- Overview Essays:
- A Sense of Place
- Rural Ethnic Architecture
- The Changing Rural Landscape
- Places of Production
- Corridors of Culture, Convenience and Consumption
- Styles of Prosperity in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
- Architecture in the Late Nineteenth Century
- Revival Styles and the Role of Chicago Architects
- Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis S. Sullivan
- The Arts and Crafts Movement
- Planned Communities and Model Towns
- Art Deco, Moderne, and the International Style
- The Postwar Period
- Architects and the Architectural Practice
A SENSE OF THE PLACE
To understand Wisconsin’s buildings in relation to their environment, it helps to think of the state as defined by a series of overlapping natural and human boundaries, each of which has profoundly shaped the landscapes. Geology, climate, vegetation, watersheds, transportation corridors, and, not least, the phases of American immigration history, have each played important roles in the evolution of the Wisconsin landscape, and each is reflected in the state’s architectural history.
Among the most fundamental of these boundaries is between the glaciated and unglaciated portions of the state. The most recent of the glaciers that have repeatedly buried Wisconsin under a mile of ice during the past two million years was just fifteen thousand years ago. Known as the Wisconsin Glaciation because of the pioneering geological research that was done on it here, it altered virtually everything in its path. It did not, though, cover the southwestern quarter of Wisconsin, which has become known as the Driftless Area because of the absence of glacial “drift”—gravel, till, and other debris that is common everywhere else in the state.
In the Driftless Area, valleys and hills have been shaped by the erosive power of flowing water. The drainage patterns are dendritic, like the twigs and branches of trees, with creeks leading to streams leading to rivers in patterns that drain the land efficiently. Hillsides rise from the watercourses at sharp angles, so that dwellings and fields have typically been located in the valleys and on the hilltops, with pasture and woodland on the slopes. In frontier days, farm families tended to locate their houses in secluded valleys so as to break the force of winter winds. Today, house builders seeking rooms with views are more likely to locate on the ridge tops because residents no longer need to cut and haul their own wood for fuel or shovel their driveways by hand. The chief legacy of being unglaciated is that southwestern Wisconsin is steep, well drained, with lots of relief and relatively few lakes or ponds except those created by human (or beaver) dams.
In the glaciated parts of the state, on the other hand, frozen, not liquid, water shaped surface topography. The terrain acquired its rolling hills as grinding and melting ice deposited gravel and till wherever glacial forces dictated. Except in places where the underlying bedrock is unusually hard, the glaciated parts of the state are quite flat and the slopes gentle. Because the resulting postglacial topography is confused, the flow of streams and rivers across the landscape is leisurely at best. This is a region of marshes, swamps, bogs, ponds, lakes, and other wetlands. Quite apart from the architectural challenges that saturated soils pose for builders—wet basements are the norm in Wisconsin—one of the most dramatic environmental transformations of the first century of European American settlement was large-scale drainage. Much of Wisconsin’s agriculture is now conducted in fields that were once wetlands.
The glacier had another major consequence that profoundly shaped settlement patterns, and this defines a key environmental boundary in the state. Many of the most fertile soils are in southeastern Wisconsin around Milwaukee. The rich farmlands are a gift of the glacier, which transported enormous quantities of soil from north to south. But the soil that made southeastern Wisconsin rich for dairy farms helped impoverish the northern regions from which it was removed. The problem was compounded by northern Wisconsin’s hard and poorly drained bedrock. Although the nineteenth-century myth of the Northwoods was that the plow would follow the ax so that farmers would prosper on lands that loggers had stripped bare, that dream was never realized. Instead, after the forests had yielded up their bounty of white pine, the economically depressed region became known as the Cutover. Only paper milling and tourism finally redeemed the northern economy as people discovered new uses for the thousands of lakes that typify this part of the state.
A geological boundary that contributed to the glacier’s impact is that between the pre-Cambrian rocks of the northern third of the state, usually more than a billion years old, and the younger sedimentary rocks to the south, which range from Cambrian to Devonian, becoming progressively younger east toward Lake Michigan. The rocks of the north are generally igneous and metamorphic, providing, for instance, the ore for iron mining in Lake Superior’s Gogebic Range. They also offer some of the hardest and most beautiful building materials in the state. Wisconsin granites were used for Grant’s Tomb in New York City. A few of these ancient rocks appear in southern outcrops like the red granite quarry at Montello or the purple quartzite bluffs of the Baraboo Hills. Also in the north are the pre-Cambrian sandstones, dark brown in color—hence the word brownstones—which enjoyed a brief heyday in public and commercial buildings during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most were quarried in the Lake Superior region.
The central part of the state is dominated by Cambrian sandstones, a little more than half a billion years old, which have produced the dry and not very fertile soils that Aldo Leopold describes in A Sand County Almanac (1949). There is no jurisdiction in Wisconsin called “Sand County”; instead, the title of Leopold’s book refers to the old bed of Glacial Lake Wisconsin, which covered much of the central part of the state as the glacial ice was melting fifteen thousand or more years ago. Cambrian sandstone is too friable to be of much use for building, but the sand it yields has had many architectural and engineering applications. The same is true for the vast stores of glacial gravel, which are used throughout the state to provide beds for highways and other raw materials for building.
Finally, the southern half of the state and the entire Lake Michigan shoreline, including the Door County peninsula, are underlain by younger sedimentary rocks that alternate between sandstones and a form of limestone called dolomite. Products of shallow seas in the post-Cambrian era, these provide some of the most familiar building materials in the state, especially the cream-colored rocks and bricks that gave Milwaukee its nickname, the “Cream City.” Southern Wisconsin dolomite provides the familiar color, texture, and pattern of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin (IA1) in Spring Green and his First Unitarian Society Meeting House (DA14) in Madison. (The bedding planes of this dolomite gave Wright the template for his preferred “organic” way to lay different kinds of stone and brick, so that one sees a ghost of a Wisconsin outcrop even in the masonry of Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.)
The combination of glaciation and bedrock geology goes a long way toward explaining the soils that have shaped human occupation of this landscape, but one further element completes the picture: vegetation. Southern Wisconsin sits squarely on the broad ecotone separating forest from grassland in the interior of North America. In the southern parts of the state, European American traders and settlers found a mixture of dry oak-hickory forests, oak savannahs, and tall-grass prairies, save in river bottoms and in upland forests where moister maple-basswood forests prevailed. The boundary between forest and prairie was determined by the frequency with which fires burned across the landscape. Where fires were frequent, prairie dominated, and beneath them accumulated some of the richest black soils to be found anywhere in North America. Where fires were less frequent, prairie shaded into savannah and, less frequently, into oak-hickory forest. Although natural lightning was one ignition source for the fires that governed this boundary, Native American inhabitants were at least as important. In dense areas of their settlement like the Sauk Prairie south of the Baraboo Hills, Indian burning probably played the predominant role in shifting vegetation toward prairie.
In Wisconsin, the climatic and vegetational boundary between north and south follows a serpentine line running from north of Minneapolis–St. Paul in the west to south of Door County in the east. North of this diagonal line, summers are cooler, winters harsher, precipitation more abundant, and growing seasons shorter, which helps explain why tourism looms larger than agriculture. North from the Wisconsin Dells along I-39, this line is crossed between Stevens Point and Wausau, trading the prairies, savannahs, and oak-hickory forests for the mixture of northern hardwoods and pines that we label the Northwoods. This district was logged aggressively for white pine lumber during the second half of the nineteenth century, providing the building materials for such cities as Milwaukee and Chicago and for the farms and towns of rural Wisconsin and points west. Without lumber from the Northwoods, the southern prairies could never have yielded the crops or the communities—or the buildings—in the way they did. Exploitation and transformation of the two ecosystems went hand in hand, making possible the built environment described in this book.
Most of Wisconsin is drained by the Mississippi River, with several significant tributaries contributing their portion of the total flow: from north to south, the St. Croix, the Chippewa, the Black, and, most important, the Wisconsin. The northeastern third of the state drains into Lake Michigan, ultimately entering the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River. In the history of European American settlement, these eastern drainages assumed disproportionate significance because first the French and later the British and Americans relied heavily on the Great Lakes to reach this part of the continent. The key transport corridor until the middle of the nineteenth century linked Green Bay on Lake Michigan to the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, at what is now Prairie du Chien. Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673, following the advice of their Native American guides, ascended the Fox River from Green Bay to the easy portage—a mile and a quarter over flat ground—to the Wisconsin and on down to the Mississippi.
For the next 175 years, this was the chief path along which colonial economic activity occurred. A mixed French and Indian community soon emerged at Green Bay, with smaller outposts at Prairie du Chien and on Madeleine Island in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. When the United States gained control of the region after the War of 1812, Fort Howard was constructed at Green Bay, Fort Crawford (CR1) at Prairie du Chien, and Fort Winnebago at the portage halfway between. To facilitate land travel between these forts, soldiers constructed the “Military Road” from Fort Howard to Fort Crawford. Many of the earliest migrants into interior Wisconsin used this route to reach the places they chose to settle.
The year 1832 saw the last major military encounter in Wisconsin between native peoples and the U.S. military. The Black Hawk War was really a long retreat by Sauk Indians living in Rock Island, Illinois, fleeing pursuit by American militia forces seeking to move them to reservation lands west of the Mississippi. The chief impact of this conflict on the landscape was to broadcast back east the attractiveness of Wisconsin’s lands, fueling an influx of immigration that soon made Wisconsin the state with the most foreign-born residents. Using Milwaukee and other Lake Michigan ports as their principal points of debarkation, migrants came from the northeast and from much of northern and central Europe.
The built environment that resulted from the confluence of these various forces is quintessentially midwestern, but with a special flavor. Although the predominance in rural Wisconsin of Germans, Poles, Norwegians, Finns, and other European ethnic groups has much to do with the timing of different waves of emigration from Europe, it is also true that many of these immigrant groups seem to have been drawn to environments akin to the ones they had left behind, where their familiar agricultural practices would still serve them well. The architecture characteristic of rural Wisconsin expresses the heritage these groups brought with them. The subsequent evolution of that architecture equally reflects the long process of adapting human land use and dwelling to the various environmental constraints and opportunities presented by this challenging but bountiful state.
RURAL ETHNIC ARCHITECTURE
William H. Tishler
During the nineteenth century a vast migration brought millions of immigrants to America. As settlement pushed westward, Wisconsin became the home of large numbers of foreign-born residents. Although many arrived with only limited possessions, each brought a rich array of Old World traditions. This diverse cultural heritage is evident in the state’s place-names, social mores, religious affiliations, music, folklore, festivals, food preferences, and architecture, with its buildings representing a widespread and durable legacy of the state’s multicultural past. Initially, many early immigrants, regardless of country of origin, built temporary log dwellings. Subsequently, settlers from over half of Wisconsin’s more than thirty ethnic groups built structures that incorporated traditional designs, construction materials and methods, building shapes and room arrangements, and decorative features. Wisconsin’s rural ethnic architecture still gives the state’s landscape a distinctive identity.
Fur traders and explorers from France and French Canada were among the first settlers in Wisconsin, but only a handful of their folk dwellings survive. In Prairie du Chien, the one-and-a-half story house of fur trader François Vertefeuille (CR4) incorporates pièce-sur-pièce construction, a log joinery method common in French-speaking Canada where horizontal logs with tenoned ends are secured into upright corner timbers and frequently at window and door openings. A diminutive fur trader’s cabin, now at Heritage Hill State Historical Park (BR12) in Green Bay, was also constructed in this fashion.
By 1860, settlers from Germany, fleeing political and religious turmoil and economic difficulties, had become the state’s largest ethnic group. Throughout Wisconsin, German American builders used a wide range of materials and construction techniques. However, their most distinctive architectural expressions were hundreds of structures built in the fachwerk tradition, which used a heavy timber framework with an infill of clay or brick. In northern and eastern Germany, this construction method evolved in response to wood shortages, but despite an abundance of timber in their new environment, German carpenters continued to use fachwerk construction. Surviving examples, such as the August Petsch barn (DO11) in Door County, are mostly in the southern reaches of east central Wisconsin, and they form one of the largest known concentrations in the United States. The best concentration of early German American agrarian buildings is at the Old World Wisconsin museum (WK1), where three representative farmsteads have been reconstructed.
During the 1830s, Swiss immigrants settled in virtually every county. They were leaders in developing the state’s dairy industry, with their best-known settlement at New Glarus in Green County, but original examples of their distinctive vernacular architecture survive only in the Honey Creek Swiss Rural Historic District (SK4) in Sauk County. There, settlers erected log and, more typically, locally quarried dolomite masonry dwellings in the block-and-stack manner. Situated in the area’s surrounding valleys, their earliest buildings were rectangular two-story farmhouses with entrances centered in three- or five-bay lateral walls. Massive concrete-coated walls, hillside settings, and roofs with lower-pitched eaves evoke architecture common in their homeland. Subsequently, many of these dwellings were expanded to become gabled ells—a house form adopted from their Yankee neighbors.
Immigrants from Great Britain and American-born settlers of British stock were among the first ethnic groups to settle permanently in southern Wisconsin. Some built cobblestone dwellings, a decorative masonry technique that originated in England and was transferred to New England and upstate New York. Others expressed building characteristics from that region in their floor plans and clapboarded, heavy braced-frame structures. Wisconsin’s ubiquitous wood barns also originated in England’s three-bay grain barns. New Yorkers added a second level, entered with a ramp, and introduced the familiar two-level dairy barn to their new state. In the state’s southwestern lead-mining region, settlers from Cornwall crafted adaptations of Cornish structures using locally quarried limestone. At Mineral Point’s Pendarvis Historic Site (IA5) are examples patterned after rural Cornish miners’ cottages and urban laborers’ houses. Although important elements of Wisconsin’s population came from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, surviving buildings reflecting their vernacular traditions are rare. However, in some Welsh settlements, in Waukesha and Columbia counties, modest early churches with active congregations that helped to maintain this group’s ethnic identity survive.
Immigrants from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg settled in east central Wisconsin, where they continued the masonry building methods indigenous to their homelands. The largest rural settlements of Belgian Americans in the United States are in Brown, Door, and Kewaunee counties. Stone and brick were used for houses, agrarian buildings, summer kitchens with attached bake ovens, and distinctive wayside (or votive) chapels. The area’s attractive red brick dwellings are oriented perpendicular to the road, often incorporating characteristic “four-and-two” room arrangements, bull’s-eye windows in the gable, and cream brick details. The many log outbuildings on their farms indicate acceptance of American building materials and influences. Their open runway, double-crib log barns were sometimes arranged with other outbuildings to reflect the tightly enclosed courtyard pattern of Belgian farmsteads. In 1990, a six-square-mile area of this settlement, the Namur Belgian-American Rural Historic District (DR1), was designated a National Historic Landmark. In northern Ozaukee and southern Sheboygan counties the landscape is dotted with handsome masonry dwellings built by Luxemburgers. These two-story rectangular houses have massive fieldstone walls (sometimes covered with a generous layer of lime mortar), a central door, symmetrical window arrangements, curved or spiral staircases, and chimneys in each gable wall.
Since the 1840s, the state’s vast Finno-Scandinavian population has affected rural Wisconsin’s economy and built environment. Abundant timber enabled them to continue their wood building tradition. Norwegians, more than other Nordic immigrant groups, became farmers, were prodigious log builders, and built structures scattered throughout western and south central Wisconsin. Several one- and two-room log dwellings, frequently modified with subsequent frame additions, survive. Where oak logs were used, Norwegian builders chinked with mortar—a deviation from the tight-fitting coniferous log buildings of their homeland. Norwegians and Swedes often painted their log dwellings with calcimine, and often, as with Finnish log houses, narrow corner stairs led to the upper floor. Some of their buildings also had protruding log purlins and end-wall logs extending to the gable peak, distinctive Nordic folk building characteristics. A few rare “loft” houses, a folk building with an upper gallery overhanging the first floor and an exterior staircase leading to the sleeping loft above, also exist. One of Wisconsin’s rare surviving Norwegian log churches, Hauge Log Church (DA1), was subsequently clad with clapboards, though it contains its original furnishings.
In Wisconsin’s northernmost counties, a more recent phase of log building was executed by Finnish Americans who crafted extraordinary log farmsteads, loose groupings of small, unpainted structures with their traditional sauna and distant hay barns. Although the buildings are vanishing at an alarming rate, examples can still be found in Bayfield, Douglas, Iron, and Price counties, though many have been clad with clapboards or other siding. Well-crafted log joinery, interior log walls, and precise dovetail corner notching are all typical of this ethnic group. In Douglas County, the Davidson Windmill (DG7), patterned after similar mills in Finland, has an eight-sided tower with eight large windmill blades.
Settling primarily in northwestern Wisconsin, Swedish immigrants generally arrived later than Norwegians and assimilated quickly, yet examples of their skilled log construction techniques can still be found. Innovative Swedish American builders also constructed buildings with stovewood walls using short uniform log sections, laid up like stacked firewood, in a bed of wet lime mortar. Only Swedish settlers were known to have transferred the method from their homeland, although this technique was used by other ethnic groups in the state. Although efficient and economical, stovewood construction was not widely accepted in America, and Wisconsin probably has more surviving stovewood buildings than any other state. Danish and Icelandic settlers quickly adopted prevailing American building methods, and none of their pioneer structures incorporating traditional Scandinavian features are known to exist.
Immigrants from Poland were Wisconsin’s second-largest ethnic contingent and concentrated primarily in Milwaukee and in central and northeastern Wisconsin. Many found work in Milwaukee’s heavy industries. Several neighborhoods there have distinctive so-called Polish flats—two-flat duplexes featuring basement apartments accessible by separate outside entrances. The lower units were usually added by raising the original house. In rural areas, Polish settlers became railroad workers and farmers. Some of their agrarian log buildings are still used, but few early rural houses, barns, or commercial buildings that reflect architectural antecedents of their homeland survive. An unusual building, because of its stovewood walls, is the Mecikalski General Store, Saloon, and Boarding House (ON1).
Bohemians, among the earliest of the state’s Slavic language speakers, primarily settled in the southwestern and eastern lakeshore regions of the state, where some of their early log farm buildings survive. Usually covered with clapboards, their houses characteristically include a rectangular three-bay central hall layout, wide roof overhangs along one lateral wall, gable peak decorative cutouts, interior details, and close proximity to adjacent roads. Distinctive Bohemian features can be found in the area’s summer kitchens, storage sheds, and double-crib log barns. The layout of one 120 × 32–foot barn with its protruding curved and chamfered tie-beam ends closely resembles features seen in Czech folk architecture. The farm’s diminutive house is an Americanized version of Czech peasant dwellings.
Eastern Slav, or Russian, immigrants constituted about 5 percent of the state’s foreign-born population in 1920. They settled in urban centers and rural enclaves and quickly adopted local building characteristics. Their distinctive Old Russian construction features are clearly expressed in the handful of Orthodox churches. One handsome example, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church (BA1) in Bayfield County, has a distinctive onion-shaped cupola. Small groups of immigrants from the Baltic states of Lithuania and Estonia also settled in rural northern Wisconsin. Like their neighbors from Finland, Estonians erected well-crafted log buildings and saunas on their farms. A few of their early agrarian structures survive in the Irma and Gleason vicinity of Lincoln County.
By 1900, several small urban enclaves and rural farming communities had been established by African Americans. In Vernon County, one carpenter built some fifteen round, wooden barns, some of which still stand, among them the Dank Barn (VE1). More recently, several Asian groups have settled in Wisconsin, and most have occupied existing dwellings. These more recent arrivals have not yet expressed cultural characteristics in their architecture except in a few commercial buildings, such as restaurants where it is used as a form of advertising their specialties.
Several outdoor museums in the state have excellent examples of rural ethnic buildings, moved from their original locations. These include Heritage Hill State Historical Park (BR12), Skumsrud Heritage Farm (VE3), Pioneer Village (OZ11) in Ozaukee County, and the Swiss Village at New Glarus. However, the state’s largest single collection of rural ethnic buildings can be found at America’s largest outdoor museum, Old World Wisconsin (WK1).
Builders and occupants have left few written records of their thoughts on architecture. Their ordinary structures show how people lived, worked, and created shelter to meet their needs in a new environment. If we learn to understand these buildings, and the information they can convey to us as objects of material culture, we will better understand important facets of Wisconsin’s history and a vital aspect of our national experience. Yet, annually, more of Wisconsin’s legacy of rural ethnic architecture disappears.
THE CHANGING RURAL LANDSCAPE
Geoffrey M. Gyrisco
Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape, central to much of Wisconsin’s history and cherished by many residents, is rapidly changing. When the first Europeans entered south central and southwestern Wisconsin, much of the land was covered with prairies—oak savannas of prairie plants with widely dispersed trees and true prairies lacking visible trees. Only tiny fragments survive. Since the first prairie restoration, Curtis Prairie at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison begun in 1935, the prairie has played a significant role in the imagination of Wisconsin’s pre-agricultural past and reminds us of the many dramatic changes in Wisconsin’s landscape in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, southern Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape consisted primarily of widely dispersed Native American villages surrounded by hand-tilled fields. When Euro-Americans expelled the native peoples, the new settlers often took over these fields and built their cabins in the clearings. They also reordered the landscape, beginning with systems of land survey and subdivision. At Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, the French, as they did elsewhere in North America, employed the long-lot system—narrow strips of land laid out at right angles to a river—giving all the settlers access to the water. Later land surveys preserved the extant long lots. From 1831, the U.S. Government Land Office employed teams of surveyors to divide the land into townships of six miles square, containing 36 sections of 640 acres. These sections were further divided into four quarter sections of 160 acres and often subdivided for sale into 40-acre parcels. These land divisions, defined by roads, hedgerows, fences, and field boundaries, remain visible across much of Wisconsin.
European American agricultural settlement of the state was generally from south to north, and almost from the beginning, farmers engaged in market agriculture. The first major cash crop, starting in southern Wisconsin in the 1840s, was wheat. The developing railroad system and Great Lakes shipping offered access to world markets. Because wheat required little tending and mechanical reapers increased production, it generated enormous profits. But wheat cultivation depleted the soil of nitrogen and led to the rise of pests, prompting farmers to move to new land. The center of production shifted to central Wisconsin in the 1850s, then western Wisconsin in the 1870s.
The prosperity brought by the wheat boom is reflected architecturally. Many immigrant farmers of southern Wisconsin quickly replaced temporary cabins with substantial houses. The characteristic agricultural building of the wheat boom is the three-bay threshing barn, also called the English or New England barn. It is a rectangular single-level barn constructed with braced timber frames and set on a low stone foundation. Composed of three sections or bays, it has a pair of large doors on each of the long sides that open into the central bay with its wooden threshing floor. Adjacent to the barn could be found granaries and stables. In addition to tilled fields, land was devoted to woodlots, orchards, and pasture.
Following the wheat boom, southern Wisconsin passed through an era of diversified agriculture and stock raising. At the end of the nineteenth century a series of developments led to the preeminence of the dairy industry. Dairying required new types of farm structures, and the prosperity it brought permitted the wholesale rebuilding of farmsteads across southern Wisconsin. With demand for dairy products rising, in 1874 dairy innovator and publisher W. D. Hoard (see JE17) negotiated freight rates that made Wisconsin’s products economically competitive. Three technological developments made increased production possible: the silo, the invention in the 1880s of the centrifugal cream separator, and the invention in 1890 of an effective butterfat tester by Stephen Babcock of the University of Wisconsin. Finally, dairying was promoted by effective alliance of the agricultural press, politicians, and the University of Wisconsin. By 1890 dairying began to expand, and by 1915 Wisconsin was the nation’s leading dairy state.
The silo, today a symbol of Wisconsin’s rural landscape, was a critical development. Crops preserved by fermentation in silos permitted farmers to maintain larger herds through the winter. In 1891, Franklin H. King, a leading University of Wisconsin professor of agricultural physics at the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station in Madison, prepared the seminal bulletin on silos, The Construction of Silos (1891). King recommended a round, double-walled wood silo at least twenty-four feet deep. The more expensive early silos were constructed of brick and fieldstone. Silos built with less expensive wood staves were also common but were not as popular in Wisconsin as elsewhere in the country, perhaps because they were repeatedly condemned by University of Wisconsin publications as flimsy and impermanent. Although monolithic reinforced concrete silos were constructed before 1905, a University of Wisconsin bulletin by C. A. Ocock and F. M. White, Concrete Silo Construction (1911), popularized this material. The bulletin contained detailed plans. Though less common, silos were built of concrete blocks and hollow tiles, but those built of patented systems of concrete staves, bound by hoops of steel cable, became most popular.
After World War II, the automatic silo unloader replaced manual unloading, permitting taller silos. In another innovation, the A. O. Smith Company of Milwaukee applied the technology used to make glass-lined steel brewery tanks to produce the cobalt blue Harvestore silos, the “Cadillac of silos” and symbol of farm prosperity.
The dairy industry also led to new barn types. Barns were built with a basement for housing cows and a ramp or hillside location providing access to the haymow above. Many existing threshing barns were converted by being raised on basements. Larger herds required more hay. To load hay into the barn more efficiently, William Louden of Iowa patented the hay carrier in 1867. With a track hung just below the roof ridge, hay could be lifted from the wagon and carried to the most distant point of the mow, thus making tall and long barns practical. The hay carrier required the removal of the roof’s crossbeams to allow passage of loads of hay. This need, the growing scarcity of large timbers, and the demand for economical construction stimulated the search for new structural technology.
From the 1880s, builders constructed various systems of triangular trusses, producing an exterior with the now-familiar gambrel roof and an interior free of obstructions. In the early twentieth century, balloon-frame construction became common. The Gothic-arched roof, popular in Wisconsin from the 1920s, provided a large volume of hay storage in a clear space under a self-supported roof. Rafters were created with small strips of wood nailed together or laminated with glue; some came as part of mail-order precut barn kits. The Forest Products Laboratory (DA28.9) in Madison played an important role in developing glue-lamination technology.
Turn-of-the-twentieth-century agricultural scientists also sought ways to enhance dairy cattle hygiene. They recommended rows of large windows, elaborate ventilation systems with rooftop ventilators, and floor plans designed for efficiency. These came together in the Wisconsin dairy barn, which has a rectangular design, windows on each side of the first floor lighting the cattle stalls, and a tall second story containing a haymow filled by a hay loader from the exterior. With this design, the ramp could be eliminated and farm equipment relegated to separate machine sheds. Catalogues of barn component manufacturers, such as the James Way Company of Fort Atkinson, spread the Wisconsin dairy barn type.
Similar technological considerations affected the development of the round barn, both the polygonal and true round types. A round barn’s basement held a circle of cattle stanchions, horse stalls, and other livestock pens arranged around a central silo, with the haymow and grain bins on the level above. The large number of these barns in Wisconsin reflects the willingness of the state’s farmers to experiment and the efforts of Franklin H. King. Experienced round barn builders included German American Ernst Clausing (OZ7) and African American mathematician Alga Shivers, who worked in Vernon County (see VE1).
The primary reason for the decline in popularity of the round barn was evolving agricultural economics and technology. The round barn did not readily accommodate additions to expanding dairy herds or adapt to greater mechanization. In 1916, a University of Wisconsin bulletin (Frank W. White, Barns for Wisconsin Dairy Farms, 1916) strongly criticized the round barn, although they were constructed until the Great Depression. The great dairy barns stood at the center of a cluster of smaller specialized buildings in the farmstead, including milk-houses, corncribs, granaries, root cellars, chicken coops, hog houses, and machine sheds. Like the large barn, these structures began as handcrafted structures and evolved into buildings of standard lumber, concrete block, or ceramic tile.
At the same time as the rise of commercial dairying in southern Wisconsin, state policy makers promoted agricultural settlement of northern Wisconsin’s Cutover region, a landscape of giant tree stumps. Beginning in the 1890s immigrant Scandinavians, Slavs, and others established small farms as part of a subsistence system that combined agriculture with hunting and fishing and seasonal work for the lumber and mining companies, railroads, and resorts. Hence farm buildings here are small, often made of logs, and hold only a limited number of livestock. During the 1930s, agronomists labeled these farms “marginal,” and thus federal and state governments relocated some settlers and acquired vast areas of northern Wisconsin for reforestation. The resultant second-growth forests now comprise the principal rural landscape of much of northern Wisconsin.
New specialty crops became important in the twentieth century. For the first three decades, potatoes were the state’s leading cash crop, with production centered in Portage County. An architectural legacy of that industry is the Polish American brick farmhouse built over a large potato cellar capable of holding commercial quantities of potatoes. Wisconsin was one of the nation’s leading producers of processed vegetables in the twentieth century. Today, the most visible manifestations of this industry are the center pivot irrigation systems in the flat lands of the central sands region and the large processing plants visible from I-39 south of Stevens Point. Another specialized cash crop is cranberries. In the late nineteenth century, large tracts of acidic peat beds and natural wetlands of central and northern Wisconsin were transformed into diked rectilinear ponds with controlled water levels for cranberry production.
Internationally, Wisconsin is renowned as a major producer of ginseng, with almost the entire American product coming from Marathon County, where it originally grew wild. The hillside fields, dotted with canopies of fabric or wooden slats to provide shade required by the plant, are readily identifiable. Also in Marathon County, the cold winters and availability of fish and horsemeat for “fur food” led to a flourishing fox and mink industry. The result was a distinctive landscape of fenced forests with watchtowers and slaughterhouses.
Some of the state’s most distinctive barns are associated with tobacco, grown in Wisconsin since the mid-nineteenth century and closely linked with Norwegian settlement in Dane, Rock, and Vernon counties. Tobacco sheds are long narrow structures, sometimes with an L-plan for structural stability. The tobacco leaves are hung on poles suspended from a grid of cross beams while hinged slats on the sides are opened during dry weather to permit air curing.
As barns have changed, so have field patterns. The small fields once divided by hedgerows and fences of wood and wire have been combined into ever-larger fields, with all traces of the former divisions swept away. And starting during the Great Depression, Wisconsin’s hills have been overlaid with the sinuous lines of contour plowing.
It is easy to romanticize the farm landscape and its buildings. Yet essentially it is an industrial landscape that rapidly evolves in response to changing markets, products, and technology. As these factors change, new building types are developed and old ones quickly discarded or retrofitted, but the older forms are an important and highly visible legacy of past agricultural systems.
PLACES OF PRODUCTION
Paul R. Lusignan
Industry has left an indelible mark on Wisconsin’s landscape. From the brewers of the beer “that made Milwaukee famous” to the millers whose small gristmills defined the heart of their agricultural communities, Wisconsin’s industrial history is a testament to the lives of entrepreneurs, craftsmen, and laborers. Industrial buildings in Wisconsin range from the strictly vernacular to the purposefully ornate.
Only skeletal remnants of Wisconsin’s early lead mining, logging, and trapping industries remain. At Mineral Point in Iowa County a few collapsed mine openings (adits) scattered around Mineral Point Hill along with faint traces of the mining and processing areas are all that survive from Wisconsin’s premier lead-mining region of the early 1800s. Smelters, shaft houses, and head frames have disappeared. Nonetheless, associated buildings, including labor meeting halls and the houses of local industrialists and workers, have helped historians reconstruct the patterns of everyday life in an early mining town.
Similarly, in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, few of the area’s rugged logging camps are standing. The Holt and Balcom Logging Camp No. 1 (OC6) in Oconto County is one of the few remaining examples of the typical field operation of lumbering in northern Wisconsin. The camp’s crude log building was constructed of white pine cleared from the nearby woods. The window-less, solid-wall construction kept the frigid air out of a building that served as sleeping quarters, social hall, church, school, and mess hall for the camp. The unfinished log walls and the hand-sawn wood floor suggest that it was to serve only as a temporary camp, to be dismantled and reused or left to rot when the loggers decamped.
Fortunately, some small buildings associated with early milling and manufacturing survive. In crossroad hamlets in areas of early settlement, small streams powered machines to make shingles, flour, wagons, leather goods, and farm implements. These pre-1850 structures adopted simple designs, suited to producing a specific product. Log framing with pegged joints typified most mill designs. Where available, local stone might be used for foundations and walls while the state’s vast timber reserves supplied wood for exteriors and trim. Decorative architectural details or applied styling were rare. Most early entrepreneurs considered industrial buildings simply as efficient shelters for their manufacturing activities. Later, as communities and local mills expanded, embellishments became more common.
Before steam power, mills were located adjacent to rushing streams or dammed lakes. The Davidson wind-powered mill (DG7) in Douglas County represented a rare alternative to the ubiquitous water-powered mill. Most of Wisconsin’s early mills were products of local craftsmen, carpenters, and masons who relied on local techniques or traditions inherited from their regions of origin. As early as 1795, though, Delaware millwright and engineer Oliver Evans had published The Young Mill-Wright and Millers Guide, which explained the proper construction of various mills and waterwheels. Often republished, it remained an important source for early mill design.
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, more than one thousand gristmills were in operation across the state, and wheat milling had become Wisconsin’s leading industry. Most of these mills were local, grinding grain for nearby farmers and taking a toll as payment. The head miller might live in a small cottage adjacent to the mill. Dells Mill (EC1) near Augusta is an excellent example. The mill rises directly over its power source, Bridge Creek, and power was supplied by a water turbine located in the basement. Separate machines on each floor of the mill ground, cleaned, sorted, sifted, and bagged the grains, while conveyors carried the grain and flour between floors. Dells Mill served local farmers well into the early twentieth century. The Beckman Mill (RO8) in Rock County is a similar example of early mill technology. The Beckman family mill survived against competition from the large urban mills in Milwaukee and Neenah-Menasha until the 1950s.
Heavy-timber building technology dominated early mill design, but where other building materials were readily available, mills sometimes took on different forms. Wisconsin’s most visually distinctive examples of early mills are the massive limestone structures surrounding the German settlement of Cedarburg. Using stone from nearby quarries, the Cedarburg (see OZ2) and Concordia mills (see OZ3) exemplify the outstanding craftsmanship of local stone masons and represent the most substantial nineteenth-century structures in their respective communities.
As the state’s population grew in the later nineteenth century, many of Wisconsin’s shops, mills, and manufacturers expanded into new markets and diversified their products. Innovations in manufacturing, including the development of steam power and a railroad network, accelerated Wisconsin’s industrial revolution and attracted new capital. The years 1870 to 1890 witnessed the rapid growth of several urban areas and many smaller industrialized settlements. The aesthetic consequences of large-scale industry can be seen in the size and sophistication of mill architecture. Although seldom innovative in exterior design, Wisconsin’s late-nineteenth-century mills clearly reflected a new age of prosperity. Brick came into general use, permitting the construction of large wall surfaces at minimal cost, and flat roofs covered the vast spaces necessary for expanded production. Structural elements such as cast-iron columns and metal roof trusses replaced solid masonry walls, allowing interiors to be lit by rows of factory-built sash windows. Albeit still austere, these larger buildings often took on the prevailing motifs of neighboring buildings, with exteriors commonly detailed with simplified stylistic features.
In Sheboygan Falls, the imposing Brickner Woolen Mills (SB11) typifies mill construction of the 1880s, with long wall surfaces punctuated by repetitive multipane windows. Proudly carrying the company name, a mansard-roofed tower dominates the factory complex as well as the village skyline, reinforcing the importance of the city’s largest employer. The site featured several attendant buildings, including an adjacent dye house, brick warehouses, and a handsomely detailed Italianate office structure.
The industrial flats of Appleton, located along the shoreline of the swift-flowing Fox River and served by extensive rail connections, also benefited from the surge of late-nineteenth-century industrial investment. One of the most important was the Fox River Paper Company (OU3), which built a complex of mill buildings on the north bank of the Fox River and which comprises one of the best extant industrial complexes in the Fox River valley.
Concern over working conditions did not figure importantly in nineteenth-century industrial design, and semiskilled and unskilled employees in the plants endured long hours of exhausting work in dangerous conditions. Wisconsin’s small early mills were frequently owner operated, supporting small staffs of skilled employees, but late-nineteenth-century factories increasingly hired unskilled workers, and there were few economic incentives to improve workplace conditions voluntarily. Increasingly, industrial design focused on maximizing the efficiency of the factory line, and concern for worker safety and well-being was a secondary consideration.
Nowhere was the contrast between the human scale of Wisconsin’s early pioneer mills and the disconcerting vastness of the modern factory more dramatic than in Milwaukee’s breweries. Whereas many of Wisconsin’s industrial buildings lacked pretense, brewery design often attempted to boost the city’s reputation and project an image of corporate vitality.
The historic brewery complexes of the Joseph Schlitz and Valentine Blatz Brewing Companies—two of Milwaukee’s largest brewers—exemplified that tradition. Both firms began as family-run operations founded in the 1840s by German immigrants. By the 1880s Schlitz (MI36) and Blatz (MI129) had evolved into major regional producers. Within a few years, both firms occupied sprawling complexes that covered several city blocks along the Milwaukee River. Typical of breweries, the complexes grew as a series of interconnected buildings, each housing a different aspect of the brewing process: grain storage, malt houses, brewhouses, bottling works, storage and shipping warehouses, icehouses, cooperages, and stables. A web of rail spurs connected the plants with distant markets. Two to nine stories in height, the masonry buildings featured crenellated turrets, heavily rusticated arches, decorative stepped end gables, and imposingly ornate towers, all elements that came to be synonymous with brewery design in Milwaukee. Some of these details were associated with the German Renaissance Revival style, seen as appropriate for indicating the owners’ origins. Each building bore the company trademark and a plaque identifying the building’s function—not for the benefit of brewery laborers, but for those who passed by what quickly became prominent city landmarks. Nearby were ornate company office buildings, brewery hospitality rooms, and beer gardens, where visitors could sample the wares in a decorative, Teutonic setting.
The beginning of the twentieth century was the high-water mark for ornamental industrial design. Later, Wisconsin’s industrial architecture returned to utilitarian forms, reflecting emerging ideas of modernist design and functionalism. The introduction of reinforced concrete, structural steel framing, and sophisticated metal truss designs allowed for increasingly expansive work areas. Exterior treatments reflected the efforts of efficiency engineers rather than architects, particularly as industrial plants were relegated to segregated industrial areas, where there was little incentive to show off.
Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company plant, built between 1910 and 1926 (W. Juneau Avenue at 38th Street) illustrates the evolving forms of early-twentieth-century industrial design. It combines tall, one-story, open production sheds with multistory loft-style work spaces. The main plant features a five-story steel frame skeleton encased in dark brick, and the exterior clearly expressed the interior structural system, with wide expanses of windows, and rooftop monitors and sawtooth skylights provided additional natural lighting. The Harley-Davidson Museum (MI60) draws on such industrial forms to tell its story.
As a result of technological improvements in lighting (natural and electric), ventilation, and manufacturing equipment and machinery, working conditions for laborers improved considerably. The combination of Wisconsin’s Progressive politics and a strong labor movement during the early twentieth century helped workers gain reforms in workplace safety, wages, and conditions. In 1911 the state passed the first workmen’s compensation law in the nation and in 1932 added unemployment compensation. The planned industrial community at Kohler—the effort of one of Wisconsin’s premier industrial families—was an important coalescing of ideas regarding improved working-living conditions and modern industrial expansion. The industrial buildings at Kohler (SB8) represent a remarkably intact assemblage of twentieth-century industrial designs. The largely unadorned structures nonetheless derive a certain beauty from technology in their construction.
Wisconsin’s industrial architecture is now recognized as important and deemed valuable enough to preserve as historic landmarks. There is much to learn from the simplicity, civic pride, and optimism that industry has imprinted into its historical landscape.
CORRIDORS OF CULTURE, CONVENIENCE, AND CONSUMPTION
Jim Draeger and Charles J. Quagliana
Waterways and trails were Wisconsin’s earliest transportation routes. Since prehistoric times these corridors linking camps and villages created a structural imprint upon the landscape of Wisconsin that exists to this day. Native Americans, fur traders, missionaries, and others followed the well-traveled routes that later helped determine the pattern of immigrant settlement and formed the backbone of later transportation systems.
During Wisconsin’s territorial period, the federal government began a series of military roads linking points of strategic interest. Built between 1835 and 1838, the first connected fortifications at Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. An extant portion of this road, known today as the Raube Road site, shows it to be little more than tree stumps covered with brush and dirt. From this spine, routes branched off to serve pioneer settlements from Lake Michigan to the Wisconsin River and to the burgeoning lead mining region of southwestern Wisconsin near Mineral Point. By 1848, the year of Wisconsin’s statehood, a simple network of locally built and maintained roads crisscrossed much of southeastern Wisconsin. Despite their poor condition, they carried large traffic volumes until the advent of railroads in the 1860s.
Railroads influenced the development of communities and shaped the architecture of the state. The first was the Milwaukee and Waukesha line, established in 1847. Service began in 1850, under the new name of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad. Building westward, the railroad reached Madison in 1854 and Prairie du Chien in 1857. Railroad construction eclipsed hopes for the development of a canal corridor connecting Green Bay to the Mississippi River, by way of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers.
Many of Wisconsin’s early rail lines connected the lead mining region of Mineral Point and the wheat belt of southeastern Wisconsin with Great Lakes ports such as Milwaukee. Entrepreneurs in cities such as Milwaukee and Racine developed these rail links to increase their business. The rail network also connected isolated populations of entire regions to other areas. As railroads developed their routes, private citizens or communities provided cash subsidies, right-of-way grants, or other inducements to encourage railroads to expand services to reach their towns.
In 1856, Wisconsin received two congressional public land grants to encourage railroad construction into the north and northwestern portions of the state in order to promote development of their natural resources. But following the Panic of 1857, many Wisconsin railroads went bankrupt, and construction lagged for years. The panic also spurred the consolidation of smaller ventures into larger railroads. By 1866, there were two controlling lines in Wisconsin: the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) and the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. They linked eastern and midwestern cities. In 1858, the La Crosse and Milwaukee Railroad became the second line to traverse the state, connecting Milwaukee’s ports to La Crosse’s lumber mills. A railroad bridge built across the Mississippi River in 1858 at Prairie du Chien further increased rail traffic as grain and lumber moved east from Iowa and Minnesota to Wisconsin’s leading Lake Michigan port—Milwaukee. Other railroads built north-south lines to connect Chicago and Milwaukee with areas such as the industrial Fox River Valley and later the rich lumbering areas of northern Wisconsin. The key in this northern expansion was the Wisconsin Central, which began in Menasha in 1871 and, in 1890, reached the heart of the Wisconsin River’s paper industry when it expanded to Wisconsin Rapids.
Railroads transformed the lumber industry in northern Wisconsin, reaching forests far from the streams and rivers that had been the primary conduits for transporting timber to mills. They also provided a means to transport hardwood, which could not float, and extended the logging season into the winter. One notable architectural legacy is Wisconsin’s abundance of wooden Victorian-era architecture. “Sawdust cities,” such as La Crosse, Oshkosh, Eau Claire, and Oconto, continued to play a significant role in the millwork and finished wood product industry long after nearby timber was exhausted. The C&NW was important during this period in developing northeastern cities such as Green Bay, Manitowoc, and Marinette. Other principal railroads established in Wisconsin by the mid-1880s included the east-west Soo Line, with routes in northern and central Wisconsin, and the Burlington Northern, with its primary route along the Mississippi River.
Railroad stations were the principal architectural elements along rail routes. Their location often affected a community’s form by dictating the plan of the business core, as at Mazomanie (DA6) in Dane County. Stations gradually became surrounded by such support facilities as hotels, cafés, bars, and liveries. Rail-dependent industry and commerce stretched along the rail corridor from the depot, with spur lines feeding factories, lumberyards, warehouses, and grain elevators. In Edgerton, the line’s location shaped nearly the entire physical development of the community. The downtown developed parallel to the tracks, with commercial properties facing a complex of tobacco warehouses that hugged the tracks for several blocks.
Railroad stations also sought to project a favorable image to and of its community. Stations were corporate symbols, and although railroads were willing to invest considerable sums for architecturally embellished depots, they also had to be economical to maintain. Many railroads developed standardized plans such as that at Fox Lake (DO3). These rectilinear buildings paralleled the tracks and had a centrally located office for the stationmaster to serve passenger and freight needs and a track-side bay for traffic control. As station design evolved, railroads employed professional architects to prepare plans. The Chicago firm of Frost and Granger designed scores of stations for the C&NW and other lines in Wisconsin, including at Fond du Lac (FD6), Madison, and Racine. Larger urban stations were more ornamented since, by the early twentieth century, competing markets influenced owners to develop readily identifiable designs, color schemes, and regional characteristics. Stations in larger communities, such as Green Bay (BR8), Madison, and Milwaukee, were typically multistory, brick or stone buildings with a more complex plan, grand interior spaces, and separate freight buildings.
A variety of bridges supported the rail system. Cast-iron or steel trusses could be crafted in factories and shipped to sites on flatbed cars. Most significant were the long-span bridges crossing the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers and the rotating and lift bridges along the Fox and Milwaukee rivers, such as the Fox River Swing Bridge (WN6) in Oshkosh. An extraordinary example is the Oliver double-deck bridge (DG1) in Douglas County, which incorporates a swing span.
Interurban trains were the last great transportation achievement of Wisconsin railroads. The first was the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railway, which began service from Milwaukee in 1908 and reorganized as the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad (CN&M) in 1916. Other electric interurbans with routes originating in Milwaukee served much of southeastern Wisconsin, including such far-flung cities as Burlington, East Troy, and Sheboygan, and isolated portions of the south central and western areas. Interurban station designs generally echoed those of other rail depots, but since they carried only passengers, not freight, some, like the Public Service Building (MI59) in Milwaukee, were in multistory buildings in an urban commercial core. Loss of riders to the automobile led to the same rapid decline of interurban service that plagued rail transit in Wisconsin. By the early 1950s, most lines ceased operation; the last Wisconsin interurban, the CN&M, stopped in 1963.
The automobile was a pivotal twentieth-century phenomenon, reshaping leisure activities, work, and home. By 1905, a total of 1,492 automobiles were registered in Wisconsin. The automobile reduced geographic isolation and fueled an era of expansion that expressed national ideals of economic and social modernity. In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, government played an essential role in the development of automobile transportation. The passage of a Wisconsin public roads law in 1911 initiated state aid programs for road improvement, bridge construction, and creation of an organized state trunk highway system. The Good Roads Movement, a national coalition of local governments, booster organizations, and corporate interests, established in 1880, influenced the first transcontinental highways, including the Yellow-stone Trail, which was extended in 1914 through Wisconsin to St. Paul. Beginning with little more than painted yellow boulders marking out a route on existing roads, the movement was nonetheless effective in promoting road improvements.
Gasoline stations illustrate the automobile’s role in transforming twentieth-century American culture. They were focal points in community planning decisions and were prototypes for nearly all suburban detached drive-in structures. Many stations in residential neighborhoods, such as the (now highly altered) former Colonial Revival Clark Oil Filling Station (c. 1927; New York Avenue and 8th Street) in Manitowoc and Slight’s Standard Oil Station in Emmet, Dodge County (1087 WI 26N), used domestic imagery to blend with their surroundings and overcome neighborhood opposition. Designs from the late 1920s sometimes celebrated the novelty of travel, suggesting the exotica of foreign travel, such as the pagoda-roofed stations of Wadham’s Oil Company (see OZ2). Log cabin stations exploited the expectations of Northwoods tourists. Standardized station plans that encompassed all aspects of product design, including buildings, logos, color scheme, and signs, promoted a consistent and easily identifiable image. By the mid-1930s, a single box station emerged. Glass garage bays and the operator’s room were integrated into a rectilinear form. Box stations were so functionally efficient that this building form endured almost as long as the full service station itself.
Drive-in restaurants, motels, and other roadside buildings extended the urban and suburban development pattern that gas stations helped establish in the 1920s. Linear commercial strips developed along the most heavily traveled roads on the fringes of cities, where land was cheap. The visual consequence of this zoned development was a landscape of isolated buildings set on asphalt aprons, each form derived from a unified corporate icon. Whimsical novelty, such the Arctic Circle Diner’s (WL8) igloo form, domestic familiarity, or three-dimensional signs as at Kopp’s Custard Stand (5373 N. Port Washington Road) in Milwaukee formed a new architectural vocabulary. The resulting effect was a montage of unrelated, discordant imagery in contrast to the rhythmic and coherent appearance of traditional downtowns.
Roadside buildings are historic artifacts of the automobile age. Often having a useful life of around twenty years, most have been either drastically altered or replaced, making them the most ephemeral of commercial buildings. So far, many preservationists have attached little significance to the individual buildings, and there is scant interest in the type of sensitive rehabilitation that has preserved, for example, many Wisconsin railroad depots.
As rail and auto transportation brought unparalleled freedom of movement to Wisconsin, they also led to the devaluation of a sense of place. Localities became increasingly less distinct and more susceptible to a universality of design brought on by standards of engineering, economy, consumption, and other factors. The result is an increasingly generic automobile landscape that mirrors the national, and even global, nature of consumption at the expense of individual locality.
STYLES OF PROSPERITY IN THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY
Elizabeth L. Miller
By the 1830s pioneer villages had taken root, and settlers were replacing their log cabins with more permanent structures. Consistent with the drive for statehood and the new consciousness of national identity it entailed, architects and designers in the 1840s looked to the eastern states for inspiration. Hence, the various national styles are found in abundance here.
Wisconsin designers endowed their buildings with distinctively regional features. Locally quarried stone, fieldstone, and brick produced buildings in widely irregular color and tone. Wisconsin limestone is cream, pink-beige, and blue-gray, and sandstone can be white or brown and intermediate shades. The clays along Lake Michigan produced buff and cream-colored brick, earning Milwaukee the nickname “Cream City.” Clays found elsewhere in southern Wisconsin and along the Mississippi River and its tributaries produced red, vermilion, burnt-orange, russet, and brown brick.
Wisconsin’s ethnic heritage also shaped its mid-nineteenth-century architecture. Yankee settlers and German immigrants brought specific building techniques to the state and gave varying interpretations to the traditional styles. Yankees brought two unusual construction techniques: grout and cobblestone. During the 1850s, one out of ten German immigrants settled in Wisconsin, and by 1855, one-third of Wisconsin’s population was of German origin. In rural areas, fachwerk construction was common.
The locations of styles as well as of techniques show a picture of the settlement of Wisconsin. European American settlement began in the 1820s when the Federal style was waning in popularity and Greek Revival increasing. Less common in Wisconsin was Gothic Revival for buildings other than churches. German immigrants in the cities introduced Rundbogenstil, especially in the eastern part of the state. From the 1850s to the 1870s, Italianate was popular, and during the 1870s Second Empire was employed statewide, especially for large public and institutional structures.
Federal-style buildings are concentrated in the southwestern part of the state, especially in Iowa, Grant, and Lafayette counties. The discovery of abundant surface deposits of lead in this area in the early 1820s had drawn thousands of miners and prospectors. Mineral Point’s Federal-influenced and vernacular buildings are constructed of locally produced, burnt-orange brick and golden-beige limestone. The Charles Strongman House (IA8) is typical of a Federal-influenced brick house.
Greek Revival was the first national style to be built widely in Wisconsin. As there were few architects in the state prior to 1850, local carpenters and builders relied on architectural pattern books, especially those by Asher Benjamin and Minard Lafever. Greek Revival buildings of frame or masonry construction are generally confined to the area south of a line running from La Crosse to Green Bay. Cooksville in Rock County has many Greek Revival houses of locally made, russet-vermilion brick. The Henry Duncan House (see RO23) in Cooksville and the Sanford House (1858), relocated from La-Grange to Old World Wisconsin (WK1), are representative. Cobblestone buildings, rare in the United States, have their highest concentration in western New York State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Several New York builders skilled in cobblestone construction settled in southern Wisconsin in the 1840s. Most of the cobblestone buildings here are Greek Revival, such as the Matthew and Caroline Blackburn House (RA2) in Racine County. The Buena Vista House (WL20) in Walworth County is a commercial example of a Greek Revival cobblestone building.
In Wisconsin, as elsewhere, Gothic Revival was adopted primarily for church and residential design. One of the finest Gothic Revival buildings in Wisconsin is the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin (WK22) in Waukesha County. Andrew Jackson Downing’s The Architecture of Country Houses (1850) was important in popularizing a picturesque version of Gothic Revival, as well as Italianate, for houses. Notable is the sandstone Leitch House (see DA44) in Madison.
Italianate dominated building design in Wisconsin for much of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. As agriculture shifted to dairy products and rural communities grew in wealth, Italianate masonry houses expressed the renewed confidence and prosperity of downtown businessmen. Two of the best examples are the cream brick Tallman House (RO18) in Janesville and the cream brick Villa Louis (CR2) in Prairie du Chien. Commercial Italianate buildings generally are less ornate but exhibit many of the same features as their residential counterparts. Nearly every community in the state has at least one Italianate commercial block. Watson Street (FD3) in downtown Ripon was ravaged by fires in 1868 and 1869, and its commercial buildings, rebuilt in Italianate, give the street a remarkable unity.
Although a building type, not a style, Wisconsin’s twenty surviving octagonal buildings display Italianate details. There are more octagons in Wisconsin than in any other state except New York and Massachusetts. Octagons had a brief popularity in the mid-nineteenth century following the publication of phrenologist Orson Fowler’s book, A Home for All (1848). Fowler argued that the octagon was the most beautiful building form because the shape occurs in nature, and an octagon-plan house reduced building costs, increased sunlight, improved ventilation, and was cheaper to heat. None in Wisconsin, though, are exact copies of Fowler’s published plans. The General Francis West House (GR7) in Monroe is an unusual example with a plan made of three octagons joined together. The hexagonal Milton House (see RO21) was built of grout by Joseph Goodrich in 1844. Goodrich’s recipe for grout, a primitive form of poured concrete, included gravel, slaked lime, sand, and water. The Milton House and the neighboring Goodrich Blacksmith Shop (1844) are the oldest surviving examples of grout construction in the United States. In the 1850s, Orson Fowler visited the Milton House and was so impressed with grout construction that he revised his book to promote gravel walls for octagon buildings.
Second Empire buildings are readily identified by their mansard roofs. The cream brick Keenan House (see DA26) in Madison was updated to Second Empire with the addition of a mansard roof in 1870. Although less popular than some other styles, Second Empire buildings were constructed all across the state. The former Alexander Mitchell House (MI48) by Edward Townsend Mix in Milwaukee is a fine example, and the Mitchell Building (MI23), also by Mix, is an outstanding commercial example.
Rundbogenstil, a combination of Romanesque and Renaissance forms, occurs primarily in the heavily German areas of eastern Wisconsin. It was especially favored for religious and commercial buildings. Two fine examples in Madison are the McDonnell-Pierce House (see DA26) and Gates of Heaven Synagogue (DA27) constructed of pale, locally quarried sandstone.
Between 1830 and 1880, Wisconsin builders created their own interpretations of standard styles from eastern states and from Europe. Sandstone and brick of varying hues and shades and ethnic preferences lent a local cast to the buildings. Few professional architects were on hand to standardize the appearance of these structures. By the 1870s, the rise of the architectural profession, the spread of pattern books, and the growth of middle-class residential neighborhoods—many with covenants restricting owners’ choice of style—had begun to impose more conformity on Wisconsin’s built landscape. Builders looked to more sophisticated sources for inspiration. The greatest diversity in Wisconsin’s architecture came to be within preexisting styles rather than in the invention of new ones. The next moment of stylistic innovation came after Eastern European immigrants brought new design concepts in the 1880s and 1890s, and the introduction of such American styles as Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Shingle Style.
ARCHITECTURE IN THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The origins of much that is familiar in Wisconsin’s towns and cities can be traced to the last decades of the nineteenth century. In those years, the relationship of commercial and industrial zones to residential neighborhoods assumed the patterns we recognize today. The public realm of streets, parks, and civic buildings expanded as never before, and investment in public infrastructure resulted in the creation of modern water and sewer systems. The building boom came at a moment of enthusiasm for commercial interests in Wisconsin. Main Streets grew with handsome avenues of impressive masonry business blocks with Italianate facades. Weighty and handsome Richardsonian Romanesque banks and city halls anchored downtown streets.
Italianate flourished in the 1860s and 1870s and was often chosen for city and resort hotels; although many of them have disappeared, commercial buildings such as those in the 700 block of N. Milwaukee Street (MI20) in Milwaukee exemplify the style. The wealthy often preferred Italianate for their houses, and Edward Townsend Mix produced a number of such houses in the 1870s, including the Robert Patrick Fitzgerald House (MI132) in Milwaukee. Builders in Wisconsin also began to adopt more ornate styles for domestic and commercial buildings. Pattern books by Samuel Sloan, George F. Barber, A. J. Bicknell, and George E. Woodward circulated widely, and their designs were incorporated into the repertoire of local builders across the state. High Victorian Gothic, a more colorful and less academic version of Gothic Revival, was not widely adopted in Wisconsin, but Milwaukee’s North Point Water Tower (MI159), with its 175-foot tower, most dramatically illustrates the style’s soaring, vertical qualities.
The late-nineteenth-century economy brought a new scale to Wisconsin’s cities and towns. Between 1880 and 1900, the state’s urban population exploded, with many of its cities doubling in size within a decade. In 1880, there were 1,680 people employed in 203 Wisconsin breweries; twenty years later, 147 plants employed 3,904. These plants dwarfed their predecessors in size, necessitating new design principles and creating new aesthetic possibilities. The accumulation of great fortunes produced clients eager to improve their residences, factories, business blocks, and cultural institutions. Although this pattern can be readily discerned in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and La Crosse, it is also evident at a smaller scale in communities across the state.
These decades are commonly associated with two leading architectural styles, Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque. Both embodied the cultural and civic aspirations of the middle and upper classes. Neighborhoods with large single-family houses in these styles were a significant accomplishment of the period. These neighborhoods with their tree-lined streets and proximity to downtown vary little around the state, although the houses themselves show great individuality. This is due to regional variations in the color of brick and the color and type of building stone, as well as each builder’s modifications to stock plans.
The Queen Anne style was popular almost everywhere in the state in the 1880s and 1890s. Grand and modest versions of the style can often be found in close proximity. The most elaborate Queen Anne houses were usually built for leading merchants and professionals and were often clustered in newly developed sections of a city, such as Janesville’s Courthouse Hill (RO13) or in towns such as Evansville. One notable example is the house in Kenosha built for banker Urban Lewis (see KN6). Rising from a rusticated first story, the clapboard-clad upper stories support a conical tower with conical roofed dormers and a prominent finial. Such stacking of features and details made Queen Anne houses, whatever their size, highly conspicuous. Many large and elaborate Queen Anne houses in Eau Claire’s Third Ward such as that of Addison and Belle Cutter (EC6) show the possibilities of building with wood. These buildings also featured a wealth of modern improvements. Advances in heating, cooling, and plumbing and a steady supply of immigrant labor for maintaining the houses sustained a comfortable standard of living.
By the early 1890s many Wisconsin builders chose stone and brick shaped into Richardsonian Romanesque. Chicago architects, such as Solon Spencer Beman, were commissioned for major Wisconsin buildings in this style. His Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters (MI21) in Milwaukee and the Batavian Bank Building in La Crosse (see LC1) are outstanding examples. These rusticated buildings with round arches added bulk and permanence to Main Streets in their use of sandstone, limestone, and brick. The Columbus City Hall (see CO2) in Columbia County designed by T. D. Allen of Minneapolis combines brick, sandstone, and limestone into a substantial building. Wisconsin architects, including Conover and Porter and Edward Townsend Mix, created a great variety of buildings using Richardsonian motifs. German-born Henry C. Koch was among Wisconsin’s architects whose designs for civic buildings and churches incorporated Richardsonian features. Milwaukee City Hall (MI1) is his most monumental design. The Mabel Tainter Memorial Building (DN1) in Menomonie by Harvey Ellis is one the most impressive Richardsonian Romanesque buildings in the Midwest and exemplifies the public investments made by some Wisconsin business leaders in this period.
Wisconsin’s architectural profession grew from a handful of practitioners around the time of the Civil War to a substantial number by the turn of the twentieth century who could offer their clients the assurance of a fashionable design. Milwaukee’s First Ward Triangle Historic District (MI137) is exemplary. American styles usually prevailed in urban settings, but many ethnic variations were added to their designs, as is evident in the Kalvelage House (MI105) by Otto Strack in Milwaukee. Hugo Schick and Gustave Stoltze of La Crosse designed lavish houses for lumber dealers and brewers in that city’s Cass and King Street area (LC4). Ethnic influences remained strong for religious buildings, especially among German and Eastern European congregations, as seen notably at Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (MI4) by Victor Schulte. And some ethnic communities continued to use construction practices of their homeland, especially for farm buildings. In northern counties settled by Finns, for example, barns and outbuildings were often crafted of hand-hewn logs with dovetailed joints. These regional pockets persisted into the early twentieth century.
Real estate dealers ascended to prominence in the late nineteenth century. Although sellers of lots and houses were present since territorial times, now they formed professional organizations and joined with architects, landscape designers, and builders to orchestrate the development of middle-class residential areas. In areas of cities served by electric streetcar transportation, they offered park-like settings in subdivisions to which the picturesque Queen Anne style was well suited.
In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago promoted the forms and ideals of Beaux-Arts classical, precipitating a major shift in architectural design. While the grand scale of Beaux-Arts classical suited such buildings as the Milwaukee Central Library (MI50) and the Wisconsin State Capitol (DA20), it rarely translated to residential or commercial designs. For those types of buildings, Arts and Crafts influences and such revival styles as Colonial, Georgian, and Tudor were introduced to Wisconsin’s cities and towns after 1900.
Through the last decades of the nineteenth century, a diverse collection of buildings emerged for a population equally diverse in income and ethnicity. A strong economy and vibrant building trades created a productive base for the early decades of the twentieth century. As well, some of Wisconsin’s new architecture would be inspired by technological innovation and the conviction that buildings should express the nature of their materials and the landscape. These ideas had a national impact, and Wisconsin builders and architects took a lead in incubating them.
REVIVAL STYLES AND THE ROLE OF CHICAGO ARCHITECTS
Timothy F. Heggland
In the mid-1890s, larger architect-designed single-family residences in various revival styles were constructed in the state’s largest cities. This reflects the fact that architects were in touch with the latest national trends, both as a result of their training in the nation’s first schools of architecture and their awareness of what was happening in such larger eastern cities as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Most of Wisconsin’s architects were located in the state’s largest cities in the 1890s, as were the clients with means and interest to build in the latest styles.
Excellent early examples include the Beaux-Arts classical James Sawyer house (MI167) by William D. Kimball and the Georgian Revival Richard and Anna Ely House (see DA29) in Madison by Chicago architect Charles Sumner Frost. By the turn of the twentieth century, the increasing popularity of revival styles, notably Colonial, Georgian, and Tudor, was seen in all of Wisconsin’s larger communities, but most notably in Milwaukee. Between 1900 and the onset of World War I many houses there show the steady maturation of these styles. However, revival designs were not the only ones competing for clients’ approval during this period. Houses of equivalent cost and size in Arts and Crafts and Prairie Style were also popular. Wisconsin’s finest collection of buildings demonstrating these various styles were built north of Milwaukee’s downtown along the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, where hundreds of outstanding houses exhibiting the range of designs available to the wealthy can be found.
Following World War I, and into the 1920s and 1930s, revival-styled houses were constructed almost everywhere in the state, including entire neighborhoods, such as the suburbs of Shorewood and Whitefish Bay (see MI179) just north of Milwaukee, the Nakoma district (DA37) of Madison, and in Maple Bluff just outside Madison. Many of these houses were designed by local architects, because by the 1920s nearly every large Wisconsin city could boast professionally trained architects, but most were the product of local builders. Revival designs were being presented to the general public through newspapers and building catalogs and by mail order, and these became the province of the builder as well as the architect. Some builders came to rival trained architects in their command of the various styles.
So popular were the various revival styles that they began to be incorporated into all building types. In the 1920s Martin Tullgren and Sons designed multistory hotels with Tudor Revival details for the Milwaukee-based Schroeder Hotel chain, including Green Bay’s Hotel Northland (BR6). During the same period the Green Bay firm of Foeller and Schober attracted attention with a series of Tudor Revival–inspired gasoline filling stations, although none survive intact. Following the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 held in Chicago, large public buildings were often constructed in the Beaux-Arts classical style. Some of these buildings were the products of Wisconsin architects, notably the Milwaukee firm of Ferry and Clas, who designed the Milwaukee Central Library (MI50) and the Wisconsin Historical Society Building (see DA28) in Madison. Others were designed by New York City architects, including George B. Post, whose Wisconsin State Capitol (DA20) in Madison is one of the nation’s most impressive. Albert Randolph Ross’s Milwaukee County Courthouse (MI47) completed in 1931 is one of the state’s last great Beaux-Arts classical monuments.
Wisconsin business institutions commissioned similar buildings. Perhaps the most impressive example is the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Building (MI14) in Milwaukee by the Chicago firm of Marshall and Fox. This building is representative of the almost forgotten role played by Chicago in Wisconsin’s architectural history. While links between Wisconsin and Chicago architects who developed the Prairie School are well known, less attention has focused on Chicago as a training ground for architects who came to Wisconsin to practice or to construct buildings designed by Chicago architects. The excellence of Wisconsin’s own architects notwithstanding, Chicago architects were most active in and around the cities of Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha in the southeastern corner of the state. Proximity to Chicago undoubtedly accounts for this. Madison, for example, had just two important buildings by Chicago architects before 1941, of which only the outstanding industrial modernist Forest Products Laboratory (DA28.9) by Holabird and Root survives. Several outstanding revival-styled houses of the 1930s in Racine and Kenosha were designed by Chicago architects, including the Georgian Revival Charles Allen House (see KN7) by Pond and Pond. A fine example of Mediterranean Revival is the Lloyd Smith House (MI156) in Milwaukee by Chicago’s David Adler, one of the best of all the midwestern practitioners working with traditional styles.
Parts of southeastern Wisconsin had evolved into summer resort areas for Chicago residents as early as the 1860s. The shoreline of Geneva Lake in Walworth County in particular was almost completely given over to summer estates belonging to some of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens. Most of them chose Chicago architects to design their new houses, the earliest of which exhibited a rich melange of late Victorian-era styles and influences, as evident in the house Adolph Cudell created in 1888 for Catherine and Conrad Seipp (see WL6) with landscaping by Chicagoan Olaf Benson. Estates built during the first decades of the twentieth century on Geneva Lake include notable revival designs. Howard Van Doren Shaw has four works here, among which the grand Italian Renaissance Revival Villa Hortensia (see WL6) was built in 1906 for Chicago meat packer Edward F. Swift. His other designs are the House in the Woods (1905; 67 Snake Road) for A. C. Bartlett; Alta Viste (1919; 87 N. Lake Shore Drive) for William Nelson Pelouze; and the neoclassical Aloha Lodge for Chicagoan Tracy C. Drake (1900; 768 S. Lake Shore Drive).
Chicago residents also retreated for the summer to the lake country of northern Wisconsin. One of the earlier summer places in this area known to have been designed by a Chicago architect is the Island of Happy Days (BN3) on Red Cedar Lake, a grand Craftsman complex for Chicago lumber magnate, railroad president, and financier Frank D. Stout. The architect of this complex was Arthur Huen, who had also designed Stout’s Chicago house. Similar connections may explain other Northwoods commissions. A case in point is the resort area of Vilas County. In the popular imagination, Northwoods summer houses are typically small- or medium-sized rustic buildings, but many of those seeking a summer retreat in Wisconsin were seeking a balance between the rustic and the elegant, with a decided emphasis on the latter. The grand estate of M. J. Tennes (VI4) by Chicagoans Rudolph and Elizabeth Kimball Nedved is inspired by farmhouses of Normandy, France. Swain and Nelson, also from Chicago, designed the estate’s landscape. The Tennes complex can be described as rustic only by comparison with the Chicago homes of their owners.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND LOUIS H. SULLIVAN
H. Allen Brooks
Frank Lloyd Wright, a native of Wisconsin and a very loyal son, was born at Richland Center in 1867. He spent teenage summers working on his uncle’s Spring Green farm, and near there he later built his home, Taliesin (IA1), where he lived, worked, and farmed for almost fifty years. In Wisconsin, he developed his intense attachment to the landscape and to natural things that profoundly shaped his thinking and his architectural work for the remainder of his life.
Land and landscape, rather than historicism, influenced his architectural ideas, and his buildings demonstrate his deep respect for natural materials, often indigenous to the region. Wood was never painted, revealing its natural grain. Stucco was tinted the color of sand, its primary material. Clay provided the textured bricks, and when limestone outcropping existed in the region, this became his material of choice—laid up as it might appear in the quarry.
Wright’s greatest legacy to the future of architecture was his revolutionary method of designing interior space, especially of houses. Prior to Wright, each room was carefully enclosed by four walls, and each served a single purpose. Wright replaced the single-purpose room with areas of multiple use, where function was often relative to the position and activity of the user. Space lost its absolute value and assumed a relative one. Houses could be smaller and less expensive, yet seem—psychologically—much larger than their actual size. Wright’s innovation was selectively to eliminate one or more corners from the rooms, thereby allowing the walls to define, rather than enclose, an area of use. This he did with such deftness that he retained privacy while simultaneously opening, overlapping, and interpenetrating different spaces. Wright’s open or flowing space was fundamentally different from that of subsequent European architects, such as Le Corbusier; it is more complex, more manipulative, and more purposeful.
Space alone, however, could never provide the sense of repose that Wright was seeking. To ensure greater tranquility and harmony of the whole, he minimized the number of materials found in the typical house, limiting them to only three or four: glass, tinted sand plaster, brick or quarried limestone, and one species of wood. The same kind of wood was used inside and out as well as for bookshelves and furniture. This divests Wright’s designs of tension and visual discord, contributing to the remarkable sense of repose conveyed to those who dwell within. Wright was far more conservative than many of his European counterparts. He wished to uphold traditional values, to symbolize continuity by embracing vernacular forms, to honor and enhance the landscape, and to express the machine process rather than the machine itself.
While Wright was a teenager working on his uncle’s farm, Chicago architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee designed a handsome, shingle-clad Unitarian chapel (see IA1) for the Lloyd Jones family. Wright assisted with construction, his initial experience in the art of building, and soon thereafter sought apprenticeship in Silsbee’s office. But prior to this move, Wright’s parents were divorced (1885), and he left Madison High School before completing his senior year in order to help support his mother and younger sisters. Encouraged by his mother, he sought work with a local architect-engineer, A. D. Conover, and began auditing courses in descriptive geometry and drafting at the University of Wisconsin. Then, late in the winter of 1887, he went to Chicago, where the building industry was booming.
Numerous architects settled in Chicago in the years after the great fire of 1871, and among them was Louis H. Sullivan. Born in Boston in 1856, and after one year of training at MIT followed by stints in various Philadelphia and Chicago offices and a short stay at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Sullivan returned to Chicago where in 1881 he entered into partnership with Dankmar Adler. After several months in Silsbee’s office, Wright applied to Louis Sullivan for a job. Impressed by Wright’s ability to draw, Sullivan hired the twenty-year-old to help design ornament for the Auditorium Building (1886–1890). Wright soon became head draftsman, remaining nearly six years. These years witnessed the design of Sullivan’s Wainwright Building in St. Louis and many others, but Sullivan found the design of houses less challenging and sometimes delegated this work to Wright.
To help finance his rapidly growing family and his taste for luxuries, Wright surreptitiously designed private houses (he called them “bootleg” houses) in breach of his contract with Sullivan. A quarrel ensued, and Wright walked out, not to speak to Sullivan for twenty years. That was 1893, the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the year that Wright entered private practice. The Adler and Sullivan partnership was dissolved two years later.
Thereafter, except for the Carson, Pirie Scott Building in Chicago of 1898–1904, Sullivan designed no more high-rise buildings. He built only two more houses, including the somewhat ponderous Harold and Josephine Bradley House I (DA31) in Madison for which George G. Elmslie played a role in the design. Between 1906 and 1920, Sullivan’s major achievement was designing eight small-town banks. The last, and certainly one of the finest of these banks, was the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank (CO3) in Columbus. This is perhaps the most perfect of Sullivan’s banks in terms of integration of form, structure, and ornament. The subdued tones of maroon-colored, wire-cut tapestry brick, which Sullivan likened to the texture of an oriental rug, is the perfect foil against which the subtle shades of mottled, light green terra-cotta reliefs are allowed to play. Sullivan, working alone and at the very end of his career, is here in total control of his fantastic powers of design.
Wright’s first commission after leaving Sullivan in 1893 was the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois. Throughout the following decade, however, his work lacked a clear stylistic direction. During the winter of 1896–1897, a coterie of like-minded young architects, including Wright, began sharing office space in the loft of Chicago’s Steinway Hall; gradually they expanded into a luncheon club called The Eighteen. All were strongly influenced by Sullivan’s teaching and by his message of elimination and simplification, yet none had achieved a uniform expression in design. To promote their cause they became involved in various professional organizations including the Chicago Architectural Club, at whose 1902 annual exhibition they championed the work of Wright. These architects soon formed the nucleus of the movement now known as the Prairie School. Its influence rapidly spread, its greatest impact occurring just prior to World War I.
Wright’s work during these years was primarily built in suburban Chicago, yet he simultaneously designed many important buildings in Wisconsin. These included a limestone, timber, and stucco building for the Hillside Home School in 1902, later (1932) converted to accommodate the Taliesin Fellowship. In 1905 he designed the Thomas P. Hardy House (RA14) in Racine, and three years later built the Eugene and Blanche Gilmore House (DA30) in Madison, not far from Sullivan’s Bradley House. Indeed, by the time Wright returned to his native state in 1911, he had constructed over a dozen major works in Wisconsin. And all these buildings expressed his keen sensitivity to landscape and natural materials.
Other architects, taking their inspiration from Sullivan and Wright, also left a strong mark in Wisconsin. Among those native born, Percy Dwight Bentley of La Crosse was undoubtedly the most talented. Like Wright, he exhibited a remarkably fine sense of proportions in his work. Purcell and Elmslie of Minneapolis also produced outstanding designs, including a second house for the Bradleys (DA17) in Shorewood Hills near Madison, the First Congregational Church Community House (EC3) at Eau Claire, and the First National Bank (ON3) in Rhinelander. Wright, who in 1909 had left his wife, Catherine, closed his Oak Park studio and went to Europe for about a year. In 1911 he moved to the valley of his maternal ancestors near Spring Green, where he built Taliesin (IA1). More earth-bound and informal than his Prairie Style houses, this one-story building remained his principal residence for the remainder of his life. Tragically, however, much of Taliesin was destroyed by fire in 1914, when a deranged servant set fire to the house and murdered seven household members as they fled the flames. Wright was in Chicago at the time. Then, in 1925, a less destructive blaze occurred, which led to the construction of Taliesin III.
From around 1910 to 1930 Wright’s life, work, and whereabouts were in constant flux. Interest in the Prairie School waned as clients sought more traditional styles in architecture. Fortunately for Wright, he received the commission to build the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, which kept him busy until 1922. Simultaneously, his trans-Pacific sailings acquainted him with southern California, where he soon received important work, and where, in response to a different climate and landscape, he developed new forms and building techniques. Premonitions of this are already evident in his Wisconsin work, particularly the A. D. German Warehouse (RI5) at Richland Center and the Frederick Bogk residence (MI161) in Milwaukee. Here pre-Columbian, specifically Mayan, forms first appear, and they remained paramount in his work throughout the 1920s. This new vocabulary is first evident in California at the Hollyhock House (1917–1920), designed for Aline Barnsdall, and then in houses for Alice Millard, John Storer, Harriet and Samuel Freeman, and Mabel and Charles Ennis, his textile-block houses of the early 1920s. These more solid and massive homes possibly reflect Wright’s need for permanence and stability in his private life. Wright’s interest in the Southwest soon attracted him to Arizona, where in 1937 he began building a winter home, Taliesin West, in the desert near Phoenix.
Wright experienced two events of major significance in 1932. The first was the publication of his book An Autobiography, which attracted many new clients to his door. The second was the creation of the Taliesin Fellowship, a group of paying young apprentices, who occasionally numbered sixty and theoretically (but rarely) divided their time equally between kitchen and farming duties, learning about architecture in the drafting room and about construction by repairing, restoring, and building the buildings at Taliesin and Hillside. The Fellowship gave Wright an entirely new lease on life.
In 1936, a former apprentice, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., persuaded his father to let Wright design their weekend house, Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania. Simultaneously, at Racine, Wright was building the almost equally famous administration building for the Johnson Wax Company (RA18) as well as a large house, Wingspread (RA7; now a conference center), for Johnson Wax president Herbert Johnson. In 1944 he designed a Research Tower (RA18.1) for Johnson Wax. These commissions revitalized Wright’s career and provided the wherewithal to build, using local materials, primitive forms, and Fellowship labor, his long cherished dream of a home on the Arizona desert—Taliesin West.
During these same years a younger, less affluent group of clients turned to Wright. They responded enthusiastically to ideas he expressed in An Autobiography. The first of these houses (1936) was for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs (DA38) in Madison, a flat-roofed, one-story house with a carport rather than a garage. It was built on a concrete slab incorporating pipes for radiant heating, and therefore no basement was required. Wright called these low-cost homes Usonian (United Statesian) because, unlike his earlier designs of regional inspiration—the Prairie houses in the Midwest and textile-block houses in the Southwest—the Usonian house was intended for all America. The small, cubic John and Ruth Pew House (DA19) is another Usonian. Smaller still was the 880-square-foot Seth Peterson cottage (SK1) at Mirror Lake State Park, designed by Wright in 1958, the year before his death.
In 1944 Wright had built another, larger house for the Jacobs (DA43) in Madison. In spite of all this residential work, nonresidential designs comprised a growing share of Wright’s late work, with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City his best known. In Wisconsin, he designed the remarkable First Unitarian Society Meeting House (DA14) in Shorewood Hills, Monona Terrace (DA22) in Madison, and Annunciation Church (MI186) in Wauwatosa. This last was designed shortly before Wright’s death and completed by William Wesley Peters and the Taliesin Fellowship.
When Wright died in April 1959, just two months short of his ninety-second birthday, he had practiced architecture for more than seventy years. And in his home state of Wisconsin he left a remarkably rich legacy of nearly forty buildings.
THE ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT
My favorite house in Wisconsin—a consummate Craftsman bungalow (DA32)—stands in Madison, just outside Vilas Park. Cora Tuttle, one of the state’s few recognized female designers, created the charming residence for herself in 1909. The house looks like an organic part of its tree-shaded site, its sweeping front gable casting a deep shadow over wood-shingled walls. A skillful use of natural materials and the manipulation of light and shadow connect the building to its landscape. And all the details, from the timber-sized beam across the bottom of the gable to the ornamental mortise-and-tenon joinery, appear almost as though they were fashioned by medieval craftsmen. In other ways, too, the Tuttle bungalow seems to speak of another time. Fieldstone piers and pairs of blocky columns frame a full-width porch where one might enjoy a quiet moment of repose. These qualities—the mood, the wood and stone materials, and the craftsman-like details—express the aesthetics of the Arts and Crafts, a movement that captured Wisconsin’s imagination in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Although the Arts and Crafts movement neither originated nor reached its peak here, it rooted deep in Wisconsin’s rich soil. Both the Prairie and Craftsman styles drew on the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as developments closely linked to the state’s history: Progressivism and environmentalism. In the early twentieth century, Wisconsin governor and later presidential candidate Robert La Follette became a standard-bearer for the national Progressive movement to expand democracy. Linked to that political current was a growing interest in conservation and environmental preservation, and here, too, the state stood at the forefront, molding some of the most influential environmental philosophers of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, among them John Muir and Aldo Leopold. Both environmentalism and Progressivism responded to a newly emerging industrialism, which widened the disparities between social classes and obscured the profound relationships between people and their natural environment.
Similarly, the Arts and Crafts movement began as a critique of industrialism. The movement germinated in England around 1860 under the leadership of William Morris, an author, decorative artist, and prominent socialist, who drew inspiration from John Ruskin, the Oxford art professor and art critic. Ruskin, Morris, and their followers protested an Industrial Revolution that had replaced skilled craftsmen with machines, substituted handmade household goods with mass-produced objects of inferior quality, and alienated people from nature. That said, although Morris operated his own small-scale workshop, he was not hostile to machine technology if it produced high-quality work. His American disciples, however, adopted mass production on a much larger scale to make architecture and furnishings affordable for a growing middle class. Promoters such as Wisconsin-born Gustav Stickley, editor of the Craftsman magazine in upstate New York, argued that art, beauty, and nature should be integral to everyday life. Accordingly, the most mundane objects found throughout the home, from window glass to pottery, must find their inspiration in natural forms.
In the United States, this environmental sensibility reached its fullest expression through the Prairie School, a term applied to a loosely organized group of midwestern architects who initially came together through the Chicago Society of Arts and Crafts. The best known and most original of these architects were Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. But others who left their imprint on Wisconsin’s landscape also got their start in Chicago: Robert Spencer, Jens Jensen, William Gray Purcell and George G. Elmslie, George Maher, Louis Ward Claude, and Alvan Small. Ironically, Prairie architecture—whose very name evokes the iconic landscape of the rural Midwest—made its strongest mark in the urban centers of Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, and La Crosse.
The Prairie School was as much a philosophy as a school of design. It sought to create a regional architecture expressing the horizontal lines and the democratic spirit of the Middle West. Low massing, hipped roofs, and cantilevered porches mirrored the horizon and emphasized the meeting between earth and sky. At the same time, Prairie architects organized the space within their buildings in ways that consciously articulated Progressive ideals about democracy and family. Wright conveyed those ideals through his oversized fireplaces, which symbolized domesticity, and his open plans, which facilitated family interactions. He often turned the house around so that the street elevation presented a nearly blank wall while the rear elevation appeared almost transparent; one sheltered the family from public view, the other brought the family into visual contact with a naturalistic landscape. The result was an uncommon visual and philosophical unity.
Wright brought the Prairie School idea to Wisconsin in the early twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1902, several Chicago-area clients commissioned him to design summer houses along Delavan Lake (WL12, WL13, WL14). None of these retreats represents a mature flowering of his philosophy, and yet they introduced an architectural vocabulary he later used to great effect: deep eaves, horizontal battens, and geometric bands. By 1905, when he designed the Hardy House (RA14) in Racine, his ideas for making organic connections to the land had ripened.
Wright’s ability to connect his buildings to their environment was unparalleled among Wisconsin architects. But he was not the only designer to leave his impression on the land. Conservationist and landscape architect Jens Jensen cultivated a modern appreciation of the prairie landscape and its native vegetation. Jensen had immigrated to Chicago from a large farm in Denmark; perhaps his unfamiliarity with the midwestern prairie helped him see its beauty with a clarity that eluded others. His passion for naturalistic landscapes grew out of a keen interest in the emerging science of ecology and his understanding of “the soil itself as the source of all life” (quoted in Robert E. Grese, Jens Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens ). Unlike his colleague, ecologist Aldo Leopold, who devoted much of his career to restoring prairie ecosystems, Jensen used native materials, plant communities, and the natural architecture of trees and shrubs to construct landscapes that evoked particular moods or feelings. His crowning achievement in Wisconsin was The Clearing (DR12), perched on a high bluff overlooking Green Bay. It was here that Jensen established a school for students to learn the art of regional landscape design.
Similarly, architect George G. Elmslie believed that architecture should be regional, local, communal, and personal. Collaborating with William Gray Purcell, Elmslie became not only one of the most prolific of the Prairie architects but also one of the most eclectic. The sense of human scale, low massing, natural materials, and attention to detail coherently link such diverse designs as the forward-looking Harold and Josephine Bradley House II (DA17) in Madison, the Gothic-detailed Community House at the First Congregational Church (EC3) in Eau Claire, and the simple Jump River Town Hall (TA1).
The very idea that Purcell and Elmslie would produce such a modest building as the Jump River Town Hall reflects the commitment of many progressive designers to a philosophy of “democratic” architecture. For George Maher, this meant that designs should meet the client’s expressed needs and those of the environment. Wright, on the other hand, required his clients to conform to his buildings. Wright achieved far greater originality, but Maher, too, developed a singular style, despite the constraints his clients may have imposed. His best work, such as the Elliott House (see DA29) in Madison, combined Prairie lines with European influences in a graceful expression of Arts and Crafts principles. Many of his houses display a blocky massing, a distinctively layered roof (evoking thatch while emphasizing the horizontal plane), and a single, unifying botanical motif—honeysuckle, tulip, thistle, lotus—repeated throughout in glass, plaster, and wood.
Like Maher, architects Claude and Starck and Alvan Small served a middle-class clientele and yet produced a distinctive body of work. Small, the lesser known of the two firms, designed modest Prairie houses in Madison’s suburbs. His best creations, such as the Aaron G. Johnson House (see DA29), emphasize geometry, with the ribbon of upper-floor windows defined by parallel bands of wooden trim, minimalist details, and flat wall surfaces. The prolific partnership of Claude and Starck produced beautifully detailed houses that, like Maher’s work, reflected Prairie and English influences. The William and Dora Collins House (see DA44) skillfully combines the crisp horizontal lines of the Prairie Style with Tudor details to create an especially striking design.
Claude and Starck’s partnership, however, became best known statewide through the creation of public libraries, mostly designed in a derivative classical style. The Watertown Public Library is one of the better examples (see JE1). In contrast, a number of the firm’s other library designs—for example, the Columbus Public Library (see CO2)—used the Arts and Crafts idiom to link the high-minded, democratic ideals of the public library movement with the domestic ideals of the middle-class house.
By 1910, there emerged a second expression of the Arts and Crafts movement that has come to be called the Craftsman style. In its simplest form, the Craftsman bungalow became a symbol of membership in the middle class. These modest yet artistic houses exemplified good taste, technological efficiency, and respectability. Professional architects had little part in the development of bungalow neighborhoods, such as those now designated as the Marquette Bungalows Historic District in Madison (DA46) and the North Grant Boulevard Historic District in Milwaukee (MI114). Real estate speculators and small businesspeople promoted the Craftsman house to the middle class as a means of family independence. For a low price, purchased on an installment plan (then a new mode of housing finance), a family of moderate means could acquire a tasteful home, surrounded by a lawn and landscaped with one or two trees.
At their best, Craftsman houses seemed to emerge from their natural surroundings, much as a flowering plant grew from its roots, to paraphrase Stickley. High-style examples conveyed that effect by employing conspicuously natural materials, such as logs and field- or cobblestones, and by exposing the structural framework of posts, beams, trusses, and rafters. With their broad gables, these houses seemed to hug the earth, and their full-width porches blurred the boundaries between outside and in.
The Craftsman style spread from California and yet seems at one with the Wisconsin landscape. In part, that affinity stems from the state’s ethnic heritage. In the nineteenth century, immigrants had crafted stone and log buildings in the Old World manner. Craftsman designs emulated these effects, so the style looked less like a break in architectural tradition than a continuation of an older one. Indeed, some of the state’s landmark examples of the style were actually the work of immigrant craftsmen, giving them an explicitly ethnic flavor. Master woodcarvers from Switzerland and Norway, for example, gave a Nordic appearance to the Gundersen Cottage (LC7) in the La Crosse area and the Island of Happy Days (BN3) at Red Cedar Lake, capturing the sensibilities that had inspired the Arts and Crafts movement in the first place. A handful of designers created highly imaginative, fanciful buildings that evoked the woodsy cottages of German and Scandinavian folklore or Art Nouveau.
In the Northwoods, a rustic approach to Craftsman architecture became de rigueur for vacation retreats, taking its cue from the great resorts of the Adirondacks. Typical were the Seven Pines Lodge (PK1) in Clam Falls and Cardinal’s Manitowish Lodge (VI2) in the Town of Arbor Vitae, with their log walls, screened porches, stone fireplaces, and knotty pine wainscotting.
By the 1930s, the rustic Craftsman idiom became the official aesthetic for state parks receiving assistance from President Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Depression–era programs. Throughout the nation, under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the federal government put unemployed men to work building such structures as bathhouses, fireplaces, picnic shelters, and privies in state parks. These were like those erected elsewhere, and yet they seem singularly well suited to Wisconsin’s environment. Using logs and stone, CCC and WPA workers handcrafted massive structures that blend easily with the forests and rocks of Copper Falls (AS8), Wyalusing (GT9), Devil’s Lake (SK20), and other state parks. The two ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement—its embrace of nature and its commitment to participatory democracy—converged dramatically through the efforts of these men, who transformed wooded landscapes into naturalistic parks, places created for people of all walks of life to come together and commune with nature.
In the years immediately after World War II, this spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement seemed lost in the scramble to meet housing demand with mass production. And yet, Prairie and Craftsman buildings remain to remind us of alternatives to mass-produced conformity. Tucked beneath the trees, modest Arts and Crafts houses like the one that Cora Tuttle built for herself continue to symbolize the egalitarian ideals of Wisconsin’s Progressivism and its environmental traditions.
PLANNED COMMUNITIES AND MODEL TOWNS
Arnold R. Alanen
In 1938, a new community with the bucolic name of Greendale (MI191) began to emerge from farm fields eight miles southwest of downtown Milwaukee. Greendale’s commercial center differed little from those of older Wisconsin towns, but despite fourteen basic house styles and a range of roof types, its houses showed a striking aesthetic uniformity. Such uniformity was one of the signal characteristics of early-twentieth-century planned communities throughout Wisconsin. Planned communities used careful siting standards and strict housing covenants to create the effect of a coherent community. Although planned communities account for only a fraction of Wisconsin’s settlements, they have left a deep imprint on the state’s landscape, helping to popularize some of the design elements—curvilinear streets and culs-de-sac—that were later adopted for post–World War II subdivisions.
Long before such planned communities as Greendale, the U.S. Land Ordinance Act of 1785 organized most of the trans-Appalachian landscape into a rectilinear pattern, setting the physical form for thousands of Wisconsin towns. At least one hundred of the four hundred plans officially platted and registered in southern Wisconsin during the nineteenth century were intended to have town squares, although few developed as envisioned. Most, such as the courthouse cities of Baraboo, Darlington, and Monroe, are simple block-sized squares bounded by four streets, although Rhinelander includes an axial street directed toward the courthouse. Whereas the square in Monroe is centrally located, most of the other courthouse squares are situated at a distance from their town centers.
Madison’s Capitol Square, which includes four radial and four axial avenues, is the most sophisticated town square in Wisconsin. Drawn in 1836, the plan was primarily a product of the 1785 Land Ordinance. The site for the capitol building was placed at the meeting point of four section lines, each oriented to one of the cardinal directions, on the isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. A grid was laid out in a northwest-southeast pattern so that it generally conformed to the rectilinear shape of the isthmus. The emergence of landscape architecture, city planning, and real estate as professions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contributed to the development of more elaborate layouts for Wisconsin communities. It was believed that existing communities could be improved by adding parks, parkways, and small-scale subdivisions. English garden city ideas found a receptive audience, as did the concepts of the City Beautiful movement, an urban reform effort that reached its height during the Progressive Era.
Most of the planned communities and model villages built to house industrial workers in Wisconsin grew out of the “corporate welfare” programs of early-twentieth-century manufacturers, by which employers improved working and housing conditions for their employees. Although seemingly altruistic, corporate welfare had pragmatic objectives—to retain a dependable and qualified workforce, to increase efficiency and productivity, and to counteract the efforts of labor organizers and reduce the likelihood of strikes. Notable among these model villages is the Sheboygan County enclave of Kohler Village (SB8) established in 1916 by Walter Kohler Sr., president of the plumbing fixtures company. He hired distinguished German city planner Werner Hegemann and landscape architect Elbert Peets to plan a commercial and residential district adjacent to the firm’s factories. Sheboygan engineer Jerry Donohue and Milwaukee architect Richard Philipp carried out much of the original plan. Despite Kohler’s efforts to promote labor-management harmony, the town endured serious labor conflicts in 1934 and the 1950s. A master plan prepared by Taliesin Architects in 1975 reoriented the community around recreational and service facilities.
In 1917, a Beloit engine manufacturing firm, Fairbanks, Morse and Company, proposed a project similar to Kohler’s. Eclipse Park, a fifty-three-acre community for white employees, was geographically and socially segregated from Fairbanks Flats (RO6), a small residential enclave built for the company’s African American workers. Envisioned as a garden suburb, the plan for Eclipse Park conformed to the rolling terrain of the site. Eighty houses remain, most of them Colonial Revival. Much of the nonresidential land later served as the site for Rock County’s first shopping center.
While Kohler Village and Eclipse Park were near larger cities, at least fifty company towns were located in isolated areas of northern Wisconsin, most of them hastily erected for loggers and miners. Several, however, can be considered planned communities. Goodman was founded in 1908 when the Goodman Lumber Company employed Marinette city engineer A. L. Hillis to lay out a town to house its mill workers. In 1921, Oglebay, Norton and Company commissioned Cleveland landscape architect Albert Taylor to expand its Gogebic Iron Range mining complex (IR1) at Montreal in Iron County. At the time, Montreal comprised sixty gable-roofed houses and fifty prefabricated bungalows from the Aladdin Company of Michigan. Montreal’s appearance was enhanced with landscaping and another twenty houses. When mining operations ceased in the late 1960s, the company sold the houses. Montreal remains one of the most attractive small settlements in the Lake Superior mining region.
Only a few of Wisconsin’s agricultural settlements merit designation as planned communities. Real estate entrepreneur Benjamin Faast sponsored farm colonies in Rusk and Sawyer counties during World War I. In 1917, Faast launched the Wisconsin Colonization Company and commissioned University of Wisconsin landscape architect Franz Aust to compose plans for Meadowbrook, a community center surrounded by more than a hundred farm units. University of Wisconsin civil engineer Leonard Smith’s plan for the nearby settlement of Ojibwa incorporated numerous City Beautiful features, including a broad mall linking the Chippewa River floodplain to a plateau overlooking the valley. Little of Ojibwa and none of Meadowbrook survives. During the Great Depression the federal government sponsored the Drummond Forest Community in southern Bayfield County, which resettled eleven displaced farmers on forty-acre homesteads. Drummond’s construction was disrupted by World War II, however, and only a few of the original structures remain.
The Progressive Era saw numerous suburban subdivisions emerging around the peripheries of Milwaukee, Madison, and other growing cities. Design features from planned communities appear in University Heights (DA29) in Madison. Also in Dane County are Lakewood (incorporated as the Village of Maple Bluff) designed by John Nolen, College Hills (now part of the Village of Shorewood Hills), and Nakoma (DA37), all laid out between 1911 and 1915. Of note in Milwaukee is the municipally sponsored Garden Homes development (MI120). Washington Highlands in Wauwatosa, planned in 1916 by Hegemann and Peets, has a curvilinear scheme on a hilly 135-acre site. It was intended as a secluded residential park for white residents. The extensive use of Lannon stone and brick exteriors provided some unity, but overall the Highlands’ 375 housing units displayed more architectural diversity than any other planned community in Wisconsin.
The Great Depression brought privately sponsored housing and community development to a virtual standstill. Nevertheless, the powerful social engineering impulses of the 1930s spawned two notable housing experiments in Wisconsin: the 78-acre Crestwood community in Madison, inspired by the Wisconsin State Employees Association and one of the nation’s first single-family housing co-operatives; and, most prominently, the federally sponsored greenbelt community of Greendale. Although few in number, Wisconsin’s planned communities have influenced post–World War II residential subdivisions in Wisconsin, especially in the use of curvilinear streets and a tendency toward architectural uniformity.
ART DECO, MODERNE, AND THE INTERNATIONAL STYLE
Art Deco, Moderne, and the International Style were all significant during the second quarter of the twentieth century. Modernist architects sought to incorporate technological advances in equipment, materials, and processes into rational, economic, and efficient new forms that they found appropriate to an industrialized economy. Further, many modernists were social idealists who believed that good architecture would improve the lives of its inhabitants and transform society.
The Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Moderne held in Paris in 1925 included many pavilions designed in simplified and stylized historic styles and led to the adoption in the United States of similar flattened and stylized ornament for skyscrapers and commercial buildings. Nevertheless, the buildings tended to remain symmetrical, using traditionally inspired proportions and forms such as cornices and friezes decorated with abstract motifs in low relief. Alexander Eschweiler’s Milwaukee Gas Light Company Building (MI16) is the state’s most impressive high-rise in this vein. Its stepped massing typifies the skyscraper form that developed following Manhattan’s 1916 zoning regulations and spread across the nation, and its ornamentation is stylized and abstract. Other examples are the Strong Building (RO4) in Beloit and the brick and terra-cotta Monterey Hotel (RO16) in Janesville, but most Art Deco buildings in Wisconsin were either public or small-scale retail buildings.
Federally sponsored public works programs during the Great Depression spread new ideas and modern designs across Wisconsin. Madison’s State Office Building (DA23) is the most prominent example, but the Winnebago County Courthouse in Oshkosh (WN13) and the Outagamie County Courthouse in Appleton (OU5), among others, were built from federal funds in stripped and flattened classical forms and enriched with stylized Art Deco ornament. This Moderne aesthetic bridged a gulf between the purified geometry of the most advanced European modernism of the 1920s and the desire for didactic imagery historically associated with public buildings. Federally funded courthouses, city halls, public libraries, and post offices in the style appeared even in small communities, such as the Chippewa County Courthouse (CH2) in Chippewa Falls. Federal commissions offered the opportunity for leading architects, especially those from Chicago, to produce dramatic architecture in Wisconsin. Holabird and Root’s design for the Racine County Courthouse (RA12), the Forest Products Laboratory (DA28.9) in Madison, and the A. O. Smith Research building (MI123) in Milwaukee are three examples.
Milwaukee claims one homegrown modernist of exceptional talent, Herbert W. Tullgren. Born into a family of architects, he gave the city a number of original buildings. The Exton Apartments (MI138) feature his patented apartment arrangement with two-story units linked by hallways only on alternating floors. His Milwaukee-Western Fuel Company Building (MI154) uses dramatic color and rhythm for the company’s headquarters.
The Century of Progress Exposition held in Chicago in 1933 created a receptive audience for modernism and helped promote modern architecture in Wisconsin. The fair’s theme focused on the hope of a better tomorrow through the scientific and technological advances of the preceding century, and for many visitors the fair was their first exposure to modern design. The Home Planning Group exhibit featured a dozen mostly modernistic houses showcasing the materials, fixtures, and furnishings of major American manufacturers. The popularity of George Fred Keck’s House of Tomorrow undoubtedly helped him win commissions in Madison and Menasha, including the Morehouse House (see DA29) and the Kellett House (WN1).
The short-lived, but prolific, Madison firm of Beatty and Strang made a significant mark on Wisconsin architecture. European-trained Hamilton Beatty and his wife Gwenydd designed Wisconsin’s first International Style house for Wright and Edna Thomas (see DA55) in Frost Woods before Hamilton partnered with Allen Strang in 1935 to become productive and well-published architects. They also promoted modernism by helping to bring Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier to Madison to give public lectures. From 1935 until World War II, the firm designed scores of residences primarily in Madison and its suburbs, seeking an expression of modernism suited to the Midwest. Beatty and Strang consciously attempted to Americanize the International Style, realizing that the most advanced designs would not be accepted by the midwestern mainstream.
Innovation and invention broadened the definition of the International Style in Wisconsin. An excellent example of this regionalist approach is Windway (SB7), the home built in 1938 for Walter J. Kohler Jr. by William F. Deknatel. He combined Prairie School characteristics such as the massive central hearth and broad overhanging eaves with International Style steel frame construction. William V. Kaeser’s houses generally illustrate a strong connection to Wright’s Usonian houses but often include International Style forms, as in the Russell Hibbard House (DA18) in Shorewood Hills.
Another notable characteristic of the maturing of modernism in Wisconsin was the adoption of materials evocative of the region. The use of dense dolomitic limestone masonry, known locally as Lannon stone, is seen in the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman (LC2) in La Crosse. In Menasha, George Fred Keck’s house for William Kellett (WN1) uses Lannon stone primarily for its dramatic contrast to the smooth materials and severe forms of the design. These materials add the richness of a regional tradition and create a sophisticated interplay of modernity and history, which broadens our definition of what constitutes modernism.
The interwar period is also notable for experimental prefabricated houses, many of which used International Style imagery as a marketing device. Beatty and Strang’s “Aladdin Lamp” model home for the Forest Products Laboratory pioneered a stressed-skin system of hollow, lightweight modular panels that became an industry standard. The Harnischfeger Corporation of Milwaukee, known for its overhead cranes and mining equipment, experimented with steel-frame houses before turning to more conventional wood-frame construction, as at Schanen Acres (OZ9). Other pioneers such as the American Motohome and General Houses Inc. followed with frame and panel prefabs, examples of which can still be found in Wisconsin. The Ernest and Helen Eggiman House (DA35), a Motohome in Madison, uses clad steel frames with modular wall panels. The house eschews applied surface decoration, and its aesthetic appearance depends in part on the intrinsic qualities of the materials, construction detailing, proportions, and fenestration. Reluctance to finance houses with uncertain resale value and the public’s preference for historically evocative houses led these manufacturers to abandon these innovative and styled projects by the mid-1930s, and surviving examples are rare.
Innovative building methods and technologies can be found in buildings of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Architect Max Hanish introduced Wisconsin to both the lamella truss and the glue-laminated arch, which he used in 1933 at the Eagle River Stadium (4149 WI70) in Vilas County. Where a low-cost clear span was required, such as the Silver Dome Ballroom (CL4), the lamella truss provided an economical solution. The glue-laminated arch exploited the state’s abundant timber but—in response to vanishing virgin forests—used smaller-dimension lumber, glued into broad arches that were strong and inexpensive. These products prompted architects to create aesthetically pleasing forms using these new technologies.
Modernism was far more widespread in transportation-related buildings, including bus stations, airports, service stations, and automobile showrooms, as well as auto-related retailing such as suburban shopping centers, movie theaters, and roadside restaurants. Modern expression suited the novelty of these buildings and their suggestion of dynamic innovation, as in the demolished Erie Oil Company service station (c. 1937) in Sheboygan. Architects were more likely to use modernism in building types that had to do with machines or that lacked a strong historical precedent. The house-like stations of the 1920s that symbolized accommodation to public suspicion of the auto age gave way to acceptance of modernist stations in the 1930s. After World War II, the box station became nearly synonymous with auto culture. For much of the population, these stations were their most direct contact with functionalist architecture.
THE POSTWAR PERIOD
After World War II, the federal government played a pivotal role in the development of suburbs. House building became a national imperative to address acute housing shortages and create jobs for returning service men and women. Government agencies oversaw the financing and construction of millions of houses through GI Bill and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan programs. Federal highway construction further subsidized the development of suburbs, indirectly aiding the construction of shopping malls and auto-related development. Government policies were strongly anti-urban, based on a bias that older neighborhoods and city centers were inherently inferior to new suburban construction. These policies actively promoted a new style of suburban development that was segregated by class and race and fragmented into pockets of activity through zoning.
The FHA, which had been set up in 1934 during the Great Depression to stimulate the private housing market, greatly influenced the development of postwar Wisconsin. It created standards used to rate neighborhoods and homes for loan approval and controlled, through financing, the appearance and design of single-family houses and entire neighborhoods. The FHA developed loan approval standards, which became a powerful architectural force. Builders named the architectural manifestation of these minimum design standards—a 650-square-foot, one-story house—the “FHA minimum house.” Concerned about resale, FHA officials were openly biased against modern design, applying an “Adjustment for Conformity” rating to loan applications on houses departing from its preferences for Cape Cod, Colonial Revival, and ranch styles. Consequently, officials effectively marginalized modern architects in the marketplace. Frank Lloyd Wright failed to get FHA approval for his Usonian prefabs, whereas ranch-style houses incorporating many of his innovations were approved. By 1957, the FHA had financed 4.5 million suburban houses, accounting for about 30 percent of all house construction. FHA officials exerted control on entire developments to assure neighborhood stability by endorsing single-family zoning and rejecting income-producing uses. At the same time, the agency “redlined” existing urban neighborhoods, disallowing these loans, while using restrictive covenants based on homogenous race and ethnicity to enforce segregation in new suburbs.
The postwar suburban American landscape is largely a consequence of these standards. The FHA’s preference for curvilinear street patterns with long blocks, few side streets, and culs-de-sac was based upon such models as Greendale (MI191). These models reduced development costs by decreasing the amount of street surface through the creation of major arterial streets, funneling traffic into a few major streets, rather than evenly throughout a grid. The resulting design provided lower density and privacy, but with higher community service costs for everything from utilities and roads to postal delivery and fire protection. Wisconsin’s largest cities—Milwaukee, Madison, Beloit, and Kenosha—are ringed with expansive postwar residential belts created during the massive postwar housing boom.
During the war, the federal government had supported research into prefabrication techniques to address military housing needs. After the war, Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, as vice-chairman of the Joint Housing Committee, stymied congressional efforts to cut off support for prefabrication research and helped secure $22.5 million dollars in government loans for the Lustron Corporation (DA40). The Harnischfeger Corporation, a Milwaukee manufacturer of heavy machinery that became involved in prefabrication in 1935, established a factory in 1946 at Port Washington. The following year that city’s housing authority sponsored Schanen Acres (OZ9), a subdivision of sixty-five Harnischfeger “P & H Homes,” and the city gave preference to veterans in purchasing these homes.
The popularity of postwar ranch houses was partly due to their cheap and fast construction and their easy accommodation of new suburban lifestyles. Their typically open interiors zoned the living, dining, and kitchen spaces in a single expanse, with a separate “quiet zone” formed by bedroom wings, and new and improved materials influenced their design. For example, the Forest Product Laboratory’s extensive research into improved adhesives increased the use of plywood in postwar houses. Similarly, wartime expansion of aluminum production led directly to aluminum siding on postwar ranches. The adoption of drywall and plywood sped construction but also led to rectangular house plans sized in corresponding modules to reduce waste and maximize use of these standard units.
Low-density development allowed the reorientation of family spaces to face the rear of the lot, accommodating children playing at home instead of in streets or playgrounds, and sliding glass doors and picture windows allowed mothers to observe children at play. Suburban dependence on automobile transportation dictated carports or garages.
In 1954, a change in the federal tax law accelerated depreciation of income-producing real estate, triggering a boom in suburban apartments, office parks, and shopping malls. That year, investors built Valley Fair, Wisconsin’s first enclosed shopping mall at the junction of WI47 and Calumet Street on Appleton’s suburban fringe. Promoters billed it as the nation’s first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping center, a building type copied in all of Wisconsin’s large communities.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, the civil rights movement and efforts to revitalize inner cities brought new developments, though not without setbacks. New housing types, such as retirement communities, affordable housing, clustered development, and accessible housing, were constructed. Renewed interest in urban living from the late 1970s onward encouraged the rehabilitation of historic neighborhoods such as Janesville’s Courthouse Hill (RO13) and Racine’s Southside (RA13) and supported the development of condominiums and apartments carved out of abandoned industrial buildings. Historic preservation and low-income tax credits signaled that after years of promoting sprawl, federal policies would provide limited support for urban revitalization. Yet commercial downtowns felt the economic pinch of increasing suburban competition. Green Bay attempted to stem the tide in 1977 by building Port Plaza Mall in its downtown, but out-of-town developers displaced locally owned businesses, disrupted the urban grid, and demolished historic buildings such as the Tudor Revival Kopp’s Restaurant, all for the short-lived benefit of corporate chain retailers. Similarly, Sheboygan’s failed downtown pedestrian mall led to the collapse of retailing until the 1990s, when the rehabilitation of nearby industrial buildings, such as the former Jung Shoe Manufacturing Building (SB5), into apartments catalyzed reinvestment and street traffic.
Highways especially benefited large developers and retailers as shopping malls and big-box retailers located along major interchanges. The availability of large tracts of former farmland allowed for the development of enormous buildings surrounded by expansive parking aprons, often built beyond city boundaries and unfettered by more restrictive urban regulations. Manufacturing followed, spurred by the development of city-sponsored industrial parks that provided economic incentives for relocating adjacent to new free-way corridors.
Suburban office parks, now common at Wisconsin highway interchanges, were unintended consequences of accelerated depreciation. The largest tax write-offs came from buying cheap land on the fringes of cities, creating a strong incentive to relocate offices outside of traditional business centers. Sentry Insurance (PT4) left its downtown Stevens Point headquarters building in the late 1970s for an imposing site on unproductive agricultural land adjacent to U.S. 51. Its new headquarters, a steel-framed building atop a parking structure holding 1,700 vehicles, is surrounded by elaborate landscaping, including a par-72 course designed by golf course architect Robert Trent Jones II. Cheap land, improved roads, and plentiful parking also encouraged the creation of “cornfield” schools in many Wisconsin communities. Historic urban schools located in dense neighborhoods, such as Lincoln School in Madison (see DA44), were abandoned in favor of sprawling single-story complexes surrounded by athletic fields.
In Wisconsin’s largest cities, civic leaders, business leaders, and planners saw urban renewal as a solution to the decline of the central city. Ambitious redevelopment schemes used federal slum clearance funding, city redevelopment authorities, and eminent domain powers to reduce economic risk and assist in the assembly of large parcels. Milwaukee’s first curtain-wall sky-scraper, Marine Plaza (MI25), signaled a postwar increase in the size and volume of new commercial structures, increasing the tension between the historic preservationists and urban redevelopment advocates. This led to the passage of Milwaukee’s preservation ordinance in 1967. The continued construction of skyscrapers in the historic commercial core, such as Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s First Wisconsin Bank Building (MI15), sparked efforts to protect prominent buildings such as the Federal Building (MI18), the Mitchell Building (MI23), and the Iron Block (MI26) and garnered support for zoning controls to protect other significant historic buildings. Today Milwaukee’s downtown, like those of Wisconsin’s other large cities, maintains a mix of historic and contemporary buildings.
In recent years, proponents of “smart growth,” bolstered by new state comprehensive planning legislation, have challenged many of the precepts of postwar development, pointing to the economic, environmental, and social consequences. New communities, such as Middleton Hills near Madison by Duany Plater-Zyberk, use smart growth ideas to create compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of mixed uses based on planning concepts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While architects are beginning to show sensitivity to surroundings, in some cases contextual approaches lead to mediocre, derivative design. Interest in sustainable development and “green” buildings such as Northland College’s McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center (AS7) point to changing architectural attitudes in Wisconsin.
ARCHITECTS AND ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE
Although architects are responsible for only a small percentage of Wisconsin’s buildings, their influence is great. As tastemakers, form givers, and innovators, their work has exerted strong influence on the shape of the state, making an understanding of their work essential to studying Wisconsin’s built environment.
Many of the state’s early builders and architects came from New England, carrying such vernacular traditions as cobblestone construction and a preference for Greek Revival, the country’s first national style. One such builder-architect was Vermont-born Colonel Augustus A. Bird. After establishing a practice in Utica, New York, he followed the frontier to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to Milwaukee in 1836. He arrived in Madison in 1837, leading a work party of forty men to complete Wisconsin’s Greek Revival capitol building. Bird went on to construct many of Madison’s early buildings, but it is difficult today to discern how many of them were actually designed by him. His only surviving documented building is the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s South Hall (see DA28), which was designed by John F. Rague of Milwaukee. Wisconsin’s most famous pioneer architect is Father Samuel C. Mazzuchelli, a missionary in the upper Midwest and an architect. He designed, financed, and supervised the construction of at least twenty churches from 1831 to 1856, notably St. Augustine Church (LT6) at New Diggings, which combines Greek and Gothic Revival elements, as was characteristic of his work.
Early sources of architectural inspiration probably included builder’s guides by Asher Benjamin, Minard Lafever, and others. The Crosby House (RO19) in Janesville probably was based on a plan published by Samuel Sloan. Orson Fowler’s A Home for All; or, the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building (1853) recorded grout construction at the Milton House (see RO21). His publications stimulated a fad for octagonal houses, and Wisconsin boasts at least thirty-three of them.
Wisconsin’s cities in the mid-nineteenth century had few professional architects. Racine’s pioneer architect, New York native Lucas Bradley, arrived in 1844. Having learned his craft from his father, he followed a typical Yankee practice in carpentry, contracting, and architecture, but he also operated a successful millwork factory. Bradley is credited with many of Racine’s finest early buildings. Like many builder-architects, he also constructed buildings designed by others, such as St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (see RA11) by Edward Townsend Mix.
In nineteenth-century Wisconsin, anyone could call himself an architect. The profession was unregulated, and few practicing professionals had formal training. Like Bradley, these architects often began as carpenters and craftspeople but distinguished themselves through superior design skills. William Allen’s first listing in the Madison city directory of 1871 is as a carpenter, and during a career of more than forty years he also listed himself as builder, architect, or a combination of professions. Like many early builders, he left no works known today.
Most architects apprenticed with experienced architects before opening their own offices. Welsh immigrant David R. Jones, for example, studied architecture in the office of Lucas Bradley in Racine from 1852. After three years, he returned to his adopted hometown of Cambria to set up his own office. Jones relocated to Madison in 1873 and soon became the city’s leading architect, designing buildings of all types. His office became a starting point for several Wisconsin architects, including Herman J. Esser of Milwaukee, James G. Chandler of Racine, and Madison architects Edward Starck, O. J. Williams, and F. W. Paunack. Academically educated architects increasingly criticized the apprenticeship model under which Jones trained for its informality and lack of uniform standards. As buildings became larger and more complex, there was concern that many who called themselves architects lacked the appropriate technical expertise. In 1885, when Jones was supervising construction of his design for the south wing addition to the State Capitol (DA20), it collapsed, and he departed for a local practice in Cambria.
Yankee immigrant Edward Townsend Mix was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and worked in the office of Major Henry Stone before establishing his practice in Milwaukee in 1857. Mix was one of Wisconsin’s first eminent architects, celebrated for his flamboyant designs for the Mackie (MI22) and Mitchell (MI23) buildings. He became a favored architect for affluent (especially Yankee) clients and designed such ornate residences in Milwaukee and beyond as the Allyn House (WL10) in Delavan and the Chandler House (WK10) in Waukesha. As Milwaukee’s German American industrialists rose to prominence, Mix began to lose important commissions to architects with German backgrounds, and he moved on to Minneapolis.
Following the Civil War, many professional architects, some of whom had trained as military engineers in the war, opened offices in Wisconsin. In the absence of formal architectural programs in the United States, engineering schools educated a generation of architects. William Waters attended the Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York, before relocating to Oshkosh in 1868, becoming that city’s first professional architect. Waters’s training taught him the technical skills necessary to design the more complex structures that were beyond the skills of the master builder. His commission for the Wisconsin Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago is evidence of his preeminent position in the state. Some master builders, however, like Milwaukee’s James Douglas, made the transition to full-time architect in the post–Civil War period by becoming residential tastemakers to a rising class of entrepreneurs. Douglas developed a distinctive personal style applying High Victorian Gothic and Italianate details to houses.
From the mid-1880s onward, European immigrants changed the character of Wisconsin, soon vastly outnumbering the early Yankee settlers. These groups settled in ethnically distinct enclaves, and architects accommodated popular European tastes. Designs by Sheboygan’s Charles Hilpertshauser, such as the Hotel Laack (SB12) in Plymouth, employed the heavy forms and motifs favored by Germans. Nowhere was a high-style ethnic aesthetic more conspicuous than in Milwaukee, where Crane and Barkhausen, Otto Strack, Herman P. Schnetsky, and others designed for the Germanic industrial elite. Carl C. Barkhausen was Wisconsin-born, but his training in German technical and architectural schools made him popular with prosperous German Americans seeking to establish a distinct identity in the “German Athens” of their adopted country. In La Crosse, lumber barons prized the local firm of Stoltze and Schick, which created large wooden houses made possible by the exploitation of the virgin pine forest that covered most of northern Wisconsin. Elaborate houses, richly embellished with a variety of exceptional hardwoods, confirmed the owners’ social position and economic power. In smaller communities that lacked such designers, clients sometimes turned to national building plan companies such as those of George F. Barber or Palliser and Palliser, which became clear influences on small-town tastemakers.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw a marked increase in academically educated architects. George B. Ferry, of the prominent Milwaukee firm of Ferry and Clas, graduated from MIT’s architecture program in 1871 and built one of Wisconsin’s largest firms of that time. Its rigid internal structure with a separation of responsibility and division of labor was characteristic of the nation’s largest firms. Alfred C. Clas, who was the firm’s business manager, had strong political and civic connections in Milwaukee and Madison. From 1890 to 1913, the partnership produced many acclaimed public buildings, such as the Milwaukee Central Library (MI50), and large-scale houses throughout the Midwest. They won numerous architectural awards, including gold medals at the Pan-American Exposition (1901) in Buffalo and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904) in St. Louis.
Most architectural firms, however, were small, with five or fewer employees. Many young architects moved from office to office as opportunities arose, and firms seldom survived the death of their principals. Consequently, Wisconsin architectural practice resembles a crazy quilt of short-lived business relationships as partners came and went and builders moved back and forth between the design profession and construction.
Many second-generation Wisconsin architects followed the trend toward formal education. Armand D. Koch studied at MIT and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and William Waters Jr. attended Cornell’s architecture school. Both returned to work in their fathers’ offices, providing continuity in an otherwise volatile profession. Many of Wisconsin’s longest-lived firms were family dynasties, such as the firm founded by Cornell-educated Alexander Eschweiler of Milwaukee whose three sons, also Cornell graduates, joined him in the 1920s. The firm produced in excess of two thousand projects before dissolving in 1975.
As a response to the increasing size and complexity of buildings, by about 1900 many prominent Wisconsin architectural firms began to specialize. Becoming expert in a particular type of building gave firms a competitive edge and allowed efficiencies based on repetition. Most of these firms designed public architecture, with, for example, Parkinson and Dockendorff of La Crosse and Chandler and Park of Racine specializing in school design. Specialization could lead to a continuing relationship benefiting both client and firm. From 1912 to 1924, Van Ryn and de Gelleke, architects for the Milwaukee school district, used this position to pursue commissions in smaller communities such as Wausau and Janesville. Similarly, Erhard Brielmaier’s relationship with the Catholic Church allowed him to design over eight hundred churches, and Henry C. Koch’s specialization in institutional design brought him commissions for city halls, courthouses, and other government buildings. These regional practitioners competed with local architects for the most lucrative commissions. Some architects, such as Madison’s Conover and Porter, even established short-lived satellite offices to compete in provincial markets, gaining commissions for such buildings as the Bank of Washburn (BA7), which might otherwise have gone to local firms.
Chicago’s architects established a regional dominance that extended into Wisconsin. Major buildings, for example, tended to go to Pond and Pond, Holabird and Root, and Daniel H. Burnham. Charles Sumner Frost’s association with the Chicago and North Western Railway guaranteed him depot commissions throughout Wisconsin, as in Racine, Fond du Lac, and Green Bay. Chicago’s architects continued to command major commissions in Wisconsin through the twentieth century. A major UW–Madison expansion in the late 1960s included two buildings by Harry Weese, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill obtained commissions during the early 1970s in Madison and Milwaukee.
In the early twentieth century, architects often built their reputations on the design of large-scale houses in the suburbs. Like many academically educated architects, Madison’s Frank M. Riley traveled and even worked in European architectural offices. Direct experience taught him the sources of revival styles, which is reflected in his mastery of proportions and details. Clients wishing to project an image of sophisticated worldliness hired Riley, Eschweiler, Fitzhugh Scott, or other revivalists to bring European sophistication to a class-conscious elite. A strong counterpoint to the European and colonial American aesthetics is seen in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries. Wright and his Chicago colleagues not only created works in Wisconsin but also powerfully influenced the work of many smaller firms such as La Crosse’s Bentley and Merman, Madison’s Claude and Starck, and Milwaukee’s Russell Barr Williamson.
The growth of single-family home ownership in the early twentieth century created a demand for well-designed small houses that could not be addressed by leading architects, whose commission fees were not competitive in the small-house market. Milwaukee’s Walter Truettner, known as the “bungalow man,” worked closely with local craftsmen and speculative builders to produce over two thousand designs for modest middle-class houses. The explosion of architectural plan books in the early twentieth century by such national and regional publishers as Walter Keith of Minneapolis, Gordon VanTine of Davenport, and Sears and Roebuck filled the void for efficiently planned small houses, at the same time as they fostered national styles and the decline of regional and vernacular forms.
Facing increased competition from builders and publishers of plan books, Wisconsin architects finally passed an architect registration law in 1917. They promoted licensing as a public safety issue, meant to prevent building failures and dangers arising from unsafe practices or poor training. Although licensing raised professional standards, it marginalized some competent designers who were calling themselves carpenters or builders. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, women architects and designers in Wisconsin struggled in a male-dominated profession and were often relegated to what was seen as the female province, such as drafting and domestic design. This was the experience of Sara Leenhouts, who began drafting in 1919 in her father’s firm. Documenting her difficulty in establishing a career, city directories alternately list her as draftsman, designer, architect, or without an occupation. Madison’s Cora Tuttle left a handful of exquisite bungalows as a testimony to her skillful but short-lived career.
The collapse of the building industry in the Great Depression destroyed such established architectural firms as Claude and Starck and Van Ryn and de Gelleke, and brought lean times to others. Despite—or because of—these difficulties, the period saw innovation and experimentation, as in the work of George Fred Keck and Lawrence Monberg. Keck was particularly influential in popularizing modernism in Wisconsin. His innovative residential designs, such as the Kellett (WN1) and Morehouse (see DA29) houses, reflect his desire to blend American technology and construction with European avant-garde forms. While studying architecture in London, Hamilton Beatty met and wed fellow architect Gwenydd, and after volunteering in the office of Le Corbusier, the couple relocated to Madison. They collaborated on several modern designs including Wisconsin’s first International Style house and the couple’s own house, making Gwenydd one of the few practicing female architects of the period. When Hamilton formed a partnership with Allen Strang in 1935, she continued to contribute interior design work.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s fame attracted many local admirers, followers, and imitators. John R. McDonald and William V. Kaeser brought Wright-inspired designs to clients unable or unwilling to hire Wright himself. Others such as Edgar Tafel and John H. Howe apprenticed at Taliesin before establishing successful careers, spreading Wright’s philosophy and creating an architectural legacy beyond the Taliesin Fellowship, which continued Wright’s practice after his death in 1959.
A defining characteristic of Wisconsin’s post–World War II architectural firms was their growth and ability to provide complete in-house packages of design and related services. Marshall Erdman, a leader in this field, started as a contractor, receiving early acclaim for the construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Unitarian Society Meeting House (DA14). After briefly experimenting with prefabrication, with Wright and on his own, Erdman created a successful design and building firm specializing in hospital clinics. His firm provided all professional services, including design, structural engineering, construction management, interior design, furnishings, and graphics.
Beginning in the 1970s, some Wisconsin architects, bucking against the homogeneity of much modern design and spurred by the historic preservation movement, began to turn to past regional styles for inspiration. Milwaukee’s neo-German Renaissance skyscrapers celebrate the city’s distinctive Germanic heritage. A respect for history underpins the new urbanist, neo–Prairie Style suburb of Middleton Hills by Duany Plater-Zyberk, which has inspired similar buildings along University Avenue in Madison. The Oneida Nation used clan motifs and a symbolic shape to tie new buildings, such as the Oneida Nation Elementary School (BR15), to the tribe’s cultural heritage. Even new institutional architecture reflects an interest in history. New buildings on the UW–Madison’s engineering and agricultural campuses strive to mix innovative design with a respect for their surroundings. Nonetheless, Wisconsin continues to show its interest in monumental architecture by prominent designers, such as César Pelli and Associates’ Overture Center for the Arts (DA25) in Madison. And Santiago Calatrava’s soaring Quadracci Pavilion for the Milwaukee Art Museum (MI13) has become an instant landmark, awakening a public awareness of the symbolic power of architecture.