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Iron Block Building Gets a Cleaning - From Dentists, Of Course

An iconic - and unique - Milwaukee building is the recipient of a much-needed facelift.

Exterior renovations have just been completed on the Iron Block building, at the southeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street.  They were undertaken by the Wisconsin-based company, Dental Associates, which plans to use the building for its corporate headquarters and for a dental practice.

"I’ve been told it’s one of the most comprehensive restorations that’s probably ever been done on a cast-iron building," Dental Associates in-house architect Mark Demsky says.  "And some people might look at it and say, 'does that make economic sense?' But really, this building is such a jewel that it had to be saved.  And there’s really no other way to do – there’s not a lot of short-cuts you can take on it."

The 19th Century building is the last remaining cast-iron building in the state of Wisconsin - and one of relatively few left in the nation.  "Doctor [Thomas] Manos, who owns Dental Associates, is very much a design aficionado," Demsky says.  

"I think this building was too good to pass up, quite honestly." - architect Mark Demsky

But the renovations came with challenges.  "We knew it was in bad shape," Demsky says.  "But we didn't know the extent until the sandblasting had started."  

Demsky says it was only after the process had begun that workers discovered that one corner of the building had been repaired using fiberglass, rather than the original iron.  Demsky, who oversaw the project, had that section removed and re-cast in iron.

The finished exterior project, Demsky says, was less like the building equivalent of a root canal and more like bridge work.  All told, it cost $1.6 million to complete - before the interior work even begins.  He hopes the latest work to the building holds up over time.  

"Obviously, we don't want it to rust," Demsky jokes, "but if we could keep it looking the way it does today for the next fifty years, we'd be thrilled."