Pabst Mansion

The Pabst Mansion Celebrates Two Major Milestones

May 1, 2018

By Pabst Mansion

The stars have aligned for two major milestones in the Pabst Mansion’s history to pass within a year of each other.  The first was in late July of last year, which marked the 125th anniversary of the completion of the Pabst Mansion.  The second is later this spring when the Pabst Mansion celebrates its 40th anniversary of being saved from imminent demolition and being opened to the public.  In this case, one certainly could not have happened without the other!

To mark the 125th anniversary of the Pabst Mansion, we held the first all-branch Pabst family reunion in order to celebrate the actual day the family moved into the house in July of 1892.  Over eighty Pabst family members of all ages joined us to mark this auspicious occasion.  To further celebrate the importance of the Pabst Mansion to the community, we opened our doors, free of charge to the public on July 29th.  The response was overwhelming and to be honest, it tugged at our heartstrings, to see over 1,550 guests tour and enjoy the mansion, most of whom had never visited us before.  Indeed, it was the largest single-day visitorship the Pabst Mansion had ever seen.  So our guests felt welcomed, we held a cookout at midday and had a live polka band performing as well. It was definitely a celebration befitting a Milwaukee icon.

This May, we reflect when this icon of Milwaukee architecture was almost lost to the wrecking ball and was saved for future generations.  It is almost inconceivable to think today of the Pabst Mansion being demolished for a parking structure, but in the mid-1970s, it was the norm and trying to save a structure like this was more than an uphill battle, it was near impossible.  No major Victorian building in the city had been saved from demolition up to that point.  Two train stations had fallen, dozens upon dozens of once elegant mansions had been laid low and many other countless structures from Milwaukee’s 19th century past had been erased from the cityscape.

Enter three people that cared about the Pabst Mansion passionately. H. Russell Zimmermann had a voice through his writings in the long-running “Past in Our Present” column in The Milwaukee Journal, John Conlan, a Milwaukee businessman with a passion for preservation, stepped up to the plate and secured the Pabst Mansion in its darkest hour and Florence Schroeder, founder of the organization that would eventually purchase the Pabst Mansion and go on to maintain and restore the house to its present state.  These three individuals placed the Pabst Mansion on the right track, navigating it away from certain destruction.  Of course, it has taken many, many more individuals to save the Pabst Mansion in the long run, including you, and all of our visitors and supporters, have played a critical role in keeping the Pabst Mansion an important part of Milwaukee’s cultural assets.

Florence Schroeder in the Parlor, 1978
Florence Schroeder in the Parlor, 1978

Over the past four decades, our attendance, visability and more importantly, our viability has steadily grown. Our team cannot express our gratitude enough; it shows to us that the enthusiasm for the Pabst has not waned in four decades.

Additionally, over the course of the last forty years, we have always prided ourselves on the amount of original furniture, artwork, and artifacts that have returned to the mansion.  From the Pabst family and auction houses all over the country, hundreds of original objects have returned home, making the Pabst Mansion a very special place.

Dining Room, 1978
Dining Room, 1978

What visitors might not know is that at the very beginning of it being a house museum, the mansion was completely empty. Early on we negotiated with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to purchase three rooms of original furniture that originally filled the principle rooms on the first floor. Many of these pieces were scheduled to be auctioned off in New York City and were saved by supporters  purchasing a chair or table at a time.

Our goal is always to provide our guests with as authentic experience as possible. This starts with our work with the Pabst family and our restoration efforts are centered around an original album of photographs from 1897. These priceless photos detail the original interiors of the mansion, filled with objects and artwork collected by the Captain and Mrs. Pabst.  It is our quest to search high and low for as many of these original objects and bring them back to Milwaukee for our guests to enjoy them in their original setting.

To date, we have hundreds of individual original objects that have returned home, including furniture, paintings, books, silver, and porcelain.

The past forty years have seen us tackle over a dozen restoration projects, both on the mansion’s interior and exterior. Our work on the interior has been to focus on one room at a time and faithfully restore it to how it looked in the 1890s. This is why having the original photograph album has been so invaluable to us and helps to ensure our interiors have that authentic aesthetic they do today.

On the exterior, we have done the traditional roof repairs and tuck-pointing of the masonry, but we have also replicated missing terra cotta ornament and returned awnings to the front of the house to add further authenticity.

These efforts have allowed us to expand beyond just a house museum and to also become a place where people from the community have celebrated holidays, created memories, and established family traditions.

Special events have always been important to our organization right from the beginning. We have hosted dozens upon dozens of special events and exhibits throughout the years. Many in Milwaukee will remember when the Pabst Mansion was transformed into the city’s favorite haunted house during Halloween and known as Mystery Mansion. Decorating the Pabst Mansion for Christmas goes back to the earliest years of the organization and remains today as one of the most popular times of the year for people to visit the Pabst Mansion.

Anniversaries play an essential role in life. They focus the mind on the past, on achievement and on a future that will require hard work.  As the Pabst Mansion sails on, with the successes and challenges that lay ahead, there is comfort in knowing that the mansion has logged 125 years of history, in which there were desperate moments of threatened destruction, but also included the perseverance of many to save a place of exceptional beauty for millions to enjoy.