The Burnham Block’s well-preserved Italianate facade, with its ornamental brickwork, original cast-iron storefront piers, and elongated round-arched third-floor windows and short arcade above them, was a showpiece for brick maker John Burnham. The bricks came from Burnham’s brickyard, Milwaukee’s largest cream brick manufacturer, four blocks away. The Burnham Block is one of Milwaukee’s few surviving commercial buildings with a top-floor public meeting hall. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Milwaukee had many upper-story rental halls that played an important community role, hosting charity events, weddings, lectures, and labor, political, and social group meetings. Rental halls were also home to myriad fraternal societies organized in the nineteenth century, often by immigrants seeking mutual aid while socializing with others who knew their culture and language. Burnham rented his spacious third-story meeting hall to German-immigrant fraternal groups, lodges of the Knights of Pythias, assemblies of the Knights of Labor, and other organizations.
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John Burnham Block
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