Some history of Milwaukee County is not immediately visible to the naked eye. The building that houses the Wisconsin Athletic Club on Watertown Plank Road is an example of that hidden past.
Heidi Fendos of Fendos PR obtained information from the Wauwatosa Historical Society regarding the history of the building. The WHS said the building that currently houses the WAC was built over the original County Institutions' Fire Station. The original building was constructed in 1905, designed by Wolfe & Ewrens Architects and featured a blend of Flemish German Renaissance Revival and Italianate architecture.
“The historical aspect of this building makes it a truly unique experience for anyone working out," Keith Nygren, partner of Wisconsin Athletic Club said. "As far as we know there is no other club in Wisconsin, possibly the U.S., that has this kind of ambiance and history. It’s clearly not a run of the mill health club.”
The fire station remained in operation until 1981, answering an average of four calls per week.
In the early 1900s, horse-drawn ladder wagons were used for fire prevention and the building was designed with that in mind. An example is a tower that was constructed on the front of the structure that was used for drying the hoses while the hoses hung at full length.
Over the years the building has been remodeled and redesigned several times to accommodate the needs of the firefighters.
In the 1920s a second-floor addition added sleeping quarters and a brass pole was installed so firefighters could reach the garage below when an alarm was received. Also a kitchen was added to the first floor and the garage doors were enlarged to accommodate the wider fire trucks. It was during this period that the station's fire chiefs began to live in a home that was located to the right of the fire station.
From the 1920s to 1980, several other additions were made to the building to serve the needs of the County Institutions' Engineering and Maintenance Department which also moved into this facility.
The Engineering Department oversaw all construction for the institutions and dealt with matters pertaining to the operations and mechanical maintenance. The Maintenance Department conducted all repairs of buildings, machinery, equipment and facilities at the County Hospital, which included an extensive preventative maintenance program. In addition, a communication center on the second floor of the building received all county-related fire, police and ambulance calls between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In 1981, the original two–story building that served as the fire station for the county institution was vacated when Wauwatosa was contracted to provide fire protection for the county grounds. The original building along with the tower that was constructed in 1905 was demolished in 1998. However, all of the building’s additions were retained, renovated and incorporated into the WAC which opened a year later.
Guests using the WAC facility can look up in the club’s facility to see a window that used to lead to the fire station bedrooms. The smaller gym area used to be a paint booth for the maintenance area, and the original trusses and Cream City brick can be seen throughout the building.