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Walter and Mabel Fromm House

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1928–1932, Curtis and Yale. North side of County F, 0.2 miles west of 3rd Ln.

Walter Fromm made his fortune raising ginseng and foxes. He and his brothers first grew ginseng and exported it to China, where the root had long been prized for its medicinal value; then they used the profits to start their fox-breeding operation. They later joined their relatives, the Niemans, to form the Fromm Brothers–Nieman Company, and by 1928 their firm ranked as the nation’s leading breeder of silver foxes. When the fashion for silver fox fur waned, the company switched to mink and became leading breeders of that species.

At the pinnacle of his success, in 1928, Walter commissioned this two-story house. Its tan brick walls, wide-overhanging bracketed eaves, and low-pitched roof with clay barrel tiles and a semicircular dormer suggest Mediterranean Revival. So do the simple wrought-iron railings at the second-story windows and the more elaborate wrought-iron balcony above the narrow Ionic-columned entrance porch. A rectangular solarium stretches to the west, with walls pierced by pairs of French doors surmounted by semicircular stained glass lights.

The house’s exterior barely hints at the opulence inside. Perhaps Fromm envied the breathtaking artwork in the newly built house of his brother-in-law and business partner, Edwin Nieman (OZ4). In 1932, Fromm commissioned German immigrant Friedrich Estenfelder to decorate the house’s interior. Estenfelder’s artistry covers almost every interior surface in the house. In the living room, he stenciled floral patterns on the beams and the ceiling panels in between. An ornate wrought-iron gate carved with ginseng-plant motifs opens onto the dining room. Here, Estenfelder gilded the coved molding around the edges of the ceiling with gold-leaf patterns against a blue background, and the color of the walls graduate from maroon at bottom to beige at top, creating an ethereal smoky effect. Four brass sconces match the stunning Art Deco chandelier. In the solarium, Esten-felder created a maple-leaf pattern, where pale-hued leaves fall gently from the tops of the walls, alighting, and piling upon one another to create a progressively deeper mass toward the floor. A richly carved vine pattern winds across the stone ogee-arched mantel-piece surrounding the fireplace. Nearby at 436 County F, the Fromm Brothers Farm’s log clubhouse, boarding house, warehouse, and laboratory are open as a museum operated by Fromm Brothers Historical Preservation Society.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Walter and Mabel Fromm House", [Athens, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-MR7.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 407-408.

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