Architect: Korb + Associates Architects
Owner: Cardinal Capital Management, Inc.
Contractor: Professional Construction, Inc.
The Germania Building is an 8-story steel frame structure located at 135 West Wells Street, in Milwaukee, WI. The historic Beaux Arts/Classical revival building is 117,752 square feet and was designed by German-trained architects Schnetzky & Liebert. When it was constructed in 1896, the Germania Building was the largest office building in the City of Milwaukee as well as “the world’s largest German newspaper building.” Many original character defining features still exist including the characteristic copper pickelhaube or “German army helmet” domes, the stone cladding on the lower two floors, pressed brick on the upper floors, and a light court at the center of the building. The building was converted to a multi-tenant office building and remodeled such that the interior features, aside from the entry lobby, were vastly different from the original construction. In July of 1983, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2016, a financing package was approved to renovate the building into a mixed-use building, including 90 apartments. The ground floor includes the lobby as well as office and retail space. The second floor includes building amenities and apartments. The upper six floors consist completely of apartments. The apartments are a 50-50 mix of market rate units and moderately priced units.
The irregularly shaped urban site is one block west of the Milwaukee River near the convergence of two roadways. The result is a building with three primary facades and two secondary facades. The building is bound by established roadways and underground utilities to the north, east, and west, and a surface parking lot to the south. The building has a zero set back at all five property lines. Vehicles and pedestrians circulate on all 5 sides of the building, making site and building elevation design complex and significant.
The architect was hired to retain and restore the remaining original character defining features throughout the building, introduce contemporary building systems without compromising the character of the original design and develop 90 apartments on the irregularly shaped floor plates.
While these goals were conflicting, the team addressed each one in the final design. Exploration was required to retain and restore the original character defining features. Original wood flooring is featured in the community room and replicated at the entry to the units. The remaining tile floors were exposed and then either restored or reconstructed at three of the elevator lobbies. Drawings of the original 5-panel office doors were found, and then replicated as apartment entry doors. The Tennessee marble wainscot located at some of the corridors was retained and refinished. The lobby, with its Tennessee marble on the floors, walls and ceilings was protected during construction and retained as well as the original wall sconces and entry chandelier. The original decorative handrails at both staircases were protected during construction and retained.
The entire building required mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection system upgrades. Since the building historically had a high level of finish, soffits were carefully used throughout the building to conceal these strategically placed systems.
Ninety apartment units were placed on the upper seven floors of the building. The irregularly shaped floor plates created an interesting design challenge. The design team used this to their advantage to create a variety of different one and two bedroom apartments.
As a function of the building’s financing original materials were retained and restored where possible with complimentary colors and finishes carefully added throughout the building. Most importantly, the apartments are all completed to the same level of finish and there is no difference between the market rate units and those reserved for people with more modest incomes.