Once World’s Largest Hardware Store, Now Apartments
1873 building, once a hardware store colossus, being converted to 40 apartments.
It was once home to “the largest hardware store in the world” according to the April 1874 edition of The Milwaukee Monthly Magazine and soon it will be home to approximately 40 Milwaukeeans.
Built in 1873, the four-story structure was located near Milwaukee’s industrial heart at the time, a stone’s throw from a railroad depot, a number of other warehouses and lumber yards. But not long before that, the land was a marsh on the edge of navigable waters.
With design support from Miller Architectural Group, Joseph will adaptively redevelop the Italianate building with the support of historic preservation tax credits. That includes restoring the facade, including the cast iron, first-floor storefront that has been covered over with drywall for years.
Residents will find a rooftop deck with views of both the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers. Architect Brian Miller said the deck is being designed in accordance with National Park Service standards that govern the tax credits and won’t be visible from the street.
Windows on the upper floors will also be replaced. “The upper floor windows were radically deteriorating,” said Miller in an interview, noting that none could be saved.
The east side of the building directly abuts a warehouse structure wedged between the former hardware store and the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks. That building, now home to a new event venue, isn’t part of the project. But it did present a design challenge by eliminating an entire side of windows. “We wrapped the apartments around the three exposed facades,” said Miller. That includes W. Seeboth St., S. 2nd St. and an alley on the building’s south side.
Two-story townhouse units will be included on the building’s first floor and a mezzanine level. Parking will be included in the building’s basement and a portion of the first floor.
Smith’s piece, worth a read for anyone interested in history or 1870s civic boosterism, details the building and Nazro’s business. It also includes hard to fathom comparisons, including suggesting that the structure could house a military hospital for 3,500 patients. Smith also reminisces about once fishing at the site of the building, a homey touch in the article.
Nazro left the building in 1878 and sold his hardware store by 1880 after which it became a cigar factory, machine shop, department store and ultimately Downtown Mini Warehouse in 1980.
The Nazro Hardware Lofts will join the two-story Mabbett & Breeds Block as the second historic building on the block converted to housing this decade. For more on Milwaukee’s hardware history, see our 2016 column “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: The Largest Hardware Store in America.”
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