Investing in Port’s historic firehouse

Lake Financial Group to renovate, move office to Mediterranean Revival style engine station that is on the National Register of Historic Places

PREPARING TO MOVE from their offices in the Boerner Mercantile Building on Franklin Street to the historic fire engine house at the corner of Wisconsin and Pier streets in downtown Port are members of the Lake Financial staff, including (from left) financial consultant Brad Katzer, co-managing partners Brian Barber and Justin Behm and office manager Nicole Depies. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington’s historic fire engine house at the corner of Wisconsin and Pier streets is getting a facelift — and a new use.

The building at 102 E. Pier St., which most recently was the home of Blue Heron Artisans Gallery, is being acquired by Lake Financial Group, which will move its offices there.

Lake Financial is outgrowing its current space on the second floor of the Boerner Mercantile Building on Franklin Street, co-managing partners Brian Barber and Justin Behm said.

“We love being here. The restoration Dan (Ewig, owner of the Boerner Building) has done is incredible and will serve as a good lesson for us,” Barber said.

“We grew up here and we’ve put our roots down here. We knew we wanted a building that was significant to Port’s story. We love the Boerner Building because it’s got a great story, and we knew we wanted to stay in downtown.”

Lake Financial opened its office in Port Washington six years ago but has grown from an office of two to six advisers and three other staff members, Barber said.

“We’re looking forward —where do we see ourselves in five years, 10 years?” he said. “Do we just want to be six advisers or do we want to be 10?”

They looked around downtown and settled on the former Blue Heron building, which they will purchase on Friday, the men said.

But as they’ve looked forward to closing the purchase, they’ve been making plans for the building as well — a sometimes complicated process since the building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009.

“You can’t just say you’re going to paint,” Barber said, noting changes must be run by the State Historical Society.

The building is described in the registry listing as a Mediterranean Revival-style firehouse with a red tile roof and hose drying tower that was designed by John Topzant and built in 1929.

It served as the city’s fire station until the current firehouse was built across the street in 1967. At that point, it became the city’s senior center, and after the center moved the property was sold to Jim and Bette Langford, who operated Blue Heron.

Among the changes they plan are removing the flooring on the first floor, then grinding and sealing the concrete flooring.

Because  large aggregate concrete was used on the floor when the building was constructed, Barber said, it will resemble terrazzo when it’s done.

The main entrance to the building will continue to be on its west side, where a knee-high wall will help define it.

The vestibule will remain and lead to the reception area, which will pay homage to the building’s roots.

“We’re going to tell the story of the firehouse with real memorabilia,” he said, noting photos and equipment will hang there.

The firm’s support staff will have their offices on the west side of the first floor, while the east side will be divided into two conference rooms to meet with clients.

Barber and Behm will have their offices on the first floor, while the other advisors will take up existing office space on the lower level.

The lower level banquet hall will remain, Barber said.

“We’ve heard from so many people who have had parties and events here how much they enjoyed it,” he said. “We heard from people loud and clear that they want this to remain.”

The banquet room will get a facelift and run by their wives Julia Behm and Andi Barber, the men said, adding it will be dubbed either Engine Room 102 or Engine House 102 — it’s still up for debate, they said.

As the firm grows, the men said, they plan to expand the offices into the unfinished attic space.

“The views there are not too shabby,” Barber said.

Outside, the building will get new paint and a new sign. A number of the decorative rafter tails that support the gutters need to be repaired, and the original copper gutters will get some renovations as well.

Outdoor seating, a front patio and a few other changes are also in the works, the men said.

They’re hoping to move their offices to the new space sometime in September and host a grand opening to show off the building in October.

“Once we get through these first few weeks, we’ll get a better idea of the timeline,” Behm said. “We come up with more ideas for the building every day. 

“We’re looking forward to getting in there and making it our permanent home.”

Their plans for the exterior of the building were reviewed Tuesday by the city’s Design Review Board, which complimented the planned work.

“It’s a beautiful building,” member Jeremy Hartline said.

That sentiment was echoed by former Fire Chief Marc Eernisse, an advisory member of the board, who said, “You have yourselves a gem, so take care of it.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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