Contact Us
Sponsored Content

Klein & Hoffman To Restore A Historic House That Beer Built

Milwaukee's Pabst Mansion

When Capt. Frederick and Maria Pabst paid $254K for their new Milwaukee home, the then-princely sum purchased everything a beer baron and his family could want in 1892: a 20K SF Flemish Renaissance Revival-style mansion, fine Gilded Age furnishings and museum-quality art. 

What it didn’t buy was immortality, with Frederick, president of the Pabst Brewing Co., and Maria both passing away a little more than a decade after moving in. 

If it weren’t for a subsequent owner that took good care of the building and its furnishings for decades — and then the oversight of the nonprofit that now operates it as a museum — the Pabst Mansion might have experienced the fate of its neighbors lining a formerly tony stretch of Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue.

“This is one of the last surviving houses on what was once a premier residential street where there were dozens of other mansions of the same caliber that have mostly been torn down,” said Jocelyn Slocum, director of operations and curatorial affairs of the Pabst Mansion Inc., the building’s nonprofit owner. “It's a vestige of the history and craftsmanship of that time, and it shows how neighborhoods can change.”

Slocum said the nonprofit’s mission is to preserve and restore the mansion, which it operates as a museum to exhibit both Old World craftsmanship and how a well-heeled family would have lived more than a century ago. Since the organization took ownership in 1978, much of its focus has been on restoring some of its nearly 40 interior rooms, a task that isn't yet finished. 

More recently, though, Slocum said the Pabst Mansion has turned its attention to the building’s exterior and engaged the services of Chicago-based structural and architectural engineering firm Klein & Hoffman to restore and preserve its classic facade.

“There have been previous rounds of exterior restoration and repair work in isolated locations, but in general, there has been significant deferred maintenance over the past few decades,” said David Weirick, a Klein & Hoffman architect who heads the firm’s Milwaukee office. “That has resulted in deterioration of the brick and terra cotta facades, which will require some pretty extensive rebuild and restoration work.” 

Klein & Hoffman is also designing repair and restoration work for the house’s clay-tile roof, windows, a mosaic tile floor on one of its porches and the decorative wood-paneled ceilings on exterior features such as its porte-cochere. The firm began assessing the building and preparing for its exterior restoration in 2022, and work is expected to begin next spring. 

The scope of the restoration and repair project is comprehensive. And while Klein & Hoffman is bringing the mansion’s historic exterior elements back to life, it also will address a problem that can vex any homeowner.

“We have water infiltration, which is not uncommon with old homes,” said Morgan Sweet, director of advancement for the Pabst Mansion. “The longer it goes unchecked, the more places it will work its way into. We need to seal the building's envelope because eventually it could be a problem for the interior, which we don't want to see.”

Sweet said that the museum is fortunate to have a supply of clay roofing tiles left over from a previous restoration. But for most of the work involving brick, terra cotta and other materials, Klein & Hoffman will turn to its network of skilled contractors and material suppliers, which include the last two terra cotta manufacturers in the United States.

Klein & Hoffman has collaborated with such specialists on other historic restorations in the city, including public buildings such as the Milwaukee County Courthouse, a neoclassical limestone building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the 18-floor historic landmark AT&T Building, designed by a prominent Milwaukee architect. In restorations, Klein & Hoffman strives to stay true to the appearance and performance of a building’s original design and materials.

“A lot of materials that were used in the Pabst Mansion’s construction are still commonly used today, but it's also very important that you don't just use modern materials in some of these older environments like you might for a new home,” said Todd Gorrell, an architect and Klein & Hoffman principal who oversees masonry restoration. “For example, the mortar they used when this building was built has different characteristics for strength and absorption. Whatever new materials you’re using have to be compatible with the older ones.” 

In any restoration, Gorrell said it is important to choose materials correctly and hire qualified tradespeople. Performing mock-ups beforehand helps ensure quality control before the actual building is even touched.

“All of us have seen a beautiful old building where they hired someone to do tuck-pointing and you go, ‘Oh, my God, they ruined that building,’” he said. “It looks like somebody went out with a bucket of sealant or something and just slapped it on. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.”

Capt. Pabst may not be around to conduct surprise on-site inspections, but Klein & Hoffman is determined to restore the mansion’s exterior to a state that he and Maria Pabst would have been proud to call home. Just as when the mansion was built in the 1890s, today’s work requires the collaboration of a good team.

“The contractors that we really like to work with are craftspeople who love the Old World craftsmanship the same way we do,” Weirick added. “They care about improving in their craft and being able to replicate the original construction as best they can. That’s how you get a really successful project, which is our goal at the Pabst Mansion.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Klein & Hoffman and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to