I’ve visited some blogworthy houses, mostly built during the Victorian Era. Sunday was no different. I travelled to Milwaukee, appropriately known as ‘Brew Town’, to capture the ambiance of a true Victorian Age mansion. This particular structure was built by the crazy rich.
The Pabst mansion, the house I speak of, played home to the owner and chief executive of the largest brewing company of it’s time. This man, a German immigrant with a very modest upbringing, stumbled into the brewing industry. Actually, he married into it, well kind of, sort of. I’ll let you tour the house and learn the whole story. The story will also inform you as to why he was known as ‘Captain’ Frederick Pabst.
I could judge many aspects of his character by visiting his home. His choice of architecture, decision to wire the first floor for electricity during its construction , and the above standard servants quarters speaks of traits that translate to a strong business sense and a good human being.
His family’s history and, of course, his home are on display in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can witness a piece of Milwaukee’s past for $12( there are small discounts for seniors, veterans, students and children). I have to admit, after seeing several houses that claimed to be Victorian Era Mansions, this one blew me away.
As a bonus, I stopped at the ‘Milwaukee Brat House’ which is a ten minute drive from the Pabst Mansion. The pub style restaurant features two tasty favorites passed on from Milwaukee’s German heritage-Brats and Beer. Its a hip place to consume the savory sausage, along with domestic beers and microbrews brewed in the ‘Brew City’. I loved the “Milwaukee Brat House” because its something specific to Wisconsin. How many other places do you know that specialize in Bratwurst?
I drive over rough and very narrow roads to a broader street. I learn later that this main road, West Wisconsin Avenue, was known originally as Grand Avenue. Once playing host to over sixty mansions, the neighborhood has sadly declined since its peak. There are some cool churches on west Wisconsin, but I don’t particularly enjoy the feel of this area. Part of that impression could possibly be due to the weather, but the once ritzy neighborhood exhibits no evidence of a pleasant urban area.
Yet, sitting atop a grassy hill, the Pabst Mansion stands proudly. Its Flemish Renaissance Revival architecture is stunning. I imagine this place, brand new, dazzling the eyes of those who walked by. I have to admit, the murky atmosphere gives the exterior a drab appearance. The house itself, considering the almost medieval facade of the mansion, incites a fun, creepy vibe. You know, like it could be used for an episode of Goosebumps. However, the artistry that is sculpted into the house’s shell is cause for marvel.
On the east side of the house, I walk into what is a very curious room. The interior, I believe, is alabaster. It’s domed and sculpted beautifully, but in desperate need of restoration. We learn that it was Pabst’s vestibule at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Frederick Pabst brought it back and connected it to the house after the fair. Chicago’s World’s Fair was also where ‘Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer’ earned its blue ribbon.
This particular house also served as the Milwaukee Arch Dioces’ home. So the vestibule was converted into a place of worship, complete with stained glass windows and an altar. Today, it is where I pay for the tour and peruse some fun gift items. I’m informed that it will be restored to its original self in the near future.
The tours start every hour and we arrive at quarter after two. So, we decide, instead of catching the tour a quarter of the way through, we’ll wait till three. We watch a very interesting documentary about the World’s fair in which this unique structure was first used. Finally, the docent greets us and starts our tour.
She informs us that the Pabst Family moved into the mansion in 1891. Also that the designs of the rooms differ, using different regions of Europe and time periods for inspiration. Also the wood used to accent a room would change from room to room. Doors would be two different types of wood fused together. This would keep the wood theme of a particular room from being interrupted.
There is a ton of cool elements in this house. From coffered ceilings to elaborate curios and cool fireplaces, the extravagant detail is mind-blowing. There is even a spot in the greeting hall for musicians to play and be heard throughout the entire home. I imagine many parties taking place in this three story house.
We tour and I marvel at almost every room I enter, even the servants quarters are nicer than the interiors of other Victorian homes I have toured. What I like about this house, as it is extremely rare, much of the furniture was used by the original owners. I’m not left to imagine what it would have looked like. I can actually see it.
This place was inhabited for over half of the last century. The Arch Diocese, having purchased the mansion from Frederick’s children, had painted the rooms and marred its original appeal. However, a good portion of the house has been restored to the day Frederick’s family first slept in the home. The second and third floors still need work.
Some pretty interesting innovations for its time, adding convenience for servants and guests, are another point of interest in the building. For instance, an intercom system allowed the dozen or so servants to communicate with each other.
The coolest feature, which I never heard of before, was a roofed carriage entrance. Those riding inside the carriage would not be subject to bad weather. There was a two step staircase, from the entrance door, that came even with the height of carriages. Passengers would not have to set foot in muddy or snowy ground.
When the tour ends I am quite grateful for the Docent. Even if the elegance of the interior slaps you in the face, presenting an atmosphere only architects of that period could have imagined, the information the docent provides completes this tour. Its nice to have names and stories of the family, and the company Frederick ran, accompanying this three story work of art.
If the twelve dollars admission seems a bit steep, I would like to mention that it helps pay for the restoration. Eventually, the entire building will appear as it did in the 1890’s. The second floor is close to being restored. While the third floor, as its not in bad shape, needs furnishings and a lot of work. Being my favorite bit on the house, three of Frederick Pabst’s descendants are involved in Mansion.
Heidi and I venture out in the haze of the late afternoon. The mansion looms in my rearview, as the directions to our next destination are dictated by Heidi’s Samsung phone.
In no time, we find Old World road and drive into a parking-lot. The lot costs ten dollars for parking, kind of a rip off. However, we find the “Milwaukee Brat House” and enjoy the fun and lively atmosphere. The Flat panel TV’s are tuned to sporting events. We sit in a booth and are intrigued and entertained by a sport known as “Crashed Ice”.
Most choices for beers, in this establishment, have roots in Milwaukee. Even the majority of microbrews are from ‘Brew Town.’ Guess what I choose. You bet, I order a tap of Pabst Blue Ribbon, commonly known as PBR.
Along with the Beer list comes a pretty extensive menu, if you don’t mind meat that’s served with a bun-they also offer wraps for those watching their carbs. There’s a choice of burgers and some pretty interesting Bratwurst concoctions. I order the Milltown Brat topped with cheddar cheese and onions. It’s absolutely delicious.
We return to Green Bay, driving through some thick fog. With good food in our bellies and an extravagant Victorian mansion in our memory banks, we sit down and watch the second half of the Super Bowl. We despair as Tom Brady is heralded as being almost Godlike. Please, all the guy did was win six Super Bowls. Thank god our day started off in a place that celebrated the past, in the city of Milwaukee.