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Marjorie Montgomery Ward and Robert Baker House, “Knollward”

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1928–1932, Van Alyea and Spinti; C. E. Mueller and Son, builder. 800 Lake Rd.

Knollward recalls Oconomowoc’s days as Wisconsin’s premier summer resort. Tourists began flocking here in the 1870s, and eventually millionaires from Milwaukee, Chicago, and beyond descended on the town each summer, building “cottages” that grew more palatial each year. Marjorie Ward’s Knollward may have been the most spectacular “cottage” of them all. The orphaned niece and adopted heiress of mail-order titan Montgomery Ward, she hired Milwaukee’s Van Alyea and Spinti to create a sprawling thirty-room French Provincial manor. The brick house appears taller than it is thanks to its exaggerated first story and the steeply pitched hipped roof of slate. In 1932 when Marjorie married Robert Baker, she added a wing to the north, linking it to the 1928 house by a squat turret.

The house includes such conventional signs of wealth of the era as an ornate limestone portal; a foyer with a grand staircase, crystal chandeliers, and a marble checkerboard floor; and a walnut-paneled living room with hand-carved garlands, a black marble hearth, and generous French windows. These contrast with a garden room, rustically appointed with brick walls, a tile floor, and a cypress-beamed ceiling. The 1932 addition includes a grand library that features not only oak pocket doors, enclosed bookcases, and a huge fireplace but also a view of Lac LaBelle. The Bakers followed fashion in having a basement party room (called the “Zebra Room” for its jungle-scene murals) and a frescoed oval breakfast room. The marbled bathroom, with gold plumbing and a marine motif, included a special bathtub for Marjorie’s dog.

In 1962, Knollward was converted into a retirement home, and a final two-story wing was added to the north. In the 1990s, new owners moved in and restored Knollward to its 1920s splendor.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Marsha Weisiger et al.
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Citation

Marsha Weisiger et al., "Marjorie Montgomery Ward and Robert Baker House, “Knollward”", [Oconomowoc, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WI-01-WK21.

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 203-203.

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