Monday, September 13, 2010

The Pabst Mansion

About a mile from home today, I saw Mormon missionaries pedaling along. On bicycles, riding one right after another, each wearing a tie, and looking like young lads -- yes, they had to have been door-to-door Mormons. Wow, I thought the LDS had given up on us Schaumburg Gentiles.

It was a good day to be on bicycles. Warm but not hot, mostly clear and dry. On Saturday morning we had a heavy downpour for a while, but not enough to discourage us from spending another day away from home. Not far: Milwaukee. Last weekend we were in Indiana, so I figured a jaunt to Wisconsin would balance things out.

One goal for the day was to tour this place, a palace that pre-Prohibition beer drinking built -- in full, the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion.

It's a grand old house, full of back story: built by a colorful beer baron at the height of the Gilded Age, residence of the Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee for decades after that, and subject of an intense effort in the 1970s to save it -- because it came within a whisker of being torn down for a parking garage. The woodwork is astonishingly fine, the artifacts mostly original, and the walls are adorned with enough fine art to qualify the place as a gallery besides being a house museum. A short history of the place is at the mansion's web site, as are some images that only do the place scant justice.

Off on the east side of the main building is an addition that Capt. Pabst himself supervised. These days the addition is the gift shop, but originally the structure was the Pabst Pavilion at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After that was over, the captain had the pavilion shipped to Milwaukee to add to his new home. Later, the prelates of Milwaukee added stained glass and used it as a chapel. It always pleases me to find a piece of the 1893 world's fair, since there are so few.

The mansion is missing only one thing, namely land. It doesn't need to be surrounded by vast tracts like Biltmore, just a few acres. As it is, two multifamily residences tower on either side and much of the property itself is taken up by a parking lot. Then again, I understand that the street, formerly Grand Ave. but now Wisconsin Ave., used to feature a number of mansions -- a millionaire's row back when that demographic didn't hide in gated communities or posh highrises -- so land was probably never that important. The Pabst Mansion is the only survivor of the era on the street, and Milwaukee is lucky to have it.

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