Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes
By M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman, Photos by Zane Williams
Reviewed by Katie Ginther
Editor's note: This review originally appeared in Wisconsin People and Ideas magazine, the quarterly publication of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.
If you ask me what kind of superpower I would like to have, my answer since childhood has remained unchanged: x-ray vision--though, my x-ray vision powers would mostly be used to view inside people's homes. Like the view I once had from the open half of my old dollhouse, these powers would allow me to peek into the lives of homeowners and the ways they organize and decorate their homes--thus allowing me to somehow save the world, one floor plan at a time.
Perhaps in an effort to satisfy my domiciliary curiosity, I recently got hold of the voluminous Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes, a new release from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. The result of a collaboration between M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman, principals of the Milwaukee architectural firm Louis Wasserman & Associates; award-winning Madison photographer Zane Williams; and the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin's Own presents an exclusive (and glossy!) glimpse into twenty stately public and private Wisconsin residences. Of the 1,500 viable options from the National Register of Historic Places, the homes selected by Connolly and Wasserman--authors of several architecture books--were constructed between 1854 and 1939 and represent as diverse a mix of architectural styles as they do geographic locations.
The lovely photography of Zane Williams sold me on the book long before I began reading it. Within the eclectic mix of personal stories of homeowners and the catalogue of historical preservation efforts are breathtaking shots that invite readers to explore the homes almost as if they were visitors, passing from room to room. Exterior and interior photographs taken from unique perspectives--coupled with detailed and colorful renderings of elevations, floor plans from the authors, and historical images--give the reader a thorough understanding of the home from the original owner's vision to its current incarnation today. Throughout the book, standard guides to key architectural styles serve as points of comparison to the owners' take on historic styles, highlighting how individual taste and culture shape residential architecture.
What is amazing about Wisconsin's Own is that these homes today are in spectacular condition, thanks to the work of historical preservation groups. The extensive efforts taken to rescue and restore these historic homes after decades of extreme weather, occasional neglect, and myriad changes in ownership reflect the high value our state places on residential architecture's role in capturing our colorful history. For instance, the Pabst Mansion today stands intact largely due to the efforts of Wisconsin Heritages Inc., a fledging preservation group that saved the popular Milwaukee destination from becoming a parking lot.
Personal stories bring life and balance to the book's wealth of architectural information. From the scandalous tales of the Dousman family of Prairie du Chien (later captured in two epic novels by August Derleth) to the story of the world's largest breeder of silver foxes--the four Fromm brothers of Hamburg--Connolly and Wasserman share the scandals, triumphs, and failures of Wisconsin's giants of commerce, industry and art. These intriguing family tales will satisfy the curiosity of the nosiest of neighbors who, like me, plot away in hopes of invitations into neighborhood homes.