A few Sundays ago I decided to explore the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion.
It was an ideal day for it since the temperatures outside only reached the single digits and we were forced to postpone any outdoor activities in fear of frostbite. Plus, I've already endured numerous ungodly Wisconsin winters over the last 20 years or so, but I had not yet experienced the Pabst Mansion tour. With that being said, we hardly even had to chew on the idea before venturing out on that cold afternoon to discover the history of the Pabst Mansion and learn what we'd been missing.
I know that Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is a city icon, but I also know that the Pabst empire wasn’t built over night. Therefore, I was eager to be schooled in the history of Captain Frederick Pabst, the founder of the world famous beer, by touring his restored home, which showcases the beer baron's lifestyle in a very personal way.
About a century ago there were some 80 majestic estates that lined Wisconsin Avenue, which actually used to be known as Grand Avenue. And even though the Pabst Brewery headquarters and the factory have relocated years ago, the Captain’s house still prominently stands in Milwaukee as a reminder of the city's past.
Originally Wisconsin Avenue was called Spring Street, but was renamed Grand Avenue in homage to a swelling population of city pioneers who selected the properties along the road for their mansions, explains Chicago Tribune writer Helen Anderson on the history of Milwaukee.
The Pabst Mansion is nestled in between commercial buildings on the edge of Marquette University campus, a somewhat seedy part of town. I have driven past the place many times, but never realized the significance of the oddly placed, gray stone residence.
Built for Captain Frederick Pabst in 1892 on brewery-owned land – a custom popular with 19th century industrialists – the Pabst Mansion cost $250,000 at the time of its construction and now marks one of the most significant residential landmarks in Milwaukee today.
We arrived at 2 p.m. after finding parking on the street. Then, we followed a sign that directed us to the glass-domed building attached to the side of the estate where we met a friendly woman who sold us our tickets. Normally adults pay $8 for general admission, but Eric and I splurged and opted for the Magnificent Three Pass that includes not only the Pabst Mansion, but the Villa Terrace and Charles Allis Museums for only $10. (I'll visit the other two sometime during this spring or summer.) We were then informed that tours run on the hour and that we’d have to wait a few minutes until the other group was finished. To kill time we decided to browse the Victorian gift shop that boasts everything for beer lovers including ceramic steins, PBR glassware and T-shirts, and plenty of Victorian knickknacks and even 19th century jewelry for collectors.
Finally, we were summoned to enter the mansion through a door that opened into the dining room and I’m positive my jaw dropped. The room was a splendid wash of gold, gold, GOLD and an elegant setting graced the fancy table in the middle of the banquet hall. The golden walls were enhanced by the panoramic landscape paintings hanging above each doorway and the clamshell moldings along the ceiling. The room and the rest of the estate were incredible and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Its sheer size was daunting!