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Frank Lloyd Wright warehouse closer to restoration

The A.D. German Warehouse stands in Richland Center on Oct. 16. The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a native of Richland Center. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

The A.D. German Warehouse stands in Richland Center on Oct. 16. The building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a native of Richland Center. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Wisconsin State Journal

RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. (AP) — There are no restrooms, running water or heating or air-conditioning systems. There is a functioning freight elevator, but it’s powered by hand, thanks to a series of ropes and pulleys.

And electricity is scarce. That’s why Derek Kalish was recently forced to use the flashlight app on his smartphone to show off the basement of the A.D. German Warehouse, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s largest buildings in Wisconsin.

Kalish is among those trying to help a nonprofit organization reinvigorate the city’s downtown both economically and culturally. One of their goals is to raise money to bring life back to the three-story, brick building that was put up between 1917 and 1921 to house commodities such as flour, sugar, tobacco and grains, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

The structure’s days as a warehouse are long past. Officials here are now trying to turn it into a center for events and perhaps artists, small businesses and a museum.

The rooftop could be used for special events and have a bar with sweeping views of the downtown and surrounding hills. As for the basement, Kalish believes it could be a place well-suited to housing racks of aging Gouda, cheddar, Emmentaler and other cheeses, or perhaps barrels of whiskey from southwest Wisconsin artisans clamoring for aging space.

“The vision is that anything’s possible,” Kalish said as he pointed his phone toward the back of the 4,000-square-foot basement. “You have to endlessly explore whatever option you can and consider everything, even if it sounds crazy. You have to have a passion for this, and you have to believe in the project, and you have to believe in the benefits of the project and how it’s going to affect the community that we live in as well.”

After a somewhat slow start in 2012, the campaign to save the A.D. German Warehouse Conservancy has been gaining momentum and money. Organizers have raised about $2 million of the $4.1 million needed to restore the brick building, which may have few windows but does feature a concrete frieze resembling designs from a Central American Mayan temple.

The conservancy is hoping to begin exterior work on the building next spring, repairing the crumbling frieze and doing some tuckpointing. The $1.3 million first phase also calls for turning the first floor into an event space, sprucing up the basement and re-doing the rooftop space.

About $600,000 worth of private donations have been raised so far and the project has been approved for $1.2 million worth of historic tax credits. Last month, the warehouse received a boost when it was one of 41 projects in 23 states, and one of just two in Wisconsin, to receive a Saving America’s Treasures Grant. The A.D. German Conservancy will receive $360,000 and have $720,000 on hand after it matches the donation.

“We were competing with major cities like Los Angeles and New York, the entire country,” Kalish said. “So for little ole Richland Center to get that much money, and even just the recognition alone, is kind of a big deal. It’s huge.”

Of course, there is arguably no bigger name in U.S. architecture than Wright, who was born in Richland Center and went on to design buildings around the world from his studios at Taliesin in nearby Spring Green.

The same year he designed the A.D. German Warehouse, Wright sailed to Tokyo, where he designed the Imperial Hotel. Two years earlier, in 1913, he designed Midway Gardens, an indoor and outdoor entertainment center in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Of those three buildings, only the warehouse in Richland Center remains and is the sole example from that decade “in which Wright used sculptural ornamentation so extensively,” according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Heritage Tourism Program.

The warehouse, built concurrently with the Imperial Hotel, has tapered interior columns and is structurally sound. It was put up on the site of the former Badger Hotel and stands next to a warehouse German built in 1912.

German, who supplied area sellers with inventory, is believed to have commissioned Wright to design the building after Wright fell thousands of dollars in debt to German. German, for his part, budgeted $30,000 for the project but spent more than $125,000.

German lost the warehouse to bankruptcy in the 1920s, got it back in 1935 and lost it again a few years later before leaving town. There was then a series of owners until Harvey Glanzer bought the building in the 1970s and later added added a gift shop, tea room and a 42-seat theater on the first floor.

On the building’s second floor, Glanzer displayed photographs paying tribute to Wright. Most of them were twice the size of a sheet of plywood. They included large-scale images of Taliesin West, the Johnson Wax Administrative Building in Racine, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania and other well-known Wright-designed structures.  Glanzer died in 2011. Last month, his estate sold the building for $90,000 to Glenn Schnadt, a retired banker, who ultimately gave the building to the conservancy. Glanzer’s photos and remnants of his gift shop remain.

“This is really a plum and something that should be restored,” said Mike Meadows, 84, who for nearly five decades worked in and later owned his family’s furniture store in Richland Center’s downtown. “I think people are more educated (about the building), and I think the timing is right. We have a wonderful group of people (helping on the project) and from all walks of life, and this could bring people here from around the world.”

One person drives from Chicago every other week to volunteer as a docent when the warehouse is open for public tours. Kalish, 37, works at the county courthouse, where he is deputy county clerk and an accounting supervisor. Kalish grew up in Richland Center, and has an art history degree from UW-Madison and an appreciation for architecture. He traveled the country managing stores for retailer Abercrombie & Fitch but found his way back to his hometown, thinking he and his husband would stay for a only a few years.

“Our paths are determined for a reason, and there’s a reason that my path has led me back to Richland Center,” Kalish said. “If it’s this or other things I’m not sure, but this has consumed a large part of my time for the past couple of years, so perhaps this is one of those reasons.”

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