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In 1891 three Milwaukee businessmen, General F. C. Winkler, George Koeppen and Henry Gugler, held several meetings with sixty other men at the old Plankinton House Hotel to organize the founding of a new social club. The purpose of the club was to promote and provide a venue for German-American understanding and fellowship, a reflection of the large German immigration to Milwaukee at the end of the nineteenth century.

The first home of the new club, called the ‘Deutscher’ or ‘German’ Club, was in the Old Opera House near the site of the present Pabst Theatre. In early 1894 a fire broke out and severely damaged the clubrooms. A new home had to be found.

Several alternatives were considered including disbanding the club which was in a poor financial state. When the vacant Mitchell Mansion on Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue) was brought to the attention of club members, shortly after the death of Alexander Mitchell, all thoughts of dissolution vanished. An offer of over $100,000 was made and accepted. The Deutscher Club moved into its new quarters in early 1895 and began to settle in for a long stay.

On May 1, 1895 the Club held their opening night party in the Mitchell home with over 450 attendees; this without any of the new rooms which were eventually added by the Club.

The Mansion & Belvedere
The Alexander Mitchell residence was a house that grew with the fortune of its owner.  In 1848 he built a modest brick house between 9th and 10th Street on Grand Avenue. He gradually bought up the remaining properties on his block and expanded the house. In 1859 it was remodeled in the fashionable Italianate style.  In 1872 wings were added to both sides, the porch enlarged and bay windows installed.

By 1876, Alexander Mitchell controlled the banking and insurance industry in Milwaukee in addition to owning the Milwaukee Railroad and serving as a member of Congress.  His fortune was said to have been in excess of $20 million! It was at this time that architect Edward Townsend Mix was hired to transform Mitchell’s home into the French Second Empire mansion it is today. Many rooms were added, including a ballroom (MacArthur Room), a library (Card Room) and a conservatory (removed after the club purchased the property). The conservatory featured a small stream, palm trees and many exotic plants. Artists from Europe were commissioned to adorn the interior of Mitchell’s home with elaborate hand carved mahogany woodwork, stained glass, plaster and inlaid tile.  The Grand Staircase in the East Hall of the house with its twenty-four lion heads took one craftsman seven years to build.  In the Oriental Room (South Lounge), there are over sixteen hundred, hand carved pansies on the ceiling. The walls of the Moorish Room (North Lounge) are covered in embossed leather panels poly-chromed in red, blue and gold arabesques. The Belvedere, built by an Italian woodcarver in 1871, is said to be the finest structure of its kind in the country. From the late 1900s until 1950 (when Ninth Street was widened), a porch and a terrace directly east of the mansion were used as an outdoor dining room.  Polly Prospect of The Daily Wisconsin News wrote, “ The East Porch at the Club is a popular spot these days, especially with women members.  Enlarged by means of screens covered with a stunning blue and tan striped awning and surrounded by window boxes fitted with bright flowers, it makes an ideal place for bridge parties.  Pierrot lanterns hang from the ceiling and the chairs have been covered with white linen decorated with designs symbolizing the carnival spirit.” Over the years, many famous and noteworthy guests have been entertained here such as Julia Ward Howe, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, Prince Henry of Prussia, General Grant and Presidents Cleveland and Roosevelt.

The Belvedere — On the southeast corner of the Wisconsin Club grounds stands what is likely the most unique garden structure in the city, if not the state.  The large one and a half story wooden structure, popularly called the Gazebo, is properly known as a Belvedere.  Alexander Mitchell had it built for the purpose of viewing his extensive gardens and greenhouses from a rich and idyllic setting.

The first contemporary records showing the Belvedere occur in two separate documents.  The first of these is a lithograph commissioned by Alexander Mitchell for publication in the 1873 proceedings of the state historical society.  The other is a bird’s-eye-view map entitled “Map of Milwaukee, 1872-1873” published by the Milwaukee Lithographic and Engraving Co. This map shows a large octagonal structure on the Mitchell grounds. It resembles more a sketch of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre than it does the belvedere.

The foundations were constructed of the same stone used in the building of the stone and wrought-iron fence, that Mitchell had built about the same time. This fence, having a huge formal gate on the Grand Avenue side bearing the initials A.M., and a smaller entrance off of 9th street, cost $20,000.00 when it was built.

FIRST FLOOR
Library — Originally the Mitchell’s family dining room, it was designed by E. Townsend Mix as part of his remodeling during 1872-1877.  All of the woodwork in the room is carved from oak.  Except for the removal of a large arched window that once opened the south wall onto the conservatory, very little of the room has been structurally altered.

The three doors on the west wall were used for various household purposes by the Mitchell’s.  The leftmost door concealed a large steel cabinet in which the Mitchell’s secured their silvery cutlery, tête-à-tête silver service and valuables. The doors flanking the fireplace led to the kitchens of the house and to the servant quarters.

When the Deutscher Club (former name of the Wisconsin Club) purchased the house in 1895, they had to use the expansive kitchen of the Mitchell’s, for their own members’ dining room until other rooms could be renovated.

Today, members and guests are greeted at the front desk, and can sit by the hand-carved fireplace, listen to the ticking of the clock on the wall, read a paper and relax.

North Lounge —(formerly called the Men’s Lounge, Persian and Moorish Room)
Mr. Mitchell’s smoking room was known as the Persian or Moorish Room. The ceiling is uniquely decorated with plaster molds reminiscent of the near eastern style of a Moslem Palace.  The walls are covered with large panels of leather, embossed and polychrome in red, blue, gold and burgundy arabesques, which were imported from Paris. This room is similar to the smoking room from the John D. Rockefeller house now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Large, folding, stained-glass doors open from the Moorish Room onto the north-south corridor, the east entry hall and Mr. Mitchell’s private library-study.

Governors Room —(formerly the Card Room and Roosevelt Room)
This room which is now the Governors Room was the private library-study of Alexander Mitchell holding in the mid-1870’s more than 2000 volumes of books collected by Mitchell.  The decoration of the room survived Mix’s renovations in the late 1870’s.  When Mitchell died suddenly in New York City in 1887 he was brought to Milwaukee by train and lay in state in this room in a red cedar casket.

In early April of 1903 the Deutscher Club (former name of the Wisconsin Club) welcomed President Theodore Roosevelt and served him lunch in this room. A newspaper account tells how at the end of lunch the Club register was set before the President to sign and “he set his wine glass upon the table in order to sign his name.  A waiter, or someone else, took it up, but the President reached for it at once. “The President’s glass must remain where he places it” he said, “besides, I want to drink the rest of it.”

South Lounge — (formerly the Ladies Lounge and South Parlour)
The entire east end of the first floor of the Mitchell house was renovated during the late 1870’s in a style know as “Oriental.”  This style was an eclectic mixture of Japanese, Chinese, middle-eastern and Persian motifs.  It was popularized by the Japanese Pavilion at the 1876 centennial exposition which the Mitchell’s very likely attended.

In the Pansy or Oriental Room the predominant motif is the pansy, which may have been Mrs. Mitchell’s favorite and her personal version of the Japanese chrysanthemum.  Hundreds of polychrome, gilt-edged, hand carved flowers cover the ceiling and smaller pansies abound on the wainscoting. The pocket doors on the west end of the room led onto the south entrance. The first floor of the tower added by Mix also opened onto an entrance to the 500 foot long conservatory.
 

Deutscher Room & Grille Bar — This was the original first floor formal dining room of the Deutscher Club.

Mitchell Room —(formerly the Conservatory)
In 1895 when the Deutscher Club purchased the mansion, they removed the Conservatory and built a bowling alley for their members.  The bowling alley existed for fifty-four years.  Then in 1950 the room was remodeled to become the main first floor dining room.
 

SECOND FLOOR
Grand Ballroom — At the same time the Deutscher Club was building its bowling alley on the first floor, the Grand Ballroom was built on the second floor. For almost 110 years this elegant ballroom has been used for formal dinners, dances, concerts, plays and thousands of Wisconsin Club family member weddings.

Milwaukee Room — This room which is part of the original mansion was used as the formal second floor dining room. While no one knows the exact date, the Milwaukee Room became a meeting and banquet room used by its members.

Wisconsin Room —(formerly the Red Room and Marie Antoinette Room)
The Wisconsin Room was part of the Mitchell house but was extensively remodeled after the Deutscher Club built the Grand Ballroom and the Banquet Hall (known today as the Milwaukee Room, and formally as the Gold Room) about 1900.  The north, west and east walls of the room correspond to the original walls, but the south wall is a later addition. The room once extended south to where the elevator now runs.

In the Mitchell house this room was known as the Marie Antoinette Room and appears to have served either as a music room or as a tea-room. There is a reference in the record of sale between Martha Mitchell and her son John (in 1894) stating that she would be allowed to have the china service and ornaments from the Marie Antoinette Room as part of the settlement.

President’s Room — (formerly the Silver Room)
The President’s Room has been greatly changed throughout the years and retains only two features from its original past: a white marble fireplace on the north wall and the east windows facing 9th Street.

This room was most likely a guest bedroom used by the Mitchell’s. Although the view to the east was excellent the view from a western window, now blocked up, would have looked onto the kitchen and servant’s quarters.

At least from the 1940’s through the 1960’s this room was known as the Silver Room.  The name was changed following a renovation when its silvery wallpaper was removed.

Directors Room – This room was the bedroom of the house’s builder, Alexander Mitchell.  The view to the east, now obscured by the public library, looked out over Milwaukee and a southerly window overlooked the south grounds which have been somewhat shortened to the east by the widening of 9th street in 1949.

The fireplace is the best complete fireplace on the second floor.  It has a gold-veined sienna marble face and tiled fire skirt.  Above the door is a bearded tin gargoyle.

Gardenview Room — The Gardenview Room was originally the bedroom of Mrs. Alexander Mitchell.  Photographs of the room show there was a fireplace in the northeast corner of the room (now removed) and that her bed stood against the north wall between the two doors opening off the second floor hall.

A unique feature of Mrs. Mitchell’s room was a balcony leading out onto the second level of the conservatory on the east side of the house. From this balcony, Mrs. Mitchell could observe her plants and flowers at any time. Also from the two large bay windows on the south side of the room she could look out over the extensive gardens complete with a summerhouse and fountain.

In 1978, this room was divided in half to accommodate a lounge for the ladies restroom.

THIRD FLOOR
MacArthur Room — (formerly the Walnut Room)
The entire third floor of the Mitchell house was added during the late 1870’s when Architect Edward Townsend Mix significantly altered and renovated the home.  Hidden behind bracketed mansard roof and dormer windows were several rooms, including this room which was used as an art gallery for Mitchell’s art collections and as a Ballroom for Mitchell’s parties.  This room was also loaned to the city for receptions.

Formerly known as the Walnut Room this chamber was renamed in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, a Milwaukee native and five star general.  MacArthur was the first person to be granted an honorary membership in the Wisconsin Club.

Administrative Office — (formerly the Hunt Room)
Like the MacArthur and Banquet Office (Colonial Room) the Administrative Office was part of the addition by Edward Townsend Mix.  The room has a wonderful view of the south grounds and originally had an access door to the MacArthur Room (now a storage closet). This room was used as a small gallery and parlour adjunct to the larger MacArthur Room.  It may have also served as a gentlemen’s smoking room during balls and receptions.

Until 1978, this room was used by the club members as a card room. At that time it was remade into a banquet room and renamed the Hunt Room.

Banquet Office (formerly the Colonial Room)
Not very much is known about the Colonial Room historically, but it may be surmised that this was an art gallery.  The high ceilings and extensive wall space make this a plausible suggestion.  In late Victorian homes, paintings were not hung and displayed as they are in today’s art galleries but filled the walls from top to bottom.

During balls and other receptions, the Colonial Room may also have been used as a room for ladies to meet away from the gentlemen.











LOWER LEVEL
Alexander’s —(formerly the Club’s Bowling Alley)
October 2004 marks the 10 year anniversary of the grand opening of Alexander’s. Formerly this room was the home to eight automatic Brunswick bowling alleys.  In its time, the Bowling Alley was a hub of activity to member leagues, with team names such as the Lucky Strikes (a men’s team) and the Penny-Antes (a ladies’ team).

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City Club: 900 West Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53233 | Phone: 414.271.7510
Country Club:
6200 West Good Hope Road, Milwaukee, WI 53223 | Phone: 414.353.8800
www.wisconsinclub.com