Community room in former restaurant will be open to public
Port Washington State Bank is bringing its stately neighbor, the Wilson House building, 200 N. Franklin St., back to life after nearly a decade of being vacant.
The bank is in the midst of converting the first floor of the former restaurant and bar into a community room that will be available to non-profit groups as well as the bank.
The interior restoration work that will lead to the creation of the Port Washington State Bank Community Room is expected to be completed by the end of July.
At this point, stud walls outline the entire first floor.
“It is amazing how much can get done in 60 days when you don’t have to bother with exterior walls,” Senior Vice President James Schowalter said.
“With so much going on in downtown Port, like the Boerner Merchantile Building and the plans for the Port Exploreum, we felt now was the time to pull the trigger.”
The bank deliberately hired as many local contractors as possible to do the work, making the restoration a true community project.
Seating and furnishings salvaged from the restaurant were donated to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Sheboygan.
The centerpiece of the project will be a large, window-lined gathering area being created in what had been the restaurant dining room.
Brick facing will be put around the existing fireplace, and modern audio-visual capabilities will be added.
A caterers’ kitchen is being added where the commercial kitchen was located, opening the possibility of food being brought in for group meetings.
A large boardroom is also being created near the front entrance. It will have a seating capacity of 16.
“As the largest mortgage lender in the county, that is something we expect to be using a lot for things like mortgage closings,” Schowalter added.
The board room will be made available to local boards and businesses that lack large meeting space.
The bank has used the upper levels of the Wilson House building for offices since the 1980s.
The blending of the buildings on the inside had been done so adeptly it is difficult to tell where the bank building ends and the Wilson House begins.
The Cream City brick building dates to 1891, when it was the hub of downtown activity as a boarding house and restaurant.
Local historians note that the hotel served as a headquarters for firemen battling the Wisconsin Chair Co. fire of 1899, which threatened Port’s entire downtown.
More recently, a fine-dining restaurant and bar occupied the street level. The restaurant closed eight years ago.
“We gave some thought to finding another restaurant tenant for that space, but with our growing staff we needed the room for the bank,” President and CEO Steve Schowalter said.
Updating is also being done in the bank lobby, including the creation of a new waiting area and the addition of a play area for children of customers.
The bank, which was established in 1899, has 64 employees working out of its Port offices.
BANK OFFICERS Steve, Ron and James Schowalter reviewed plans for the Port Washington State Bank Community Room in the space that once was the Wilson House restaurant dining room.
Photos by Mark Jaeger