Historic Structures

Building Description Elizabeth Plankinton House, Milwaukee Wisconsin

The house.is a three-story building with basement and attic. It is basically square in plan with three separate projecting bays, a three-story conical turret, stone porch, porte-cochere, and attached solarium. The overall dimensions vary from a width of 51'4" to 58'10"; to a length of 66'4" to 73'8".

The walls are of rock-faced cream colored, random, ashlar Wauwatosa limestone: It is trimmed with richly carved buff sandstone, granite columns, terra-cotta tiles, and ornamental sheet metal work.

The main facade, facing south, has a one-and one- half story entrance porch with round arches on the first level and segmental arches above. Red, clay tile is the roofing material. On the east facade the portecochere, a square, flat roofed projection with round arched openings, springs from granite columns with foliated capitals. Other stone carvings and foliations adorn this element.

There are five limestone chimneys, four outside and one internal. The interior chimney was located in the west third of the house towards the rear. The exterior ones are each distinct in their own design. On the east elevation are found two, one rising out of the projecting bay which is almost lost in this element. The other follows along the line of the turret. The chimney on the west elevation is highly decorated with a full pediment, paired round arches, and the upper part of the stack suggests multiple pots. The stack on the north elevation is the only one that rises truly free and clear of roof line or element. It was non-functioning at the time the home was demolished.

The main entrance is a large double door which opens into the vestibule. Access from the inside is into the upper level of the front porch and to the third level of the turret. Two other exterior entries exist and are both bound on the east elevation, one opening from the porte-cochere and the other leading into the basement.


All rooms in the basement were remodeled for club use when the Knights of Columbus occupied the house. The foundation walls where exposed are limestone, and the original interior walls, where exposed, are brick. Numerous partitions were erected and all walls were covered with paneling. The ceilings were replaced with acoustical tiles and the floors with indoor/outdoor carpeting. The room conversions resulted in club rooms, bar room, an industrial kitchen, restrooms, and phone booth. Two stairways front and rear, lead upstairs. Exits to the outside are on both the east and west facades.

On the first floor a small vestibule leads through double doors into a large central hall which contains the main staircase, a fireplace and is formed in part by the turret and imediate area into a rather irregular space. The fireplace, elegant in proportion, has an opening in the shape of an Assyrian arch. It is surrounded by glazed tiles with the same in the hearth. The oak mantel with mirror over and surrounds are in keeping with the fine woodwork treatment as found through the foyer. To the west is the Men's Lounge, a rather oblong poorly proportioned room that extends about 2/3 of the length of the house. Again, two elegant fireplaces, one on the west wall, the other on the north wall; both with glazed tiles, elaborate maple mantels with mirror over and pressed metal fire boxes. The first has hearth seats on either side and is the finest one in the house . Proceeding beyond the staircase to the east of the central hall is the board room with the same pattern woodwork and decoration. Its shape is determined by the projecting bay. All of the rooms to the rear which were probably kitchens, pantries, and storage, have been remodeled for club use with little or nothing of the original existing.

The second floor is reached only by the main staircase and opens into a similar central hall. This hallway opens onto three bedrooms, one to the south, one to the east, and the other to the north. The south bedroom, which assumes the turret and contains a fireplace of lesser quality but with a finely carved hardwood mantel and surrounds, glazed tiles, and pressed metal firebox. It adjoins a library which is directly above and equal in size to the downstairs men's lounge. Access to this room is also through double doors from the hall. Interesting is that this room has been completely redone in English Arts and Crafts of the early 20th century. Stripped of almost all its Victoriana, it is a stark contrast to the rest of the house. The east bedroom assumes much the same space and form as the board room directly below it. The fireplace in this room, though of lesser quality, is very interesting with its Oriental stickwork design. The north bedroom (Women's Lounge), a non-descript space adjoins one of the two upstairs bathrooms. The other is accessed from the hall. A rear dog-leg stair leads to the third floor.

On the third floor a ballroom occupies an irregular space that opens onto hallways and other various rooms and closets. The ballroom assumes the angles of the roof line and does not appear to be a very accommodating space for a large number of people. A simple fireplace is found here. A turret room opens off the ballroom and is access to outside. The east meeting room contains another fireplace whose mantel is in a whatnot type of configuration. A rear stair leads to the attic. The 16 by 6 foot skylight was presumed removed from the house in June of 1976 and sold at auction in California. Mozaic in design it contained 25,000 pieces of stained glass mounted in zinc and copper.

The main staircase is an exuberant display of the woodcrafter's art. It is a finely detailed piece of oak panels, fans, and lattice work. At the foot of the stairs the newel posts are extended to the ceiling connected by a string course of springing arches. The stairwell is wainscotted with double newel posts on the intermediate landings. Other stairways are found to the rear of the second and third floors. The basement is reached by going under the main staircase. It is unusual that in a house of this size and from this period that only the main staircase transcends all three floors.

Elegant oak wainscotting, spindle work, cornices, pilasters, and baseboards are found in the main entry hall and principle downstairs rooms. The oak ceiling in the entry hall is richly coffered with inlaid bronze reliefs. Of note in the downstairs parlor is the use of ogee arches in the trim. The second floor is as simple as the first is intricate and complex. The (unknown) hardwood woodwork here has been reduced to baseboards, chair rails and cornice treatments. The library does have an interesting plaster relief cornice. Other than where accoustical tiles or paneling has been placed during previous remodelings, the walls and ceilings are plaster on lathe.

Elaborate doors are found on the first floor which are richly paneled with some having bronze reliefs depicting scenes of Greek or Roman mythology. Doors on the upper floors reflect the simple treatment as found in the woodwork.