The Bradley Foundation is institutionally “at home” in Milwaukee -- in the neighborhood where the Bradley brothers once lived and in the city where they established the family legacy that is the Foundation’s trust to preserve. The Foundation’s decisions to take on the stewardship of two historic and architecturally important buildings on the city’s East Side affirm the purpose as well as the place of the Bradley legacy, as restoration is an act in which respect for the past and faith in the future are equally implied.
Situated on a bluff commanding a wide and sweeping view of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee’s East Side was one of three original settlements that joined together to form the city. When the area was laid out in building lots for residential development, the most-preferred properties were located along Prospect Street, the road nearest the bluff overlooking the lake.
As the boundaries of the city extended, Prospect Street was extended further north, and today’s visitor can view outstanding examples of private residences reflecting building types from 1850 to the present day. The Bradley family home from 1892 to 1902 was located at 1619 North Prospect Street, not far from the historic First Ward Triangle Historic District, the present home of the Bradley Foundation.
The Foundation’s Lion House anchoring the historic First Ward Triangle is considered by the Historic American Buildings Survey as “the finest surviving pre-Civil War home in Milwaukee.” On October 11, 1852, immigrant Edward Diederichs purchased an empty lot for $425 and hired Mygatt and Schmidtner, a noted architectural firm, to design the building.
The house was built from 1852 through 1855, when workmen were paid four cents an hour. As the work progressed, land adjacent to the originally purchased lot was bought and used for both the building and its surrounding grounds. The total cost of erecting the Diederichs house is estimated at $20,000.
From the beginning, Diederichs planned the house to be singular and imposing structure. Towards the end of the construction process, the architectural firm assigned a young draftsman named Henry C. Koch to design the twin crouching lions that were to overlook Lake Michigan from a lofty position on the portico. They were to be Diederichs’ “signature” feature on an already-distinguished residence.
In June 1995, the Foundation purchased The Lion House for use as its headquarters -- viewing the purchase as in keeping with the goals and objectives of the institution in that it allowed the Foundation to return to the neighborhood in which the family had lived and vividly symbolized the presence of the Foundation in the civic community, where much of the family legacy is spread through the Foundation.
Extensive renovations and some expansions were made to The Lion House. The building’s interior had been substantially altered over the years, and one of the first major decisions involved restoring the floor plan as Diederichs knew it.
Using plans from Uihlein-Wilson Architects and approved by Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Commission, the renovations and expansion of The Lion House were pursued with great respect for the original design. Brickwork, interior design, and even the famous lions were restored to look as they did in the 1860s.
The Lion House is a unique showcase for period and other artworks, as well, a significant number of them on loan from the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The Foundation has since also purchased the Hawley and Bloodgood Houses, which are right next to The Lion House.