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Milwaukee Central Library

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1893–1898, Ferry and Clas. 814 W. Wisconsin Ave.
  • (Photograph by Paul J. Jakubovich, courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)
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  • (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Milwaukee’s Central Library marked the local triumph of Beaux-Arts classical architecture. It also marked a victory for Milwaukee’s Ferry and Clas, who won a nationwide design competition that included a similar Beaux-Arts classical design by young Frank Lloyd Wright. Ferry and Clas’s formal, symmetrical composition typifies French-derived Beaux-Arts design, but the library at the University of Leipzig, Germany, is said also to have provided inspiration. In any case, the library’s shallow dome on a round drum, classical forms, portico, and wealth of delicate carved ornament were all features favored by the influential architects trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Inside, a spectacular rotunda lobby is paved with a splendid Roman-style marble mosaic, installed by Italian craft workers who immigrated to Milwaukee late in the nineteenth century. Large scagliola-clad columns rise the full height of the rotunda, supporting the majestic galleries and marble staircases and railings. The marble-wainscoted walls retain their original bronze and leaded-glass light fixtures. The dome finishes the dramatic three-story space with a Roman coffered ceiling.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "Milwaukee Central Library", [Milwaukee, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 94-95.

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