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Renovated Historic Third Ward Building Gives Old Roof the Boot

Milwaukee’s industrial history is steeped in leather-related businesses. By 1890, the city was the largest producer of leather in the world. It was an industry fed by the many meatpacking plants here, and that in turn fed other businesses, including the manufacturing of shoes and boots.

One of those companies was the F. Mayer Boot and Shoe Co., who made major statements with its buildings. While the company is no longer in existence, the buildings are, and both are benefitting from roofing system work of F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing Co.

In this issue, we’ll look at the Mayer Boot and Shoe building on the southeast corner of Water Street and St. Paul Avenue in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. The other roofing project is on the F. Mayer Boot and Shoe Co. building on the north edge of downtown, commonly known as “The Fortress.”

While the Third Ward building is now eight stories high, it was originally constructed as a three-story building in 1910. The remaining stories were added between 1915 and 1926, giving the building a total of 100,000 square feet. The design was unique in its use of white and ivory glazed terra cotta tile covering the concrete structure.

A variety of businesses used spaces in the building after Mayer vacated it, and more recently, tenants included organizations such as the Kho-Thi Dance Company and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Now it’s a mix-use building, with apartments, offices and retail space.

Significant work was done to modernize the building for its current use, but it still had an old roof that had leaks, noted Todd Samuel, an FJAC project manager.

The old built-up roofing system would be replaced with a new built-up system. That’s not complicated work, but the location in the densely built Third Ward did present challenges. With the Public Market across the street and many other stores, offices and apartments in the area, the intersection of Water Street and St. Paul Avenue is extremely busy. Blocking off a lane of either of the streets would have been problematic. Fortunately, the building’s parking lot provided the space needed for staging and to position the FJAC crane that would be needed to remove debris from the existing roof, and hoist materials for the new roof.

The old roof was removed down to the wood deck, which was in good shape, Samuel noted.  One very unique aspect of the building’s final construction was the placement of the stairway penthouse structure above the roof deck.  Because the penthouse structure impeded water flow from the higher roof edge to a lower interior roof drain located opposite the structure, a custom chase was built to channel water through the structure’s base.

As the building has an insulated attic, the new four-ply, built-up roofing system included a half-inch layer of perlite insulation below the built-up roof consisting type IV felts and inter-ply moppings of type III asphalt.  For protection from UV, fire and foot traffic, the system is finished in a flood coat of hot asphalt and embedded pea gravel.

Along with the challenge posed by the congested neighborhood, some of the mechanicals on the 11,700-square-foot roof had low clearances underneath, making access difficult.

Sheet metal work included new counterflashings, but the existing copings were kept due to their historical nature.

“The building owner has made a lot of improvements to the building in recent years, and that’s all now protected by a new long-term roof system,” Samuel said.

The building remained occupied during the roofing project and remains watertight for many years thanks to roofing Superintendent Dan Ott, sheet metal Superintendent Jeff Keller, sheet metal Foreman Mark Mytton, and roofing Crew Manager Gerardo Garcia.