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Razing the ‘unsightly’ American House for a ‘first class structure’
This photograph shows the White Block a few years after it was completed. Citizens Bank does occupy the north room and has an advertisement in the window on the east side. There is a barber pole on the north side and a sign that advertises soft water baths in the basement. Sam Buehler was operating a soft drink parlor in the basement through the entrance on the east side. Notice that the building was attached to the building to the west that was shown in the photo last week.

We saw in the previous columns that the American House had seen much use. In June 1883 Peter Wells offered the owners $5,500, or $100 a frontage foot, for the property. The Trickles would probably not have accepted $10,000 for the property at that time. Josh Trickle made some extensive and noticeable improvements to that property the following summer. 

By August 1886 Mr. Trickle was talking seriously about building a block of stores and an opera house or hotel on that corner. The Monroe Sentinel thought that would “be a dandy place for an opera hall, or guards’ armory, grocery stores, or a snugly built and convenient hotel fronting on Washington [11th] Street.” That never did happen while Trickle owned the property, but he did finally sell the property to local lumber entrepreneur F. F. White in February 1898.

Mr. White, who may have represented others, planned to demolish the “old rookery,” which housed a saloon and concert hall to build a modern building to house a bank and offices. It was mentioned that the new building might house an opera house or the guards’ armory. It would become a great ornament to that corner and would be a great improvement for the city. The community was hopeful that since the property had passed into other hands, something might now happen. Unfortunately, tenants held leases for the old Trickle property, so Mr. White had to delay the razing of the building. 

It was announced in August 1899 that Mr. White would build a fine brick-stone-iron block on that corner the following year. It was announced that he would include a modern opera hall in the upper stories. At that time Monroe only had the Wells Opera House, which had been converted from the former Baptist Church, and the old Turner Hall. Allen D. Conover, of the Conover & Porter architecture firm from Madison, was in town on January 2, 1900 to look the property over. The modern block was planned as soon as the building season opened in the spring. The Monroe Sentinel editorialized the next day, “At last that disgrace to Monroe’s business section is to be torn down. It’s a good thing, hustle it along!”

Mr. Conover was in Monroe two weeks later with the plans he had drawn. The drawing was for a three-story block 56 by 65 feet, with an eight-foot basement. The first floor was to have two rooms, one on the corner and the other fronting 16th Avenue but facing 11th Street. The entire second floor was to be divided into offices and the third floor was to be a hall for lodge purposes. The corner of the building was designed to be round. The entire block was to be of pressed brick to be an ornament to the square. After a few alterations, Mr. White accepted the plans. When Mr. White was asked about the cost of the new building, he stated that he intended to put up a first class structure that would be a credit to Monroe and an ornament to the square, but that he did not know just what it would cost.

The January 26 paper said that the new building would be a modern, fireproof structure of pressed brick and white stone trimmings and decorations. It was to be three stories high and would have a “lofty and roomy basement underneath.” The corner store room on the first floor was to be built as an ideal banking room if it was leased to the Citizens Bank. It was to be furnished in hard wood and would have good light since two sides of the room were to be glass.

There were to be two other store rooms, one on 11th Street and one on 16th Avenue, but it was unknown at that time who the tenants would be. The basement was to be lighted by “prismatic sidewalk lights” making the most remote corners of the room as light as day. 

The old American House was sold to Mr. Phillips, the piano and organ dealer, for $30. The April 25 newspaper stated that he was given 2 weeks to remove it. Not much more was reported about the razing of the old American House. 

Jack Leahey, who operated a saloon, was the last occupant to vacate the old building about May 8. A Sentinel article on May 9 said, “The old rookery on the southwest corner of the square looks as though a cyclone had struck it. Many of the old timers are standing around the progressing ruins with tears in their eyes.” The newspaper also stated, “Thus one of Monroe’s most unsightly buildings will soon be a thing of the past.” During the demolition, “Someone was mean enough to steal about eight feet of a two-inch lead waste pipe that connected the bath tubs in Billy Ashworth’s barber shop with the sewer. The removal of the corner building exposed the pipe to the eagle eyes of some junk dealer. Some of them are in the habit of carrying off everything in sight.”

As early as the end of January, the Masons were expecting to lease the entire third story and Citizens Bank were after the corner room on the ground floor. By the end of April, it had been decided that the bank would definitely occupy the lower floor of the new block while Etter & Treat would occupy the former location of the bank on the south side of the square. 

Unfortunately, Francis F. White [1846-1900] passed away from tuberculosis of the lungs at midnight on Saturday, May 19, before construction was even started on his new block. Mr. White had seen the original plans for the block, but did not even get to see the final plans, which were brought to Monroe in mid-June. Bids for the new block were immediately sought, with bids expected from contractors from Madison, Freeport, and Janesville. The contract was to be let by July 1 so the building could be completed by early winter.

More will be shared about the building of the White Block in the next three columns.

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and a local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in the Times. He can be reached at or at 608-325-6503.