In the 1850s and 1860s, Italianate was the architectural style of choice for Milwaukee’s fanciest houses, such as this cream brick double house. Two staircases, with massive cast-iron balustrades and newel posts, curve gracefully from the street to an exquisite wooden twin-arched porch with coupled colonnettes, Italianate brackets, and foliate ornament. The six-bay building sits atop a raised basement, a common feature for row houses at that time. Each basement unit contained the dining room, kitchen, and utility rooms. The main floor included a spacious, high-ceilinged parlor and a hall with a grand staircase leading to the top two floors. After fire gutted the building in 1984, its owners built an entirely new structure within the original exterior walls but restored the exterior to its 1860 grandeur.
Set in one of Milwaukee’s oldest commercial and residential areas, the Keenan House recalls the era preceding the advent of streetcars, when walking was the primary mode of urban transportation. Since people who walked needed homes near their workplaces, there was enormous pressure to build town houses and double houses downtown, producing Milwaukee’s compact urban center. The choicest residences were closest to the city core, thus explaining this location for Matthew Keenan, a politician and insurance company executive.