RICHLAND CENTER — Frank Lloyd Wright designed the four-story brick and concrete building to hold commodities like flour, sugar, tobacco, grains and other staples of the time.
More recently, however, the 16,000-square-foot A.D. German Warehouse has been a repository of eccentricity.
Harvey Glanzer purchased the building at 300 South Church St. in the 1970s and a few years later added a gift shop, tea room and a 42-seat theater on the first floor.
On the second floor, Glanzer displayed photographs, most twice the size of a sheet of plywood, that were intended to pay tribute to Wright. They included large-scale images of Taliesin West, the Johnson Wax Administrative building, Fallingwater and other well-known Wright-designed structures.
The business was open for a time and later, for a couple of years, only on June 8th, Wright’s birthday. For more than 25 years, however, few people other than Glanzer have been inside the building that was designed in 1915 and built between 1917 and 1921.
But that’s changing.
Glanzer died in 2011, and his estate last month sold the building for $90,000 to Glenn Schnadt, a retired banker.
Schnadt, 87, of rural Richland Center, made the purchase with the intention of holding it until a community group could raise the money to buy the historic structure, the only warehouse designed by Wright. If all goes as planned, the building would eventually be cleaned, updated with modern utilities and, after a feasibility study, put to good use again.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Lon Arbegust, when asked about potential uses. “You can say (it will be) just about anything except a warehouse.”
Arbegust, a local historian who is helping to form a nonprofit group to buy the building from Schnadt, said ideas have included music studios, office space and a brew pub. There also is talk of a gift shop and trying to lure Wright fans from Spring Green to tour the building, which just happens to be in Wright’s hometown.
“People need to see the building,” said Jane Kintz, another member of the restoration group. “I’m really excited about it.”
Kintz grew up in Richland Center and in the 1960s remembers coming to the warehouse with her father to retrieve barrels and other supplies stored there and used for the high school rodeo. When Kintz toured the building last week, she was amazed at the fourth floor, which houses a collection of old toilets, a peanut roaster, printing presses, a rusted potbelly stove, a dog sled and leftover items from when the building was designated a fallout shelter. The remnants include pillows, still wrapped in plastic and stored in wooden crates. The date stamped to the side of the crates indicates they were packed in 1955.
Kintz also found five kittens that were snuggled into a junk pile. She plans to keep Spot and Puff but is looking for a home for Frank, Lloyd and Wright.
“My father always felt we were lucky to have the building in our town,” Kintz said.
Behind the design
Wright, of course, was a master architect who traveled the world. The same year he designed the A.D. German Warehouse, he also 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 only 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, features tapered interior columns, an elevator and a concrete frieze around the top of the building. It was constructed on the site of the former Badger Hotel and adjacent to a warehouse German built in 1912.
German, who supplied area mercantiles with inventory, pressured Wright to add a music studio and later halted construction in 1921 when he ran out of money. German budgeted $30,000 for the project but spent more than $125,000, Arbegust said.
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.
“After that, it has changed hands many, many times, mainly being used in some sort of warehouse capacity,” Arbegust said. “Harvey Glanzer had a vision for it that never quite came to fruition.”
Structurally, according to Arbegust, the building is sound. Cosmetically, it’s a mess. The large photographs on the second floor have faded, are spattered with bird droppings and are in dire need of restoration. All that remains of the gift shop are empty display cabinets and a model of Monona Terrace. Instead of a movie screen in the Richland Center Lions Bicentennial Theater, there’s an RCA ColorTrak console television with a VCR player attached.
The skeletal remains of birds litter some of the floors, and the wooden steps leading to the upper floors are a hazard. Broken windows are common.
“There are years of work ahead of us,” Arbegust said.
Schnadt, who retired to Wisconsin in 1985 after his banking career in Barrington, Ill., said he’s confident the community can raise the money to restore the warehouse even though a major fundraising project is underway for the $5 million restoration of the Richland Center City Auditorium that opened in 1912.
“The auditorium, probably in the eyes of most people, takes priority over this building,” Schnadt said. “So we’ve got our challenges.”