Milwaukee County Historical Society & Museum
Backstory and Context
This elaborately detailed neoclassical revival structure was completed in 1913 after two years of construction for the Second Ward Savings Bank on the corner of West Kilbourn Avenue and North Third Street. An early financial institution, the bank was reorganized in 1866, eleven years after its incorporation. Among its board members were the famous brewers, Phillip Best, Valentine Blatz, and Joseph Schlitz which led to its moniker, the “Brewers’ Bank.”
Purchased by the First Wisconsin National Bank in 1928, a long tradition of banking service continued in this “temple of commerce” for another 37 years. In 1965, the bank turned the building over to Milwaukee County specifically for use by the Milwaukee County Historical Society as a center for the study of local history and a headquarters for the activities of the Society.
The headquarters building’s architecture is in the French Renaissance style. The entire interior finish is black and white Paranozzo Italian marble. There are six massive vaults located in the basement, main floor and mezzanine levels of the building that never fail to generate awe and amazement. The one located in the south end of the building has a door and vestibule weighing 27 ½ tons, while the door and frame of the safe deposit vault in the basement weigh 42 ½ tons.
The total cost of the structure was $400,000, a very substantial amount for that time. The largest single expenditure of $75,000 was for the doors, frames and other fixtures for the six vaults. Over 600 pilings, each a foot in diameter, were needed to carry the immense weight of this huge building.