Little-known architects of HWTN featured in M Magazine

What do the architects of the Story Hill neighborhood, Downtown’s Rock Bottom Brewery building and the Beverly Hills Hotel have in common? They all designed magnificent homes in the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood.

Milwaukee's forgotten architects M Magazine March 2014 FINALHWTN’s VP of Communications and Former President Jeff Bentoff recently wrote about the architects of the three buildings — respectively Perce Schley, Max Fernekes and Elmer Grey — for  M Magazine.

Read the article and check out photos of their historic homes. Their work helps explain why the HWTN is one of the best places in Milwaukee to visit and live.

Architect Fernekes left legacy of stately HWTN homes

Max Fernekes was a Milwaukee architect whose two firms in the early 20th Century designed about two dozen stately East Side mansions and homes. Yet despite his helping grace Milwaukee’s built environment with beautiful homes, Max’s son, also named Max Fernekes, is much better known today.

The elder Fernekes was born in Milwaukee in the late 1800s and established his own architectural practice in 1895 with J. Walter Dolliver. The firm, Fernekes & Doliver, was housed in the University Building in Downtown Milwaukee (on the southeast corner of Mason and Broadway, since demolished).

Pabst HighlandThe firm designed several East Side homes but was best known for the Fred Pabst Jr. house, built for an old school friend of Fernekes and son of Pabst Brewery founder Frederick Pabst. This classical revival mansion was built in 1897 at 3112 W. Highland Blvd. The mansion today has been restored and is home to Quorum Architects (company motto: “We Recycle Buildings”).

In 1900, Fernekes started a new firm with partner Edwin C. Cramer. Their Fernekes & Cramer was located in Downtown’s prestigious Pabst Building, formerly at 100 E. Wisconsin Ave. but since demolished. Before the partnership dissolved around 1919, the firm designed nearly 20 impressive homes that are integral to the fabric of today’s historically preserved HWTN and East Side.

JulieCJPicFrameFINALThe styles of these homes include Colonial Revival, Early Georgian, Tudor, Eclectic and English-Inspired. One such home is a lovely 1909 Arts & Crafts at 2516 E. Newberry Blvd., said to be the first on the block and pictured here — in an historic photo (courtesy of current owners Julie and C.J. Krawczyk) before adjacent houses were built — and in a recent photo. The original owners were Charles G. and Fannie Davies. Charles was the assistant manager of the Pritzlaff Hardware Co. Fannie, who outlived Charles, lived in the house for 40 years, until her death.

Among the many other prominent homes Fernekes & Cramer designed in the area were a Georgian Revival at 2242 N. Lake Dr. and others on N. Hackett Ave, N. Summit Ave., N Terrace Ave., E. Linwood Ave., N. Marietta Ave. and N. Lake Dr.

Rock BottomFernekes & Cramer also designed several Downtown Milwaukee commercial buildings, including the eight-story, terra cotta / brick / reinforced concrete Merchant’s & Manufacturer’s Building, 740 N. Plankinton. Today, the building is best known as home of a Rock Bottom Brewery on the Riverwalk.

While Fernekes and his partners’ names are not commonly remembered today, an online search for Max Fernekes produced many results, but mainly for another Max Fernekes – his son. The younger Max Fernekes is known for etchings and watercolor painting. As a young man during the Depression in Milwaukee, he and other struggling artists hung paintings on clotheslines around the fountain in today’s Cathedral Square, selling their artwork for $1 or more. He later relocated to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, the first artist to move to the community.

PabstToday, his paintings are available for purchase and are in the collection of the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.

Much of his work was inspired by the small town and rural character of Mineral Point and Door County, but one painting shows his Milwaukee roots and perhaps is an homage to his father – it’s a painting of the Pabst Building, where the impressive architectural firm Fernekes & Cramer once operated.

 – Jeff Bentoff