mansion was as a parking lot for an adjacent Holiday Inn hotel. Forty years later, the hotel is long gone, after having been turned into a Marquette University residence hall, and the mansion is still standing, an important piece of Milwaukee’s cultural and architectural history.

Built as the home for Captain Frederick Pabst and his wife Maria in 1892, the 20,000-square-foot structure was designed by Milwaukee architects George B. Ferry and Alfred C. Clas.

The Pabst family sold their interest in the house at 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave. in 1908, following the death of both Frederick and Maria. The children by then had constructed their own mansions elsewhere in the city. Their parents old house then became the longtime residence of the Catholic archbishop and center of the archdiocese. But when the archdiocese moved out, it was slated to be razed and turned into a parking lot for the then-adjacent hotel.

That didn’t sit well with many, including H. Russell Zimmerman, John Conlan and Florence Schroeder. The three were key figures in a preservation battle that ran from 1975 to 1978.

How did the Pabst Mansion escape the wrecking ball? “I’ve always said one of the best things the Pabst Mansion has going for it is the Pabst name,” says mansion executive director John Eastberg. “The community was primed for a preservation win.”

Ultimately 23 organizations secured the mansion’s future by each taking out a small mortgage on the property.

The Gilded Age home was saved during an era when it was more common to tear large structures down. The Layton Gallery was demolished in 1958. The Chicago & North Western Railway Lake Front Depot was demolished in 1968. The Elizabeth Plankinton House was demolished in 1980.

Over the next couple weeks, the grand Grand Avenue mansion is celebrating both the 40th anniversary of the building’s preservation and the 125th anniversary of its construction with a series of lectures. A May 3rd lecture will examine the mansions of Prospect Avenue and a May 10th lecture will examine the efforts to preserve the mansion itself.

Since opening to the public in 1978, millions of dollars have gone into repair and upkeep of the home.

For reference on just how opulent the mansion is, it was completed in 1892 at a cost of just over $254,000. In 2017 dollars the house would cost $7 million.

Eastberg says next up for the historic home are a series of interior renovations, including to the Pabst booth from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The small structure, which is attached to the east side of the house, now serves as the main entrance and gift shop to the mansion. It’s the last such structure from Daniel Burnham’s famed White City that is still entirely intact. The interior details of the place are quite interesting and were captured in this story by Michael Horne.

Calling it “one of the great house museums in America,” Eastberg notes that the organization is focused on preserving the mansion as close as possible to the condition it was in when the Pabst family called it home.

The museum is open to the public seven days a week. Admission is $12 with discounts for seniors, veterans, college students and children.


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