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First national bank building

First National Bank, 735 N. Water Street
Eluhap Photography

The First National Bank building, also known as the First Wisconsin building, located at 735 N. Water Street, is one of Milwaukee's historic downtown buildings.

Located on the southwest corner of N. Water and E. Mason Streets the building's western facade fronts the Milwaukee River and is a charming part of the river walk with it's multi-leveled facade. The three-story tall base of the building is made up of granite pilasters and large bay windows. The first story is thirty-five feet tall and above the second floor is an entablature and the third floor is topped by another. The next ten stories of the sixteen-story building, consists of paired windows recessed in a plain-looking facade. The top three stories repeated the base scheme with large bay windows in the fourteen and fifteen floors that match the first floor and the sixteenth floor is topped with an interesting anthemion of honeysuckle and leaf topping the flat-roofed building.

The First National Bank building was one of two buildings in downtown Milwaukee produced by D.H. Burnham and Company of Chicago (the other was an addition to the Gimbels Department store across the river and a block south), which was considered one of the top firms in the country for architectural design.

At the time of it's construction, which began in 1912, the steel skeleton of the building was largest at the time in Milwaukee. When it opened on April 30, 1914, the First National Bank building was the tallest office building in the city. It opened to much fanfare and ten-thousand patrons toured the building.

In 1921, the First National Bank merged with the Wisconsin National Bank to form First Wisconsin National Bank, which maintained it's headquarters in the building until it moved to the First Wisconsin Center in 1973. A branch was operated in the building until 2000.

The building underwent a $2.5 million renovation in 2009, which included repairs to the decorative cornice that had been breaking apart.


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