Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spooky Halloween



It was a dense foggy day in late October. Nothing was unusual at the lock site until, all at once, the flywheels morphed—appearing to melt but maintaining their general horizontality. Stunned, I looked beyond to see a ghostly apparition--a young boy sitting in the grass. He looked friendly and curious and was distinctive for his clothing. Almost as soon these changes occurred, reality returned. The boy vanished and the flywheels assumed their regular shape. As you can see, this little ghost poses no serious threats, but does tend to become mischievous and a bit of a trickster around Halloween.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Baraboo Gothic

St. Joseph Church in Baraboo, WI was constructed in 1902 under the direction of Father John Durward, the son of the renowned 19th century Wisconsin poet and painter Bernard Durward. The priest published an account of the design and construction process that would resonate with the contemporary church builder for its references to fund-raising and committee work. In the preface to his essay, he offered an argument for the use of Gothic-revival form in the American Catholic churches of his day. He proclaimed that “Free will and grace, aspiration and love, are found in the Gothic" adding that an important prerogative of Gothic-revival architecture was "retaining nature, superadding grace."

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Zablocki VA Hospital, Milwaukee

This April the Historic District at the Milwaukee VA Hospital is slated to become a National Historic Landmark. The original part of the complex was constructed in the late 1860s as a hospital for wounded Civil War veterans. It was one of three regionally-situated branch facilities operated by the federal government. Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix designed the original hospital (pictured). As the facility expanded through the 19th century, another prominent Milwaukee architect, Henry C. Koch designed a second hospital, a theater, barracks, officers' quarters and storage buildings. The complex of buildings, situated in a large and publicly accessible park-like landscape, was intended to create a community atmosphere that would help heal both body and mind.

Perhaps some of the current objectives in veterans' care could be inspired by the past and these buildings revitalized to offer a similar and more integrated form of treatment to those who have been injured in their service to our country.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The "New" Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation

Cornerstone Preservation has been hard at work for the past several months engaged as a consultant to the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation. The firm's founder, Anne Biebel, had been on the Board of Directors since 2005. Late last year, she resigned her position on the board so Cornerstone Preservation could serve as a consultant to the organization as it began its restructuring process.

The firm has assisted with branding for the "new" Trust and with re-positioning the organization to bring new vitality to the Trust's mission of encouraging the people of Wisconsin to celebrate their historic heritage as it is revealed through the built environment.

We are very proud of our contribution to the organization and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship, serving in whatever capacity is required.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The S.S. Badger

The S.S. Badger entered into service in 1953 and is the only coal-fired steamship remaining in operation in North America. Its unique propulsion system has been designated a national mechanical engineering landmark. Initially it transported railroad freight cars, but was outfit to also provide excellent passenger accommodations. With its use for railroad transport waning through the 1980s, the S.S. Badger fell out of commission in 1990. However, only a year later it was put into service as a car ferry and for the use of leisure passengers.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fond du Lac Residential Design Guidelines

A brochure describing residential design guidelines for historic homes in Fond du Lac has been completed and now is featured on the city's website. It provides NPS-sanctioned guidelines for the sensitive care and repair of historic residences.  Additionally, it offers a historical overview of the community, a discussion concerning prevelent styles found in Fond du Lac's historic building stock and information on useful resources.

The Milwaukee Art Museum

Internationally-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the Quadracci Pavilion (above) as an addition to the War Memorial Center (bottom), which has served as Milwaukee's Art Museum since 1957. The prominent Burke Brise Soleil in the Calatrava design, which was competed in 2001, is a kinetic sunscreen with a 217 foot span that opens and closes twice daily. Eero Saarinen's War Memorial also provides a graceful extension of Milwaukee's business district with the city's most distinctive asset, its waterfront location on Lake Michigan.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Olin House Project Wins Award

The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation awarded the Olin House Project recognition for excellence in residential restoration at a ceremony held at the Orpheum Theater last night. Olin House is owned by the University of Wisconsin and serves as the chancellor's residence. The project team consisted of:
Architecture Network, Inc., Project Architect
Bachman Construction, General Contractor
Affiliated Engineers, Inc., Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, IT
Professor Virginia Terry Boyd, Historic Interiors
Cornerstone Preservation, Historical Consultant
Hill Electric & IT, Electrical Contractor
H&H Industries, HVAC Contractor
Dave Jones Plumbing, Plumbing Contractor

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Unity Chapel Cemetery, Wyoming Valley, Wisconsin

The graves of Frank Lloyd Wright's extended family, the Lloyd Jones, who once inhabited the beautiful Wyoming Valley are in the cemetery adjacent to Unity Chapel in rural Spring Green. Although Frank Lloyd Wright no longer is buried there, the site speaks to the family connections that were so important to him both as an artist and as an individual. In many ways, the Taliesin Fellowship can be seen as drawing deeply on his mother's family traditions. Wright's aunts, who operated the Hillside Home School, sought to instruct their students in a curriculum that valued both cultural achievement and practical knowledge. In those same buildings, Wright later created an experience for his Taliesin apprentices that provided instruction in both culture and practical knowledge through progressive participatory education.

Hillside, Spring Green, WI

The Hillside Building at the Taliesin Estate near Spring Green, Wisconsin was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Constructed in 1902, it functioned as part of an educational facility that was operated by the architect's aunts from the 1880s into the early 20th century. After the school closed in the teens Wright acquired the property, but the Hillside building stood empty for well over a decade and suffered from lack of use and vandalism. In 1932, Wright restored and rehabilitated Hillside and added a large drafting room at its north end. It since has functioned as the principal studio space for the Talieisn Fellowship during its summers in Wisconsin.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fond du Lac Residential Guidelines Brochure



Cornerstone Preservation has been working with the City of Fond du Lac on a brochure intended to help the owners of city-designated historic residences undertake sensitive alterations to their properties. It provides information concerning the history of the community and important preservation-related references; it also describes the criteria by which proposed projects will be evaluated by the Fond du Lac Historic Preservation Commission. The overriding objective has been to create a tool that will assist building owners protect and enhance the historic character of their properties in a way that will not necessarily be more expensive.

Keepers' Houses, Lower Fox River Navigational System


Ten of what had been at least a dozen Lock Keepers’ residences remain in place along the historic waterway between Menasha and De Pere. Nine of them are cited as contributing elements to their districts in a multiple-property NRHP listing, “Waterway Resources of the Lower Fox River, 1850-1941” (approved October 25, 1993).

Constructed between 1892 and 1928, the houses are integral to the lock sites at Appleton Locks 1 and 3, Cedars, Little Chute Guard Lock, Combined Locks, Kaukauna 1, Rapide Croche, Little Kaukauna and De Pere. All are unoccupied, and in most cases have been for more than twenty-five years. Their mothballed status has contributed to their deterioration, and they have become targets for vandalism due to their relative isolation.

The Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) is at about mid-point in the process of returning the locks of the Lower Fox River to operation and now would like to take the steps necessary to secure the future of the former keepers’ residences. In taking measures to protect them from further deterioration, the FRNSA proposes to (1) complete roof and foundation repairs, (2) repair exterior walls by tuckpointing, repairing and replacing materials in-kind, and painting, and (3) complete hazard materials abatement (lead and asbestos).

The FRNSA eventually plans to rehabilitate the houses to function as important interpretive or hospitality features along the operational waterway. Anticipating the restored locks and canals will provide a significant enhancement to tourism, the presence of these integral and historically significant houses will lend character to the navigational system and provide multiple, related attractions along its route.

Wisconsin Memorial Hospital District Update

Last winter Cornerstone Preservation completed a Mitigation Plan for the Wisconsin Memorial Hospital complex at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison. The plan was requested, and subsequently approved, by the Wisconsin SHPO. It was put into place to mitigate the adverse effect that the planned demolition of the centerpiece of the district, the main hospital and administration building, would have had on the district's integrity. Last week, Governor Jim Doyle ordered that demolition of the building not move forward and that the Division of State Facilities work with a private developer (with a great track record in Historic Preservation) to rehabilitate the structure.

Friday, October 10, 2008

October Progress Report: Combined Locks

The double lock has been tuckpointed and the replacement gates are being put back into place. The openings for the refurbished steel valves are apparent in this image. Eventually the valves will be positioned in the bases of the gates and the rest of the replacement timbers will be stacked to the height of the masonry walls. Work on the restoration and rehabilitation of Combined Locks is expected to be completed before winter settles in.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Historic Mendota Mental Health Institute



Few locations in Wisconsin are as culturally significant and multi-layered as the site of the Mendota Mental Health Institute (MMHI) on the northern shore of Lake Mendota. Located directly across the lake from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the hospital was built by the state as one of its earliest institutions. The development of the hospital so early in state history indicates that the care of the mentally ill was a priority in Wisconsin from its first days of statehood.

Long before this lake side site was developed by the state as “lunatic asylum,” it was home to a Native American culture that flourished in the region. The artifacts left behind are broadly spaced earthen sculptures in a number of distinct groups. Although similar mound groups are found throughout the upper Midwest, concentrated in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the groups at Mendota are unusual for their number and for that fact that they remain relatively intact. Representing a combination of abstract and animal forms, they were known to be associated with burials, but also functioned as emblems of clan identity and as art forms drawing on motifs from contemporaneous legends and lore.

A third distinct aspect of the history of the MMHI site is embodied by the Wisconsin Memorial Hospital complex, which was constructed by the state for the care of mentally impaired World War I soldiers. Prior to the construction of the complex, veterans were treated at the crowded Mendota psychiatric facility. The state assumed the cost of constructing and managing the facility, but the cost of treating soldiers suffering with “shell shock” was reimbursed by the federal government. Mental health services dedicated specifically to veterans was suspended by the mid-1930s, and since that time the Memorial Hospital complex has become part of the larger MMHI facility.

[Photos courtesy of Mendota Mental Health Institute]

Combined Locks


In the mid-1850s a pair of English artists, Samuel Brookes and Thomas Stevenson, were commissioned by Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay to paint a series of sketches showing the improvements that were underway on the Fox River. The image above, showing Combined Locks, is representative of the series of paintings produced by the pair. It shows a monumental masonry structure in a landscape that is in the process of being transformed by European settlement.

Fully functional by 1856 the locks of the Lower Fox River facilitated navigation in-land from Lake Michigan (through Green Bay) for 130 years. After being "mothballed" by the Corps of Engineers in the late 1980s and remaining in that status for nearly 20 years, the navigational locks of the Lower Fox were acquired by the State of Wisconsin in 2004 and currently are being restored and rehabilitated.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Oshkosh Water Treatment Plant

The Oshkosh Water Treatment Plant exists as a complex of buildings constructed between 1916 and 1999. The earliest portion of the plant was designed in 1915 by Chicago engineer Henry A. Allan. The new facility replaced a plant built in 1883 that had been operated by Warren G. Maxcy. In 1913 the City of Oshkosh assumed responsibility for water treatment and moved forward with the design and construction of a larger state-of-the-art rapid sand filtration plant. The city demolished Maxcy’s plant (shown in the foreground) shortly after the new facility became fully operational.

B.J. Jorgenson oversaw the construction of the 1916 plant as the city’s resident engineer. The capacity of the new “Water Works” was six million gallons of water every twenty-four hours with the ability to accommodate up to eight million gallons in twenty-four hours. Provisions were made for the eventual expansion of the plant to include a new pump. The fifty-thousand gallon steel tank in the tower was used to wash the filter sand from the bottom of the six filter beds that cleansed the water. Although the 1916 structure was connected by pipes to the low lift discharge in the earlier treatment station, the new structure was designed to function independently and did so by 1917.

While Allen’s focus in designing the plant was the efficiency of its water treatment systems, the building was detailed architecturally in the drawings developed for project. The cover sheet of the 1915 drawing set provides a three dimensional perspective that shows a somewhat grander view of the plant than realized; the grounds are shown with fountains and the principal entrance is formalized with light standards on the balustrade leading into the building.

The most prominent element of Allen’s design was the water tower situated in the north east corner of the plant. The tower, as was the balance of the plant, was constructed of red brick with stone string courses and coping. Clock faces, approximately eight-feet in diameter, were positioned in the upper part of each of the four tower façades. The roof was covered with red tile and its prominent triangular gables were provided with a decorative cornice of contrasting cut stone. This treatment was consistent with the roof and gables of the two-story portion of the plant. The exterior detailing of the plant, with its ornamentation of contrasting stone, is fully described in Allen’s design drawings.

The Water Treatment Plant has been modified and expanded over the years to serve the growing needs of Oshkosh’s population. Five substantial additions were placed on the 1916 plant between 1923 and 1949. Additional improvements were made at the site in 1958, 1967, 1983 and 1999 although all involved the construction of free standing buildings or structures, none of which were contiguous to the 1916 plant or tower.

(Photo courtesy the City of Oshkosh)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Historic Oshkosh Water Tower

The Oshkosh Water Tower, which holds a non-functional 50,000 gallon water storage tank, no longer satisfies the purpose for which it was constructed. Although highly regarded as a local landmark by members of the community, finding an alternate use for the structure will be challenging if not impossible. Since September 11, 2001 water treatment facilities are considered at high risk of terrorist threat. Therefore the Department of Homeland Security has initiated highly restricted public access to these sites. Considering the proximity of the tower to other functional assets on the property, the tower can be maintained only as a structure that would be seen from a distance.

Olin House Site Visit

The project site has been buzzing with activity for the past several months. The work is progressing nicely. It will be a fitting home for John Wiley's successor as UW-Madison's chancellor. The more public first floor spaces, intended for receptions and official university functions, are being restored and rehabilitated. The second and third levels, which will be dedicated to the private use of the chancellor and his or her family, are being fully refurbished. A new master suite was built in an area of the second floor that originally housed domestic help and had been substantially remodeled in the 1950s.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wisconsin's Changing Rural Landscape

A rural outbuilding located along a back highway just outside of Black Earth in Dane County, Wisconsin did not survive the long winter. Already fragile from deferred maintenance, the strong winter winds and heavy snows likely conspired to cause its collapse. The ruin probably will vanish altogether in the upcoming months, leaving Wisconsin's iconic rural landscape with one less picturesque element.

Neglected Maintenance


These images, taken approximately fifty years apart, show rooms located in the same building. The first image shows a functional space that is being well maintained, while the second image shows a room in ruin with a ceiling that has collapsed onto the floor. Over a decade ago, use of the building was suspended and utilities were shut down. Infiltration of water into the structure went unchecked. The consequences were dire and unfortunately will result in the demolition of this once proud building.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Trempleau, WI



Trempleau is a sleepy little Wisconsin town located on the Mississippi River about 100 miles south of the Twin Cities. It was a much livelier place when the use of the river and railroad were crucial to the movement of people and products. Remaining something of an outpost relative to Wisconsin's modern highway system, it has retained a good deal of its 19th century character.

Restored Timber Gates at Cedars Lock

The upper and lower timber gates in place at the outset of the 2007-08 Cedars project were installed in 1974–1975 by the United States Corps of Engineers. Since they are constantly subjected to water, the timbers have an operational life of approximately two to three decades. Maintenance over the last century has included the replacement of the timbers and the cleaning, repair, and replacement, as needed, of the metal components. In its maintenance efforts the COE replaced the historic gates in-kind repeatedly, and the two sets of paired wooden gates in place at the beginning of the current project were fairly close replicas of the gates that had been installed in the late 19th century. Restoration was the approach determined appropriate to the timber gates, however the replacement of the timbers, a long-held tradition associated with the maintenance of the locks, was necessary.

C. R. Meyer secured Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest (wood comparable to what had been used by the COE in the 1974–1975 rebuilding of the gates) for the replacement timbers. The wood was grade no. 2 or better and treated to .60 Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ), which was selected as an environmentally friendly wood preservative. In cutting and milling timbers for the replacement gates, the necessary openings and curved ends of each beam, where the wood interfaces with the stone, were cut at the mill to expedite assembly and installation at the site.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Olin House, University Heights, Madison, WI

The Olin House has functioned as the official residence of the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin since 1925. It was designed fifteen years earlier as a private residence for John Olin, a prominent Madison attorney and member of the university law faculty.

In addition to having been engaged in a busy professional life practicing and teaching law, Olin’s principal avocation was the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association (MPPDA). Olin founded the organization in 1894 and served as its president until 1909. In this role he promoted park development in Madison; by 1909 the MPPDA had acquired approximately 265 acres of park land (much of it waterfront property), and the city had established a park commission. Olin’s wife, Helen Remington Olin also was dedicated to social concerns and was well known for her work with the Wisconsin Woman’s Suffrage Association and for her advocacy of a meaningful co-education curriculum at the University of Wisconsin.

John and Helen Olin selected Ferry & Clas of Milwaukee to design the house; at nearly the same time as securing the commission for Olin’s residence, Ferry & Clas were at work designing the Brittingham Boathouse in what had been a blighted waterfront area in Madison. Olin had the experience of working with the architects on the boathouse project as the president of the MPPDA.

The Olin House has been recognized as a contributing element within the University Heights Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The University Heights district is an important resource for representing early suburban development in Madison, for the prominent individuals that chose to build there and for the fact that the district contains a residence designed by Louis Sullivan and another by Frank Lloyd Wright, located within blocks of one another. The Olin House is extremely well-built, well-designed and prominent within this important Madison neighborhood. Its site, which is many times the size of most neighboring lots, further distinguishes the Olin House. For its development, Olin secured the services of the nation’s most pre-eminent landscape architects to design a park-like setting for the residence.

English Tudor Revival references from the exterior are reintroduced in the scale, finish and detailing of the first floor living room, which the Olins furnished with some Arts and Crafts pieces. The large living room is thirty-two by seventeen feet, exclusive of its two alcoves; the ceilings are at thirteen feet and the walls are wainscoted with quarter sawn white oak to a height of 8½ feet. The oak woodwork was stained a dark shade, making it similar in color to the walnut trim in the dining room. The floor is constructed of eight-inch quarter sawn white oak veneer, approximately an 1/8th inch thick, edged with thin strips of black walnut. Screws used to secure the boards were counter sunk and a small piece of wood used to conceal the screw. The oak boards were fastened together with glue to prevent shrinking. Boards that are broader than those used for flooring elsewhere in the residence were purposefully selected to be in “keeping with the size or dimensions of the room.” The space was illuminated with a large and ornate chandelier that was centrally placed and sconces were situated on walls throughout the space, including on either side of the fireplace.

(Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

As "attractive a small theater. . ."

Work concluded in March 1913; on the 15th of that month the Auditorium was opened with a Saturday afternoon matinée performance of “Modern Eve.” The daytime show was scheduled for the “benefit of our of town patrons,” with consideration also extended to the children of the community. The discounted fifty-cent seats in the balcony were reserved for children twelve years of age and under. The formal dedication of the auditorium occurred that evening with the presentation of “The Only Son.” Prior to the performance, Richland Center’s Mayor P. L. Lincoln addressed the audience and extended public thanks to the community, to the building committee and to the contractor. Within months of opening, the success of the auditorium required the city to expand the width of the sidewalk in front of the building to accommodate crowds congregating before and after performances; at that time the city also placed two ornamental electric light posts at each corner of the building.

Shortly following the completion of the auditorium, journalist Walter A. Dyer visited Richland Center and wrote a piece for the New York-based publication World’s Work. In the August 1915 issue Dyer shared his complimentary perceptions of Richland Center and provided a national audience with a glowing description of the community, which he said exemplified cooperative action and the spirit of the Middle West. Dyer’s article offered an excellent description of the features and the arrangement of spaces in the new auditorium. He commented that it was “as attractive a small theater, opera house, and lecture hall" as he had ever seen, and offered further that “its decorative beauty scarcely conceals its look of confident efficiency.” In his final analysis of the building he wrote,

The Richland Center Auditorium has undoubtedly contributed in a degree to the community spirit and democracy of the place, and it has given the leaders a confidence in social experimentation. It is a popular institution with no taint of philanthropy, and it is used by the people largely because they built it themselves.

(Photo courtesy of the Richland Center History Room)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Historic Street Scene, Richland Center, WI

A crowd gathered one summer evening over a half century ago outside the Municipal Building and Auditorium in the hills of Richland Center, WI. When it was built in 1913, it was the first City Hall in Wisconsin to include an entertainment venue managed by the city.

At the turn of the 20th century Richland Center was home to several womens groups who were dedicated to securing equal opportunities for themselves, in addition to providing community service. Collectively they lent impetus to the construction of a new city office building that also housed an auditorium, so that this rural community could enjoy theater, professional musical performances and political debate.

As a center of community activity for nearly a century, the building has provided a focal point to the business district and a place where city dwellers mingle with their rural neighbors and all share in entertainment and socializing.

(Photo courtesy of the Richland Center History Room)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wisconsin Historical Society, c. 1900



A beautiful collection of photographs that were taken by Superintendent of Construction Francis Grant during the building of the Wisconsin Historical Society are part of the society's collection. They can be seen at its archives.

Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room, 1954 Remodeling

Although the volume of the Reading Room was maintained, significant changes were implemented in the remodeling that took place in 1954. The Reading Room and circulation areas were painted, large areas of flooring were replaced, skylights and historic fixtures were removed and fluorescent lighting installed. The spaces contiguous to the Reading Room and its circulation area also were modified.

In the Reading Room a suspended ceiling was installed that concealed the original decorative ceiling and diffused new ambient illumination provided by fluorescent tubes. Furniture was moved. Most significantly a new circulation desk was built that spanned between the columns in the Reading Room; the card catalog was moved from the circulation area to assume a new prominence at the center of the Reading Room. In this location, it also served to divide the space into two discrete zones.

What had been conceived as a space with a single function, “reading,” was modified to perform as a multi-use space. The long tables were removed from the north side of the room, where smaller tables containing reference collections, conversation areas and newspaper reading stands were installed. While the older circulation desks remained in place the areas behind them, including the former delivery areas, became more fully dedicated to the use of staff.

(Photo Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Appleton celebrates the opening of Fox River Locks

The "7Cs" approached the filled chamber of Appleton Lock 2 on Saturday May 19th. The paddle wheeler arrived with community and state dignitaries aboard, along with members of the Navigational System Authority, to celebrate the reopening of the Appleton Locks. The occasion was marked by music, speeches and a great deal of applause for the accomplishment of the Navigational Authority in completing this phase of the work.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Cedars," Little Chute, WI

The next lock to be restored on the Lower Fox River is known simply as "Cedars." It is very near the site where in 1836 the Menominee Indian nation ceded approximately 4 million acres of land to the United States for about 17 cents an acre. The "Treaty of the Cedars" was the result of an amicable six-day meeting that reportedly was characterized by mutual respect and a sense of fairness. The agreement enabled the US government to begin developing the Lower Fox River to better facilitate trade and settlement. Within the next decade work was underway to create a system of locks and dams.