A Mansion Prepared: Milwaukee Central Celebrates 75 years

A Mansion Prepared: Milwaukee Central Celebrates 75 years

The year was 1943 and members of the Milwaukee English Church were gearing up for a big move. After years of renting, the group numbering 70–80, had purchased land and building supplies, in preparation for construction of their own facility.

It was during this time that then-16-year-old fresh convert, Paul Freeman, joined the congregation and recalls hearing the disappointing news. Since supplies were needed for the Second World War raging in Europe, the government would not allow new building construction.

As church members investigated a way forward, they learned that remodeling existing buildings was permissible. It wasn’t long before they located a structure for sale.

But this wasn’t any ordinary building.

Just yards away from Lake Michigan, in an affluent Milwaukee neighborhood, a luxurious 25,000 square-foot mansion was on the market. Designed by renowned architect Alexander Eschweiler, the four-story edifice had been a gift from commodity trader, Jesse Hoyt Smith, to his bride, Ida. Built at a cost of $300,000, the mansion featured unique amenities such a ballroom and a 1,500-square-foot, 14-car garage. There were even quarters for servants, complete with an in-house telephone system presumably, said Paul, “to keep the staff hopping.”

The Smith heirs were asking $30,000 for the fabulous but aged 1912 property; however, once they learned a church was interested, the price dropped to $20,000. Paul, a 90-year-old retired chemist, recalls that, when the sale was complete, it was clear the newfound church home “was an answer to prayer.”

Hiring the same firm that designed the building, the congregation embarked on converting the mansion at 2229 N. Terrace Avenue into their church. During the remodeling of the second floor, consisting primarily of bedrooms, baths and the third-floor ballroom, rooms were removed to provide the high, peaked ceiling in the sanctuary and allow room for a worship space.