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From a 150 year old dilapidated farm house to the Fiserv Forum; how 1800’s cream city brick made it back to city of its birth.

By Tom Svoboda 8 months ago 12064 Views 1 comment

An 1800's era Wisconsin farmhouse built with "cream city brick"

It was February of 2016 when I first received the request for samples from the design team at Populous, the famed architectural firm known for their work building sports arenas. They were interested in using our model V-03 reclaimed “Cream City” thin brick veneer in the food service areas of the planned new Milwaukee NBA arena. We send out samples all the time, to architects, designers, business owners and homeowners. Of course, our product is not used in the final design every time- we just send the samples out right away and hope for the best.

Flash forward to the summer of 2017. I received an email saying that my product was specified for several beverage center areas of the new arena. They would use a couple of thousand feet, along with corner units. This was great news! We like all orders, but it is cool to be used in such a prominent public building, millions of people will go through this facility during its lifespan. There was only one issue- we were down to our last couple hundred feet of cream city brick. We didn’t know exactly where our material was coming from.

Fortunately, I have made many contacts throughout the state of Wisconsin over the years. I sent a message out to all my demolition contacts to let them know I was looking for Cream City brick. I was relieved when my guy Matt, who does architectural salvage in southern Wisconsin called me the next week. He was working on a farmhouse from the 1860’s, and he said it was built of cream city brick and it was coming down next week.

Cream city brick is unique. Due to a lack of iron in the clay deposits, the brick that was made in the towns along the southeast shores of Lake Michigan fired to a light cream color.It was made from the time of the first European settlers in the 1800’s up until around 1920’s when the clay reserves were being used up. The brick made earlier in this span produced harder, lighter colored brick. Towards the ending years of production, the clays deeper in the ground were producing brick that was more of a darker yellow color, with the product not as hard or with cleaner sharp edges. For making a thin brick veneer, we have always preferred the earlier brick, which is becoming harder and harder to come by.

The day after Matt called I pulled up to a tired and worn farmhouse on the outskirts of Janesville WI. Two stories high, with blue green painted window trim. The windows were gone, the property was overgrown. I found him upstairs, carefully salvaging window casings next to a wall that showed the history of the interior in layers. The wall was partially torn out in a spot, and you could see the plaster from the opposite wall leaking through the lathe, then topped by a wall that had 2 layers of 1800’s period wallpaper. They don’t make them like they used to. It is a history lesson in building methods and interior design to be in one of these structures as it is being dismantled.But what I cared about was the color and condition of the brick, and it was exactly what I was hoping for. It was the older, lighter colored, beautiful cream city brick that I needed to fulfill the order for the Bucks stadium. I made Matt a deal to buy the brick on the spot. The building came down, the brick was cleaned of mortar and palletized, and they arrived at our cutting shop the following week.

A walk through a 19th century demolition in progress is history lesson in building methods and design

We cut these into ½” thick veneer tiles, along with single piece L shape corners to match.They were shipped up to Milwaukee the following spring.

Last month, I found some time to go up and visit the new Fiserv forum, which along with serving the Milwaukee Bucks, hosts concerts and other events, and is the home to the Marquette University Golden Eagles basketball team. I attended a Marquette vs the Providence Friars game. I am a Big Ten basketball fan, so I honestly didn’t care who won this Big East game. I just wanted to see what had become of that beat-up old farmhouse I had taken a death bed tour of just a year and a half earlier.The stadium was the most modern looking arena I had ever been in, with concourses that were open to the seating bowl and playing floor.Patrons could get a beer and a sandwich and never be away from the roar of the crowd or if they went to the edge of the concourse, a view of the action.This was a great departure from any indoor stadium I had ever visited, I was accustomed to walking through a tunnel to a separate hallway ringing the actual arena, where you might as well be in a different building.The Fiserv is different, except to use the restrooms, you are always right there in the action, amongst the cheering crowd, even if you are in line at the beer stand.And speaking of the beer stand- there it was in all its original glory, my cream city farmhouse. It stood there, framing the Miller beer stand, and completely reborn.A tour of the stadium brought me to the other beverage centers in the arena that were clad in this same veneer, the Door County Distillery stand, a Jack Daniels stand and the Leinenkugel’s beer stand (this one was PAINTED but I will forgive them, the original cream didn’t go with the white/red theme of the Leinie’s Logo). It was a beautiful to see antique material worked into the design of what is otherwise an ultra-modern structure.

It was a pleasure to play a small part in the birth of this new stadium, a great to see a piece of Milwaukee history was repurposed for use in a 21st century arena.