Milwaukee is known for being a town with a rich history of beer with Pabst probably being one of the better known breweries to come out of Milwaukee. Although Pabst has been around since the late 1880’s, Pabst’s history actually started about 40 years earlier. In 1844 a German immigrant named Jacob Best Sr started the Best and Company Brewery with his four sons; Jacob Jr, Charles, Phillip and Lorenz. By 1850 Charles and Lorenz parted ways with the family business and created their own brewery, Plank Road Brewery (later bought by Miller Brewing). By 1853 Jacob Sr retired, leaving Phillip in charge. Phillip changed the name of the brewery to Phillip Best Brewing Company (although I am more fond of just Best Brewing, who wouldn’t want to drink the Best Beer?)
By 1860 Maria, Phillip Best’s daughter had met Captain Frederick Pabst. They married two years later and by 1864 Pabst had purchased half of the Phillip Best Brewery. The second half of the brewery was bought by Emil Schandein, the husband of Best’s second daughter. Best later passed in 1869 but he was able to rest assure as he left the brewery in good hands. Pabst and Schandein ran the brewery together for about 19 years until Schandein passed away, leaving Pabst sole ownership of the brewery. 8 months after Schandein’s passing Pabst renamed the brewery to Pabst Brewing Company. By 1890 Pabst had decided to build a suitable home for his family. The home’s location was in a highly affluent neighborhood on Grand Avenue. The original cost of the home was projected to be $75,000 USD. This included 3 floors with 37 rooms including 10 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces and a respectable 20,000+ square feet (1858.1 meters squared). All total the cost of the house came in at $254,614 USD (compared to today’s money that would be $32.7 Million USD). A few additions to the house were responsible for the increase, such as the Pabst pavilion used at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The pavilion is now used as the house’s gift shop.
I had arrived early in the morning and self-toured the grounds of the mansion. As the tour time neared I made my way to the gift shop to purchase a ticket and took in the great detail around the house, such as the stone carved hop vines that wrapped themselves around the exterior pillars. I could tell I was in a brewers house as the beer details were carried on throughout the house. I’ll leave it for a surprise, but you may be asked by the docent what the carved finials on the staircase are. If you are a beer geek it should be easy to identify what they are. The tour departed from the gift shop, where we were greeted at the front door by the docent. We entered into the foyer, and were submersed in dark woods and heavy furniture. As we toured the house I noticed something peculiar about the house. Although it was very beautiful and ornate, it had a somewhat Jekyll and Hyde decorating style. Captain Pabst was proud of his German heritage and chose decor the represented that; dark woods and heavy wood furniture. Whereas Mrs. Pabst was fond of lighter colors, most often choosing pink coloring. Her decor taste was very French inspired. It left the house a little disjointed but I guess when you have a house with 37 rooms it may become tiresome to have it all look the same. I think probably one of the most fascinating parts of the home decor were the doors. What ever room the door faced in to, the door’s wood and carvings would match the room it faced. There were many doors that were two-sided, matching the interior of the room it faced. You have to have a lot of money to do something like that, I would think!
Captain Pabst passed away on New Year’s Day in 1904 followed two years later in October by Mrs. Pabst. The Pabst children decided to sell the mansion in 1908 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The mansion became the archbishop’s home and remained with the church for about 60 years. During these 60 years the house went through many changes including painting of walls, which has led to a painstakingly long restoration now that the house has transitioned to a museum. In addition to the touches of beer inspired decor the house does not skip a beat on details. The carpets, tiles, furniture,even the bedding all tied together with the design of each room. We toured one of the daughter’s rooms that had been recently restored at a cost of $250,000 USD… which just so happens to match the cost of the house back in 1892! Another interesting detail of the house was the inspirational German proverbs found in Captain Pabst’s study. The four German proverbs were translated into Learn, Strive, Honor and Wait. Also found in the study was a letter from Captain Pabst to his children with his final wishes. The letter is a powerful statement and I found the below quotes most inspiring:
“Be generous and unselfish to each other in case of need and above all, be honest and noble, in all your dealings, not only with each other, but with the world. I want you to always have a good name. It is better than riches, and your greatest happiness will come from your knowledge of doing right.”
It is a bit of a run on sentence but they guy has a point.