- Mar 1, 2019
- 3 min read
2005 Renovation: Restoring The Ambassador Hotel’s Original Art Deco Glory
The Ambassador Hotel has been a fixture on the west side of downtown Milwaukee since 1928. In 2018, the hotel celebrated its ninetieth anniversary. Designed in 1927 by architects Urban Peacock and Armin Frank, the structure boasts many of the hallmarks of Art Deco design. Its gleaming marble floors, stylized polished nickel sconces, bronze elevator doors and ornate plaster work made the hotel a favorite spot for society weddings and gatherings. Sadly, the hotel and the surrounding area fell into disrepair during the 1970s and 1980s. The hotel was purchased in 1995 by an alumnus of neighboring Marquette University. A slow, painstaking restoration over the next decade totally revamped the hotel’s image and vastly improved the entire neighborhood. Rooms were reconfigured to allow for more spacious accommodations and gleaming new bathrooms were installed. Dropped ceilings and drywall were removed to reveal intricate details and archways, along with vintage radios. The Ambassador Hotel’s ambitious $14 million restoration has served as a cornerstone in the rebirth of the surrounding neighborhood and its iconic rooftop sign once again beckons guests to enjoy a true Milwaukee legend.
Take a step back in time with us to 15 years ago when this historic building was renovated into the beautiful Art Deco Landmark that it is today!
The guest room floors were completely gutted and stripped of everything down to the cement floors and beams. All of the guest rooms were reconfigured by combining 2 or 3 rooms into larger, more luxurious rooms that exist today. There originally were 189 rooms but are currently 132 after the re-configuration. Original archways were preserved when rooms were renovated. Original doors and hardware were used for adjoining rooms. Bathroom tile work was replaced to closely match what would have been in place in 1928. The HVAC system was converted to a 4 pipe system. The original giant drum was removed from the basement, and smart thermostats were installed in the guest rooms.
The front desk area was completely gutted and the old front desk was removed. A back office was built and new desk was put in place.
The original neon sign that still is in use today, used to face towards the East until the mid-nineties when the current owners purchased the property. The sign originally said “Ambassador Motor Hotel”; the word motor let guests know they offered a place to park their car. Today, this iconic sign lights up the skyline and invites guests into downtown Milwaukee from afar.
When the hotel was bought in 1995, the beautiful marble & terrazzo floor was covered with carpet. The current owners removed a small section of the carpet and were amazed by what was underneath! With caution & tedious work, the carpet & carpet glue was successfully removed revealing the beaming lobby floors that you see today.
The detailed crown molding was hidden above a drop ceiling and removed during the renovation to expose the beautiful, detailed designs. When the plaster was removed from the walls, the cathedral radio openings were uncovered and reproductions of the radios are now in place, bringing back another icon of the Art Deco era.
The original bronze clad elevator doors are a main focal point in the lobby. Throughout the hotel lobby, you will notice the wall sconces that had been covered in paint for many years. When they were sent out to be restored, it was discovered that they were made of polished nickel. Another one of the uncovered hidden “gems” of the hotel.
Not only was the interior of the hotel renovated, but exterior restoration was done also. The ornate terra cotta on the exterior of the hotel was also brought down piece by piece, restored and re-installed to the façade. There were three houses located behind the hotel that were moved to vacant lots in the neighborhood to make room for hotel parking. Today, the hotel offers onsite parking in its surface lot or 300+ car parking garage.
The Envoy Restaurant & Lounge; formerly called Silver Room & Chandelier Room, became the food and beverage outlet for the renovated hotel. Historic elements remained throughout including iron detail, iron gates & decorative wood elements. Envoy was the hotel’s banquet room for many years with the lounge serving as the private bar for this area.
The hotel recently re-imagined each of their restaurant spaces in June of 2017. The Fitz (restaurant), Gin Rickey (lounge), and Cafe Deco (coffee shop).
Next time you visit us, be sure to check out all of the intricate Art Deco details that make this hotel 'Milwaukee's Premier Art Deco Hotel'!