Someone once looked at this beautiful 19th century manse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and thought it would look better as a parking lot. Fortunately, enough historically minded people stepped up to prevent its demolition.
This was the opulent home of Captain Frederick Pabst, whose title came from his years piloting a steamer on Lake Michigan, and whose fortune came from founding the Pabst Brewing Company.
Pabst had this house built in 1892 on what was then Grand Avenue (now W. Wisconsin Avenue). During the nearly two decades that the Pabst family lived in it, it was the site of many a fancy party, at least one wedding, and ultimately, the funerals of Captain and Mrs. Pabst.
The exterior of the mansion was designed in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style, and the inside features details in Neo-Rococo and Neo-Renaissance styles. At the time of its construction, it had 66 rooms and 14 fireplaces. Captain Pabst’s study had 14 hidden compartments.
As the wealthy often did at that time, Captain and Mrs. Pabst filled their house with priceless pieces of art and furniture, making it a kind of art museum even as it was a residence. Their decedents sold the house in 1908 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and it was the home of every Archbishop to follow (five in all), as well as many priests and sisters until the church sold it in 1975.
After successfully dodging demolition, the mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and opened to the public for tours. Preservation groups are still working on restoring the mansion, considered one of the most important landmarks in Milwaukee, to its Gilded Age glory.
Photographs and descriptions of the house from the days when the Pabsts lived there have helped with the restoration. The church had painted the Dining Room walls white, but restorers found their original color hiding beneath large mirrors that had not been moved during the painting. A photograph of the Sitting room from 1900 helped experts find the locations where images of palm fronds were painted on the ceiling, also hidden under layers of paint.
Know Before You Go
Free parking on site. Standard guided tours available daily with the last tour at 3:00 p.m. Tours run about an hour. Grand tours covering all five floors available on limited Thursdays and Saturdays. Grand tour is NOT handicap accessible.