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 & BelvedereBy 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 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.
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.