Architects: Dental Associates Family and Specialty Care, LLC and Iconica
Owner: Dental Associates Family and Specialty Care, LLC
Contractors: Spray-O-Bond and Iconica
Dental Associates was looking to move its corporate headquarters from Wauwatosa to downtown Milwaukee to reinforce its commitment as a Milwaukee based company. The site would also house a new clinic location, so a corner with high visibility was sought after. The idea of an historic structure coincided with Dental Associates’ thoughts on its own longevity in Milwaukee.
The Iron Block Building was in desperate need of restoration when Dental Associates purchased the property in early 2012. The last standing Wisconsin building with facades made entirely of cast iron, years of neglect had rendered much of the interior unusable, and exterior deterioration had caused unsafe conditions to pedestrians as pieces of the building frequently fell to the public sidewalk. After a previous renovation in 1983, many of the replacement parts did not stand the test of time. Made from aluminum, wood and foam, the restored parts actually made the condition of the cast iron facades worse.
The first phase of the restoration was started in August of 2012. It was decided to renovate the exterior first, and then move to the interior when the roof and facades were stabilized. The first order of business was to remove any parts from the building that were not original. Any original parts that were easily removable were also taken off in order to deal with rust that was trapped behind. An enclosed scaffold was erected around the Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street facades. The exterior was sandblasted down to bare metal in small sections, and zinc primer was applied before oxidization could begin anew. The building was repainted with a two-coat epoxy system in small sections through the winter of 2102/2013, in a color scheme determined by historical and forensic analysis. In the meantime, patterns were being milled in order to fabricate any missing or deteriorated pieces from cast iron. Working from photographs and on-site investigation, the team was able to recast approximately 4,200 new pieces, using 97 new wood patterns. The sand casting took place at local foundries in Beloit and Milwaukee.
The roof was a complete tear off, and the new work included the construction of a stair to access the roof, where a new deck was constructed. The roof was also reinforced to carry two new HVAC units for the new heating and cooling system, along with a backup generator and solar panels. The pediments and cornice were all reconstructed to match the detail and proportion of the 1860 roofline, reversing unfortunate modifications that had all but obscured its original beauty.
Once the exterior was complete, the interior renovation started in earnest. The interior had been stripped of all historic character during the 1983 renovation, so the intention was to regain some of the charm of the interior spaces, most notably an atrium that was constructed when an addition was built to the south of the original building in 1899. The building is not only the new corporate headquarters for Dental Associates; it is also a multi-floor clinic, so the entire infrastructure for 28 dental operatories had to be added. All of the mechanical systems in the building were in poor shape and had to be replaced. Structural work was necessary to add an additional elevator and to reorganize some of the spaces to accommodate modern office functions. The existing elevator had to be completely rebuilt including the replacement of the piston and shaft casing. Again using photographs, the new interior materials and finishes echo the style of the original building while maintaining a modern feel.
Dental Associates rescued an important Milwaukee landmark from certain demolition, and meticulously restored it to its pre-Civil War elegance. The effort in such a highly visible location has spurred resurgence in the Eastside Commercial Historic District where the building stands.
Photos: Mike Rebholz Photography and Quadrant Inc.