Iron Block Building Facade Before and After Photos

Below are some before and after pictures of the facade of the Iron Block Building that clearly show the rewards of our restoration efforts.


Iron Block Building facade - before


Iron Block Building facade - after


Iron Block Building - before


Iron Block Building - after

Dental Associates’ new, downtown Milwaukee dental clinic will open in the summer of 2014. Keep posted for more details!

Learn more…
Iron Block Building Officially Unveiled in Downtown Milwaukee
Iron Block Building Earns Milwaukee’s Cream of the Cream City Award

A Short History of the Iron Block Building and its Renovation

The following narrative is a brief history of the Iron Block Building as told by Dental Associates’ Architect, Mark Demsky, AIA. This is a copy our submission that won the Iron Block Building Milwaukee’s Cream of the Cream City Award in 2014.

Milwaukee’s Iron Block Building was purchased by Dental Associates at the beginning of 2012, with the intention of performing a full exterior and interior renovation. The only standing building with a cast iron façade in the state of Wisconsin, the advanced state of disrepair required the resurrection of construction techniques from the 19th century coupled with modern technology to save its rare facades.

Iron Block Building Historic PhotoThe Iron Block (originally Excelsior Block) was constructed in 1860-61 using cast iron from Daniel Badger’s Architectural Iron Works of New York City, which was shipped by schooner from Manhattan to its site near the Milwaukee River. Envisioned by owner James Martin as a gleaming office and bank building on the site of former wooden shacks, the building was designed by Badger’s architect George Johnson in an Italian Neo-Renaissance style. At first decried as “a composite of different styles jumbled inharmoniously together”, the building ultimately won the affection of residents with its graceful arched windows and interesting details- most notably garlands of grapevines emanating from the mouths of lions’ heads on both main facades. The fourth floor housed the Excelsior Masonic Lodge (hence the original name of the building) until around 1880, when it moved to another location. At this time it is believed that offices were constructed on the top floor.

In 1898, fire destroyed the neighboring building to the south and did extensive damage to the Iron Block. The following year, an addition was built to the south on the site of the destroyed building, and much of the roof and cornice of the original building was reconfigured. The addition was designed in Cream City brick by local architectural firm Crane & Barkhausen, who had done other work for the Martin family. In later years, Carl Barkhausen would himself move his practice into an office in the Iron Block. Subsequent renovation projects eliminated the grand entry stairs and moved the building entries to ground level, and reconfigured the storefronts along Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street.

Over the next eighty years, the building was in a state of steady decline. Most of the detail on the facades fell victim to decay, and perhaps by scrap iron drives during the wars. In the late 1970s, the Iron Block was a rusting hulk on the busiest corner of downtown Milwaukee, a shadow of its former self. The building thankfully underwent a major renovation in 1983, which saved it from the inevitable threat of demolition.

The building was again ready for attention in 2012, as the materials used in the 1983 renovation did not stand the test of time. Corrosion had attacked most of the surfaces of each façade, and it was common to see detached ornament lying on the sidewalk. A full, historically accurate renovation was planned.

In order to bring the facades back to their original magnificence, patterns and molds had to be created from photographs and pieces of the original building. Over 4,200 new pieces were cast in Wisconsin foundries to replace the missing acanthus leaves, lions’ heads, columns and capitals, and even the garlands of grapevines. These pieces ranged in weight from a few ounces to over 1,200 pounds for the columns needed to restore the original entrance on Water Street. The entire iron façade was sandblasted down to raw steel, and a three-part epoxy paint system was used to chemically bond with the ferrous surfaces. New cornice and pediments were molded from FRP (fiberglass reinforced polyester) and restored the proportions and grandeur of the original design. The addition, mistakenly painted for the better part of a century, was stripped down to the original Cream City brick.

The exterior renovation was unveiled in June 2013 to an enthusiastic, supportive city that appreciates its architecture. In the summer of 2014, Dental Associates will open the doors of the Iron Block to show off the extensive renovation of the interior spaces; capturing yet again a bit of the magic of historic Milwaukee.


Learn more about the Iron Block Building…
Iron Block Building Officially Unveiled in Downtown Milwaukee
Dental Associates Downtown Milwaukee Dentists


Iron Block Building Earns Milwaukee’s Cream of the Cream City Award

Iron Block Building wins Milwaukee's Cream of the Cream City Award 2014Dental Associates has received the 2014 Cream of the Cream City Award for its meticulous restoration of the exterior of the historic Iron Block Building in downtown Milwaukee. The award is sponsored by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett to recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions in the field of historic preservation and heritage education and advocacy in the City of Milwaukee.

Cream of the Cream City Award 2014“We’re honored to receive the Cream City Award and are excited to share the completely restored Iron Block Building with Milwaukeeans later this summer,” says Thomas Manos, D.D.S, M.S., president and owner of Dental Associates, Wisconsin’s largest family-owned dental group practice. “The building is a significant part of the city’s history so we’re taking every step possible to return the Iron Block to its original stature and elegance.”

Architect Mark Demsky, AIA, is spearheading the soon-to-be-completed project for Dental Associates. In order to execute an authentic restoration, Demsky immersed himself in 19th century architecture, delved into the building’s history and pored over original drawings and sepia-toned photographs of the Iron Block.

Finally, in June of 2013, after 12 months of painstaking work, Dental Associates unveiled the Iron Block Building exterior. The restoration included the creation of thousands of ornamental elements that had previously been missing from the building for more than a century. Dental Associates tapped local companies, including a pattern shop in Waukesha and foundries in Beloit and Milwaukee, to fabricate the historically accurate cast iron pieces.

The Iron Block was also returned to its original primary dual color scheme of sandstone cream and bronzed green. The crowning achievement of the facade restoration are the two gable pediments located at the top of the building. The triangle shaped pieces, which face East Wisconsin Ave. and North Water St., were restored to their original size and prominence. Each pediment features a decorative plaque that presents the name of the Iron Block Building.

The seven story Iron Block Building was constructed in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln was president and was made from pre-fabricated cast iron pieces that were designed to look like ornate carved stone masonry. The pieces were made in New York and shipped by schooner to Milwaukee. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and is believed to be the only remaining building with a cast iron facade in Wisconsin.

Since last June, Demsky has been overseeing the renovation and remodeling of the building’s interior. Once complete, the company will move its corporate headquarters from 11711 W. Burleigh St. in Wauwatosa to the 55,000 square-foot Italianate style building at 205 East Wisconsin Ave.

In addition, Dental Associates will open its first-ever downtown Milwaukee dental clinic on multiple floors of the Iron Block and has hired 20 dentists, hygienists, dental assistants and other professionals to staff the location. Find more details about our downtown Milwaukee dental clinic.

Iron Block Building Officially Unveiled in Downtown Milwaukee

Iron Block Building Unveiling CeremonyOn June 17, 2013 the Iron Block Building in downtown Milwaukee was officially unveiled to the public. At the southwest corner of East Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street in downtown Milwaukee, members of local government, Dental Associates, and the local press gathered under the warm Milwaukee sun to reveal the final piece of the exterior renovation: the cast iron building’s newly-cast pediment. Reading “Iron Block” and facing west, this pediment (along with the northerly-facing “Dental Associates Iron Block”) was the final piece of the building that hadn’t been uncovered when the restoration process ended and the scaffolding came down over the past couple weeks. Continue reading

Sandblasted cast iron building façade

Up to this point, we’ve shown plenty of photos of specific cast iron architectural details that are being restored for the Iron Block Building. This time, we’re going to show larger portions of the cast iron façade that have been sandblasted and await zinc primer.

Raw cast iron waiting for an application of zinc primer.

Raw cast iron waiting for an application of zinc primer.

In the photo to the left, an area of raw cast iron is waiting for an application of zinc primer. On the left side of the photo, the shadow of the vermiculated panels, attached to the building for 152 years, can be seen inside the picture frames on the face of the pilaster. If you enlarge the image you can clearly see that the original screws used to secure the vermiculated iron panels on the pilasters have been placed back into the mounting holes to protect the threads while work progresses. You can also see the screw attachments at the joint between two cast iron panels at the centerline of the arched window surround. Continue reading

Restoring cast iron window screen interiors

Our last post showed the work being done to the exterior of the cast iron window screens on the Iron Block Building. As we mentioned, the back sides of those screens are also exposed and need to be restored, but from inside the building. Below are a few photos to show you that process.

Cast iron window screen backside

The backside of the cast iron window screens prior to sandblasting.

From inside the Iron Block Building, you can see the backside of the cast iron window screens with grape vine motif. This photo was taken prior to sandblasting. Fortunately, we’re able to pull the double-hung window sashes down from the top, providing access to restore these cast iron building elements in place.

This picture also shows the scaffolding and wrap on the outside of the building. Continue reading

Restoring cast iron window screen exteriors

Before we show the progress made on the exterior of the cast iron window screens on the Iron Block Building, we want to take you back a few months to when we first introduced our project in downtown Milwaukee.

Cast iron arched window surround before restoration.

Before sandblasting and priming, rust pervaded the cast iron panels and details.


The photo to the left was first shown in our post Ornate cast iron building details back in September 2012. As much as any other, this photo shows the level of rust that had permeated the cast iron façade of the Iron Block Building prior to Dental Associates purchasing the building. (Learn more about the Dental Associates Iron Block plans.) The enormous cast iron panels of the Iron Block have undergone months of sandblasting, priming, and painting in order to bring the building’s fascia back to its glory. Continue reading

Restoring Cast Iron Vermiculated Blocks

In a previous post we told the story about the vermiculated blocks that are found throughout the facade of the Iron Block Building and how their unique design became the inspiration for our logo.

Vermiculated iron block panels from the Iron Block Building.

Stacks of vermiculated iron block panels ready for restoration.

Here, stacks of vermiculated iron block panels are ready to be shipped to the shop for sandblasting and powder coating. (Read the post mentioned above to see how they were removed from the building!) Each piece was numbered as it was removed from the building, but even so, we have a feeling it will be difficult to put all of the sizes and patterns back in the right spots on the facades when that time comes. The various levels of deterioration are obvious by looking at multiple pieces side by side. Continue reading

More Cast Iron Facade Details

In this post we’ll share some additional details from the Iron Block Building’s facade prior to restoration.

The Iron Block Building's cast iron facade

A up-close look at the cast iron facade prior to restoration.

The photo above shows the beauty of the cast iron facade, even through the rust and grime. This photo will be a perfect sample to show in a “before and after” photo series once the restoration process is complete and the Iron Block Building’s facade is restored to its glory. The dull facade from years of weatherization will be replaced with a gleaming new exterior that should make downtown Milwaukee proud. Continue reading

Restoring Cast Iron Columns

In this post we’ll show the restoration progress of the cast iron columns found throughout the facade of the Iron Block Building.

Cast iron fluted column on the Iron Block Building downtown Milwaukee

Cast iron fluted column on Wisconsin Avenue entrance of the Iron Block Building.

The photo to the right is looking upward at an original fluted column. The original major order of fluted columns and pilasters flank the Wisconsin Avenue entrance of the Iron Block Building in downtown Milwaukee. This entry was originally for a banking house on the mezzanine level, although it has become the main entrance to the building over time. The feel of the two story arch will be restored since the floor and transom at the mezzanine level here will be removed. Continue reading