Pabst Mansion

Wisconsin Heritage Inc: Saviors of Milwaukee’s History

April 23, 2021

By Pabst Mansion

Wisconsin Heritages Inc. was founded by interior designer Florence Schroeder and a couple of her close friends and associates. She was prompted to action after being stunned by the beauty of the interior of the Pabst Mansion while assisting the staff move out of the Archbishop’s Residence in 1974. Originally, the main goal of the organization was the preservation of not only the Pabst Mansion, but also other historic buildings in Milwaukee based on their overall mission of safeguarding Wisconsin’s past for future generations. Their original goal of keeping the mansion from being transformed into a parking facility for the nearby Carriage House Inn had a rocky start. It ended up being successful after John Conland, the National Park Service, and twenty-three local banks came to their rescue call and funded the remaining money for the betterment of the Milwaukee community. Although WHI had won its first battle, it still had tougher battles to come.

Leon Arciszewski, Donalda Arnell-Hammersmith, Florence Schroeder, and Lyle Larcheid celebrate at the Pabst Mansion before Milwaukee’s first Preservation Ball, May 1978

After acquiring the mansion one of their first missions was to secure all the original furniture, which the Archdiocese of Milwaukee purchased along with the home in 1908, and restore them to their former glory. At the time of the sale in 1975 the Archdiocese offered to sell the furniture, but only for the right price – a figure between ten and twenty thousand dollars.  Avoiding the risk of the pieces being sold at auction in New York, Schroeder purchased two rooms full of the original furniture using money from her interior design firm. With the help of several local businesses, clubs and organizations, and even Elsbeth’s Pabst daughter Margaret P. Baker, WHI was able to reclaim all the remaining original furniture. After two successful missions in preserving the mansion, Wisconsin Heritages Inc. worked on saving other Wisconsin architectural landmarks and the deteriorating exterior of the Pabst Mansion.

After saving the Pabst Mansion, the organization focused its attention on protecting the Elizabeth Plankton mansion from demolition. The mansion was known for its Richardson Romanesque architecture and had been in use by the Knights of Columbus for decades. Even though it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places it was demolished by Marquette University in 1980 to make way for the Marquette Alumni Memorial Union.  As a current Marquette student studying history, it is sad to see that they were unable to modify the original mansion to their needs or at least try to keep the original building.

Halloween at the Pabst Mansion’s ‘Mystery Mansion’ helped to bring some of the first visitors to the home.

As an organization, WHI also needed a source of revenue to keep itself afloat and use some of those
funds to aid in the restoration of the Pabst Mansion. As a means of revenue, in addition to offering public tours, the home was transformed for seasonal events and used as backgrounds for tv commercials during the mid-1980s. During Halloween, the Mansion became a haunted house known as ‘Mystery Mansion’, which today has the lingering effect of people believing the Pabst Mansion is haunted. In 1985 the Mansion made its way onto national television while it was featured in a Cousins Subs commercial featuring Vincent Price formally eating a sandwich at the dining room table.

Vincent Price feasting on a Cousins Sub at the Pabst Mansion’s dining room table.

Over the next decade, Wisconsin Heritages Inc. would continue its goal of restoring the Pabst Mansion by adding an elevator tower, giving the exterior a chemical bath, restoring the dining room, removing carpets and old paint, and rebuilding the terrace. It became quite clear to WHI that their long-term focus had been preserving the Pabst Mansion and it was now time to rebrand their image and Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, Inc. was born. Overall, it is important to recognize the impact this organization has had on keeping historic buildings in Milwaukee afloat and safe from being destroyed by businesses that do not appreciate these priceless places of the past. We need more people in our community like Schroeder, who took significant risks to save a building of the past, to educate future members of our community on what it was like years ago. I believe that Pabst Mansion Inc., as it is known today, will continue to honor its mission of preserving and restoring the Pabst Mansion for many years to come.

Written by Will McClure