The Many Lives of Milwaukee's Castle on Kilbourn
The Pabst Mansion, the Schuster Mansion, the Villa Filomena... Milwaukee is home to a handful of historic mansions - often hidden in plain sight, appearing seemingly out of place. The Kalvelage Schloss Mansion, located near 24th and Kilbourn Avenue, is no different.
The huge three-story, German Renaissance Revival style home sits on top of a slight hill. The exterior is lined with Greek Mythological themed statues and iron rails contorted into shapes of roses and feathers.
Bubbler Talk question askers Randy Koepsel and Ann Lorentz wanted to know the history behind The Castle on Kilbourn, so WUWM's Teran Powell visited the mansion to meet the owner, Jim Dieter.
Jim has owned the home since 2004 and lives there now. “I was looking to purchase a home and I looked in the Avenue West and Concordia neighborhoods. And out of the quality of the homes in the neighborhood, this one actually had attracted me more because of the quality of construction and stuff and the history of the home,” he explains.
The mansion, completed in the 1890s, was specially designed for Joseph B. Kalvelage. He was the secretary and treasurer of Milwaukee's Hoffman & Billings Manufacturing Company, which manufactured plumbing fixtures and supplies.
Kalvelage and his family lived there until 1920. And since then, the mansion has had dozens of owners and uses. The Klu Klux Klan owned the home in 1925. "Then around 1926 The Roger Williams Hospital bought the Kalvelage Mansion and it became a full-fledged hospital," Jim explains.
Jim says the hospital was the first in the Avenues West area, and also the first hospital of record to take in African American patients.
Over time, the mansion also served as a hotel and an apartment building. In 1971, it was used as the Holy Family Retreat home. But what might be more unusual about the Kalvelage Mansion and its history are the details of its construction – and those responsible for it.
Otto Stack - the same architect who designed the Milwaukee's Pabst Theater - was responsible for the mansion’s architecture. And, the iron railings and chandeliers were done by Cyril Colnik, a famous wrought iron artist in Milwaukee at the time.
A love of Milwaukee history is what sparked our Bubbler Talk questioners Ann Lorentz and her husband Randy Koepsel’s interest in the Kalvelage Mansion.
“It was in such an odd spot too. You just kind of don’t see it everyday kind of thing. It’s like, we turned here and there it was,” Ann says.
She says she thinks it’s important to try and preserve these pieces of Milwaukee history. “I think it’s so interesting just the history of the city. Where it’s been, where it’s going and what it is now.”
So if you’re ever near 24th and Kilbourn Avenue, take some time to admire one of the oldest mansions in Milwaukee. Tours just might be available in the near future for you to take a peek inside.
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