United States Courthouse and Federal Building, Milwaukee WI


United States Courthouse and Federal Building, Milwaukee WI

Scope of work:

Tile and Mosaic Restoration

Project description:

The United States Courthouse and Federal Building in Milwaukee has one inch by one inch hand-cut marble tile flooring throughout its corridors. Over a century old, this flooring has seen much foot traffic and repairs, some using inappropriate techniques that resulted in further damage. Marion was contracted to replace individual broken tiles and deteriorating grout, as well as to repair cracks and separated mortar bedding below the tiles.

Larger cracks that span the width of the corridor hint that there are problems below the surface. Most often, these cracks are a result of structural shifts in a building putting stress on inflexible grout and mortar bedding. A lime mortar was originally used in the tile flooring. This is a softer, porous material that flexes with structural movements. It is evident that areas of the flooring were repaired using Portland cement as bedding mortar and grout instead. Portland cement is a modern material known for its compressive strength and lack of flexibility, thus cracking under stress.

To remedy these cracks, tiles are removed four deep on either side of the crack and those unbroken are kept for re-use. Then the first layer of bedding mortar is removed, exposing the top of the lower bedding mortar and the base of the crack. Heritage Injection Grout is then injected into the crack and its surroundings to infill all damaged areas.

Finally, the mosaic tiles are reinstalled one-by-one like assembling a puzzle because of their unique shapes. Many of the original tiles are reused, some are stock from when the Federal Building was initially constructed, and any extras needed are cut by hand from matching marble.The floors are then cleaned and polished, revealing seamless patch repairs and restoring the historic quality of the United States Courthouse and Federal Building.

Courthouse History

The “Crown Jewel” of Milwaukee, the United States Courthouse and Federal Building was built in 1899 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Known for its monolithic granite exterior and 5-story glass atrium interior, this building housed multiple governmental institutions, including the U.S. Post Office and U.S Courts.

After 1968, when the U.S. Post Office relocated and the courts expanded, the southern corridors of the atrium were enclosed to make room for new offices.

Two decades later, the United States Courthouse and Federal Building earned its National Historic Landmark status, and thus began the ongoing extensive restoration that continues today.To restore the open balconies in the atrium, the southern third floor offices are now demolished, revealing the damaged historic mosaic tile flooring that lines the corridors. Marion Restoration is currently repairing the tile floor to its original condition on the south run of the third-floor corridor.