Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pritzlaff Hardware Building

Just across the river from the 3rd Ward is this monster of a building complex. The original two portions, with their endless marching windows and bays, were begun in 1875 as the Pritzlaff Building.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building

The building originally held a hardware company that, in time, became Milwaukee's largest. The enterprise was begun by John Pritzlaff, a Prussian immigrant who arrived in Milwaukee in 1841. In 1850 he started his hardware company, which would eventually become one of the largest in the Midwest, employing some 400 persons at its peak.

Leaving its original home on 3rd Street (still extant today), the company moved south to a site with railroad and river access. The new building was designed by John Rugee. The center portion of the east facade, dated 1875, came first; the corner portion to the north was likely the next addition. Overall the building was expanded at least three times, in 1916 among others, into a 300,000 square foot complex.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building

Pritzlaff's son Fredrick would continue as president of the company until 1951; Frederick's son and grandson also entered the business. However, by then the company was in decline; it closed its doors in 1958.

The buildings then became home to Hack's Furniture, who applied their own painted signs to its vast walls of Cream City brick. Hack's closed in 1984, but a family-owned storage business moved into the building.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building

The buildings were most recently occupied as a furniture store (The Mattress Store) and for storage, but have been largely vacant and underutilized for years. By 2000, the building was under consideration for conversion into a residential space, but no developers were willing to step forward, daunted perhaps by its considerable size.

Six years later, however, Sunset Investors got the ball got rolling on a massive renovation, cleanup, and remodeling. The building is now being converted to a mixed-use project, including 86 condominiums, retail, office space, and a new parking garage that has yet to be built. The project is being overseen by Brookfield design firm Cityscape Archtecture.

The renovation has cleaned the public faces of the building, washing away heavy layers of grime and soot accumulated in its 130-year history. The change is remarkable, letting the building's architectural beauty shine through unblemished.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building, spring 2000
East elevation in March 2000

Pritzlaff Hardware Building, summer 2008
East elevation in June 2008

While the renovated facades look unquestionably great, it is still a bit sad to see the building's physical history scrubbed away, losing the appearance of a building unaltered for a hundred years. The building has also lost the 1950s painted signs from the Hack's Furniture days.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building
North/west elevations, July 2005

Pritzlaff Hardware Building
North/west elevations, July 2008

Various painted signs for Pritzlaff Hardware remain on the back of the building at present, though the renovation may claim them as well. Some are over a hundred years old; it would be an unfortunate loss.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building
Above: a painted Pritzlaff Hardware sign on one of the original buildings was partially covered over by a western building addition.

The building's street facades are nothing short of remarkable. The various additions over the years are unified by their Cream City brick construction, and range in style from ornate Italianate to the largely unadorned 7-story addition to the south. An amazingly long line of windows marches down the Plankington Avenue side, beautifully rhythmic, their sheer number hinting at the heights of prosperity and money that drove the building's owners.

3rd Ward Multiples II

The building is remarkably well preserved, its cornice and Italianate brackets unaltered since their original 1875 construction. It street level storefronts are likewise virtually unaltered; the renovation has removed the various ad hoc alterations that did accumulate over the years, leaving a clean and lovely street facade.

Pritzlaff Hardware Building

Seeing this building renovated and on its way back to life is nothing short of uplifting. In its sheer size and power, it is one of the city's most remarkable structures.

Pritzlaff Building


Anonymous said...

Nice pics of the Pritzlaff Building. I used to work downtown nearby, and I really took to this building when I would go for walks. I haven't been down there in a few years, and I was surprised to see the cleaning of the building. I'm glad, though. I like the building so much, I am ecstatic that they are keeping it. Now they just need to get rid of the Post Office monstrosity down there and things will be a lot better. Nice pics and a nice blog. It makes for nice reading and viewing. You are talented.

Anonymous said...

So that's what the building is! I'd had my eye on it for a few years, ever since I noticed the Roman-esque (Italian, Roman...) architectural details on the great, old, apparently abandoned building. I'm glad to hear it's coming back in some form again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interest in the Pritzlaff Building. I am the person that owns and is renovating the building. One detail you seemed worried about was loosing some of the old signage. The acid that cleans the black soot off, does not clean painted signs off. You will find that all the original Pritzlaff signs remain, but the later Hack signs have been removed. I plan to eventually put a water tower back on top too. The first floor storefronts were restored by replicating and replacing about 80% of all the wood mouldings and hiding a new set of aluminum framing behind the old trim. By mid November, what was once an alley that ran through the center of the building will be opened back up for access to the center courtyard of the building, by driving in through the old train loading tunnel. You did some nice pictures.

Kendall Breunig
Sunset Investors

Mike Pritzlaff said...

As you can see, I do share the same last name of the building. I could not tell if I am related to it but I do find it very cool to pass by the buidling every now and then and see the name.

Carla (Pritzlaff) Schmitt said...

Great pictures and information. While I share the last name, I am not related to these Pritzlaff's (our grandpa actually changed our last name to Pritzlaff), but have been asked many times over the years if I was related. It's a beautiful building. My sister-in-law owns an antique mall and found a Pritzlaff Hardware sewing machine for me - in excellent condition.

Matt said...

We have a Pritzlaff sewing machine as well. It was been retro-fitted with an electric motor. I wonder if you now when these were made?

Ralph Najarian said...

Thank you for the history and photos. I just purchased a very nice wood working hand saw from a junque dealer. The brand name is Climax. Below that the label reads John Pritzlaff Hardware Co., Milwaukee. Being curious and never before having knowledge of this firm, I looked it up on Google and found this page and a history of the firm on another. Thank you, I am pleased with my purchase.

luv2stamp2001 said...

I just recently found a "Pritzlaff Electric" sewing machine with a serial # 193226. I have had it restored and it sews beautifully and is in near perfect condition. It did have to have a new motor. The old motor on it had National Sewing Machine written on it. The foot pedal is shaped like a foot. Can anyone tell me where I might find more information about this machine???
Edie Lesslie in NC

Unknown said...

After having it for years recently noticed the Pritzlaff name on the back side of a grape crush machine. Stenciled on so I assume this was added by the company to direct others to them as a supplier. I remember as a child my great grandfathers grape vines...makes sense now.

Sue Banghart said...

Doors Open Milwaukee is being held September 21 and 22, 2013. The Pritzlaff Hardware Building is new this year to their line up. Please check their website/program for the hours available to take a peek inside this lovely building.