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Cass and King Street Residential Historic District

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1883–1936. Roughly bounded by Main and Madison sts., West Ave. S., and S. 17th Pl.
  • MacMillan House (Photograph by James T. Potter, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Buoyed by its 1880s lumber boom, La Crosse grew exponentially in population and wealth. It also grew in size, spreading over level terrain toward the bluffs to the east. Along tree-lined thoroughfares—State, Main, King, Cass, and Madison streets—the city’s newly wealthy business leaders built stately houses. Festive Queen Anne creations and fortress-like Romanesque Revival residences held sway in the 1880s and 1890s, giving way after 1900 to Colonial Revival, Beaux-Arts classical, and other period-revival designs and the forward-looking Prairie Style. By the 1910s and 1920s, this neighborhood, long La Crosse’s most prestigious, was taking on a denser and more middle-class tone, evident in the narrow subdivided lots, modest Prairie houses, and Craftsman bungalows.

Many leading local architects left their marks on the neighborhood. The partnership of Austrian-born, Vienna-trained Hugo Schick and German-born, Boston-trained Gustave Stoltze produced breweries, depots, and commercial buildings. But they also designed houses, here showing a special taste for Queen Anne. After 1900, and despite the crash of the lumber industry, wealthy residents continued to seek out this neighborhood. Queen Anne gave way to modern residences. Prominent local architects again led the way, with Percy Dwight Bentley and Otto Merman introducing the Prairie Style. In 1887 after Bentley returned to La Crosse from Chicago, he formed a partnership with draftsman Otto Merman.

The three-story Queen Anne house for furniture dealer Stephen Gantert (1890; 1304 Main Street) is particularly elaborate. Cross gables and a three-story bell-cast tower establish an artful asymmetry. A porch wraps the tower base to the facade, ending in an ornate entrance pediment. Oriels, bays, and a variety of surface treatments—rough-cut stone, paneled brick, clapboard, patterned shingles, stained glass, and false half-timbering—create an eclectic textural effect. Prairie Style influence is found in the Emil Mueller House (1914; 128 14th Street S.) designed for a G. Heileman brewing executive. Bentley gave the Mueller house an elongated form, a massive chimney, and geometric leaded-glass windows.

Stoltze and Schick designed the Nymphus and Jessie Holway House (1891; 1419 Cass Street). Built for a lumber baron, it combines Queen Anne with the weightiness of Romanesque Revival. It has a round tower, built of quarry-faced stone, and a round-arched stone entrance porch. A conical oriel on the house’s southeast corner balances the tower at the facade’s opposite end. A basket-handle arch below the pediment, a trio of small round arches, and knobbed bartizans enrich the design. Like the Holway House, Stoltze and Schick’s design for banker W. W. Withee (1897; 1434 Cass) bulges with fortress-like towers. A squat tower on the east side and two slender conical ones in front frame a gabled wall dormer. Clinker bricks create a rough wall texture, enhancing the medieval appearance. But classical refinements include Tuscan columns on a curving porch and a Palladian window in the wall dormer. This combination was frequent in Stoltze and Schick’s work.

Bentley’s earliest known executed work is the Edward and Flora Bartl House (1910; 238 17th Street S.). Here, Bentley refined the foursquare to create a Prairie Style house. The boxy, two-story shape, with its stuccoed walls, hipped roof, and one-story hipped porch (now enclosed) evoked a common idiom, but Bentley turned the ordinary into something extraordinary. Lap-board piers, painted dark for contrast, extend upward to form pedestals for bands of windows that wrap around the corners just beneath the overhanging eaves. This translucent band makes the roof seem to float above the walls. A stripe of windows in the prow-shaped stair tower adds a vertical counterpoint to the building’s pronounced horizontality.

The Frank Jr. and Lucinda Schwalbe House (1921; 223 17th Street S.) was the second of two that Merman designed for building contractor Schwalbe (the first in 1914 at 1420 Madison Street). The north end of this outstanding two-story brick composition steps sharply back from the street, and in the elbow of the setback nestles a flat-roofed, cube-shaped entrance porch. (The round-arched doorway outlined by brick voussoirs recalls Frank Lloyd Wright’s Heurtley House in Oak Park, Illinois.) To the left of the entrance is a two-story bay, facing north to the garden. The facade emphasizes the horizontal with a water table and sill, the long eaves of the low hipped roof, and two bands of leaded-glass windows separated by a stucco panel with wood trim. Merman added a powerful vertical element by running thick wooden mullions from the sill underneath the first-story windows all the way up to the eaves.

The Henry Salzer House (1913; 1634 King Street) shows Bentley’s mastery at combining his own ideas with those of other Prairie architects. Aided by Merman, Bentley created a two-story house with a low-pitched hipped roof, deep eaves, and long bands of windows. Wood trim (originally dark brown) set against the hollow-tile, stucco-covered walls (originally a deep tan) accentuates the building’s horizontality. Bentley borrowed the massive corner piers and the stocky buttresses flanking the main entrance from an earlier design by Walter Burley Griffin. The house’s modern exterior contrasts sharply with its Colonial Revival interior, designed to suit Salzer’s wife Clara’s tastes. Bentley also expressed his architectural breadth in the Colonial Revival Scott House (1918; 1721 King).

In 1914 Otto Merman designed the two-story Daniel and Mary MacMillan House (1222 Cass). Its core is organized in horizontal bands. Brick forms the lower walls, followed by a row of rectangular windows, wood-trimmed stucco for the upper walls, and another band of windows under an overhanging, hipped roof. Like many of Merman’s designs, this one is asymmetrical. A one-story solarium extends from the rear of one side, while a large two-story wing with a porte-cochere projects from the other. MacMillan, a friend of Merman’s, ran an automobile gauge company, one of the factories that helped sustain La Crosse’s prosperity after lumbering’s demise.

Bentley and Merman worked primarily for the captains of commerce and industry, but their residential designs set the tone for smaller houses as well. A number of houses on S. 17th Place, for example, reflect the Prairie aesthetic with low hipped roofs, wide eaves, ribbons of windows, and exterior cladding of brick, wood, and stucco. Most of these houses were built for middle-class families in the late 1910s and 1920s, when the Cass and King Street neighborhood was becoming less exclusively elite.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.

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