September 19, 2010

The Beauty of History

Posted in Architecture, Decorating, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:02 pm by dotcomdecorator

I was never a good student of history. Dates and names and tales of war bored me to tears. Without a doubt I frustrated those teachers who tried to enlighten me to our historical past. Years later I realize if they had only shown me the great architectural treasures of the past, I would have been impassioned! I have found out that I actually love history…as long as I can relate it to a physical place. Of course, the more unique the place, the more I want to learn!  


Pfister Hotel Lobby Ceiling

Pfister Hotel Lobby Ceiling


I am blessed to live equidistant between Chicago and Milwaukee–both cities, and the area between, have an abundance of amazing architectural gems from the past.  I recently visited my favorite Milwaukee hotel, The Pfister, the former Milwaukee Grain Exchange, and two Italianate villas of grandeur–Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and The Cuneo Mansion in Vernon Hills, Illinois.  

Back view of Cuneo Mansion

Back view of Cuneo Mansion


While all of these structures are immense, each is ornate, stately, and opulent. Most impressive is that they are all well-constructed, timelessly elegant, and have a level of artistic craftsmanship seldom seen in today’s structures. From hand-crafted decorative door hinges, to hand-painted murals on soaring ceilings, to vibrant stained glass windows, to the sweeping marble staircases, to the impeccably manicured gardens, and abundant gold gilding, every space holds a veritable feast for the eyes! However, equally fascinating are the histories behind each of these buildings.  

Villa Terrace


Villa Terrace was built in 1923 for the Lloyd Smith family. Mr. Smith was an industrialist and president of A.O. Smith Company, the company started by his grandfather. Wanting to replicate a 16th century Italian villas he and his wife adored, Lloyd commissioned renowned architect David Adler to design and build the villa. From the courtyard with its decorative stone pathway (Mrs. Smith and her six children collected each and every stone from the shore of Lake Michigan and carried them home for the stone mason!), to the water stairs that lead to the manicured gardens, to the magnificent view of Lake Michigan, this home exudes an air of wealth and privilege! However, it was home to the Smiths.  The grounds were home to family football games, the Italian marble staircase endured hoards of stopping feet, and the ornate, hand-crafted metal work probably went unnoticed as the children opened and closed the elegant doors!  

Library at Cuneo

Library at Cuneo


Now used for special events and as a movie setting–My Best Friend’s Wedding and Witless Protection, with Larry the Cable Guy–the Cuneo is equally impressive.  Construction of the mansion began in 1908 and stopped during World War I. It was completed in 1918 as the summer home of Samuel Insull, an original founder of the General Electric Company. In 1937, John Cuneo Sr., a well-known and highly successful entrepreneur, bought the home. He and his wife, Julia, and two children made their home on the 75-acre estate.  Even though the mansion was, and is still, filled with priceless antiques, including many religious artifacts, the children rode their pedal cars all through the formal rooms, and used the grand foyer as a parking garage! The mansion has its own elaborate chapel, his and her’s bedroom suites, servants quarters, and gold gilded bathrooms! The grounds with the multitude of beautifully designed and maintained gardens, in-ground pool, and statuary, are delightful in every way! Like Villa Terrace, the Cuneo Mansion is a treasure-trove of exquisite craftsmanship, both inside and out, but also rich with history of the former residents and their guests.  

Exterior of Pfister

Exterior of Pfister


The Pfister is my favorite hotel in the Milwaukee area.  The hotel website uses the terms “grand elegance”, “historic tradition”, “gracious service” and “impeccable style”…I cannot find better words to describe the Pfister! Since opening its doors in 1893, the Pfister has surrounded guests with priceless art collections, exquisite architecture, and a comfortable, yet luxurious, ambiance. Visionary businessman Guido Pfister and his son, Charles, built the hotel at a cost of 1 million dollars. The hotel deemed the “Grand Hotel of the West”, was the most lavish hotel of its time. Walking through the doors I am transported back to a time of social graces and personal service; the Pfister exudes an atmosphere that invites guests to relax and let others take care of them…the epitome of the word “Salve”   A welcome respite from the nitty-gritty day-to-day, lunch from a bag, life we know all too well! The Pfister has welcomed some of the world’s most famous dignitaries and athletes, a bevy of brides, and is rumored to have one or more resident ghosts! I definitely give this hotel the thumb’s up!
The Grain Exchange simply awes me because it was once a place of commodity trading…a bustling work place! In 1879 Milwaukee Grain Exchange was the location of the Trading Pit, first invented and used in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and used as a model for other exchanges throughout America.
Grain Exchange

Grain Exchange


Today it is a favored site for special occasions, such as wedding receptions. Taking in its three-story, nearly 10,000 sq. ft. Italian style room, with soaring ceilings, frescoes, stained glass windows, handsome granite, limestone, sandstone and 175 ft. bell tower in the center of the room, I envision the space as more a grand church than an active business center. Could you imagine going to work there each day…how much more inspiring that would be than the drab cubicles or personality-void open spaces of today’s offices!  

If you are able to visit any of these architectural beauties, I’m sure you’ll be charmed! If not, the internet is a wonderful place to find out more information and view other images!  Here are a few links to get your “armchair tour” started:  

Here are a couple more images to whet your appetite:  

So, there you have it–I love history! Who would have ever thought it.  

Until next time,  

Viva Con Gioia!  

The DotComDecorator


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