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The Pritzlaff building complex: 136 years of history

By: Caley Clinton//February 28, 2011//

The Pritzlaff building complex: 136 years of history

By: Caley Clinton//February 28, 2011//

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A historic lithograph of the Pritzlaff Building complex shows the array of structures that made up the compound when it was owned by the Pritzlaff Hardware Co. in the early half of the 20th Century. (Image submitted by Kendall Breunig)

When German immigrant John Pritzlaff decided in 1875 to build a new home off Plankinton Avenue for his growing hardware company, he started with a Cream City Brick building at 325 N. Plankinton.

That first structure was the beginning of what would become a large complex that at one time included up to 20 buildings serving Pritzlaff Hardware Co., said Paul Jakubovich, Milwaukee preservation officer. The company went on to become one of the leading wholesale hardware firms in the Midwest and employed about 400 people at its peak, said Kendall Breunig, the property’s current owner.

The building complex’s location next to a railroad line was ideal for its catalogue-based business, Breunig said. A former train tunnel still runs along the western side of the Pritzlaff building at 143 W. St. Paul Ave., leading to the rail line that ran along the southern end of the building complex, off North Plankinton Avenue.

The area to the east of the 143 building was an alley until about 1910, Breunig said.

Pritzlaff Hardware Co. began to wind down in the 1950s, and in 1959, the Pritzlaff family sold the property to Hack’s Furniture, which operated there until 1984, when it closed.

The property was used for storage for many years until Breunig and his company, Sunset Investors-Plankinton LLC, Franklin, purchased the complex for $3 million in 2005.

The seven buildings that remain of the Pritzlaff complex are all connected and feature timber-frame construction and Cream City Brick, Breunig said.

The building complex is of historical note, in part, because it has retained so much of its original exterior, Jakubovich said.

“The storefronts were barely altered over the years, which is nearly unheard of,” he said. “Usually it’s something that changes every 10 to 15 years. It’s a rare survivor.”

A photo submitted by Breunig shows the exterior cleanup halfway through the process.


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