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Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin, Ondrasek Firehouse

​Ondrasek Law Office, S.C.

The Reporter, Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Dave Duley of Duley Painting and Roofing, Eldorado, works to restore the cupola atop the old tower of Aetna No. 5 Fire Station at 195 N. Main St. Restoration on the historic building continues for new owners Douglas and Barbara Ondrasek. A law office and mediation service is located on the first floor.

By Laurie Ritger
The Reporter
Local attorney will call it his office and home.
A local attorney took one look at an old Main Street firehouse and decided he would move his home and business into the building.
Douglas Ondrasek and his wife, Barbara, who is in the design business, learned one day last winter that the former Aetna No. 5 fire station, 195 N. Main St., was being sold.
The Ondraseks’ offer on the property was made and accepted the very next day by former owner, Richard Matthew.
“It is the single most historic building in the City of Fond du Lac,” longtime former library director Eugene McLane said. “It has more history than the Galloway House; it was built in 1874 with Milwaukee Cream City Brick.”
McLane said the building housed the city’s horse-drawn, steam-engine pumper fire engine.
“We’ve realized what an important structure Aetna No. 5 is with Fond du Lac,” Ondrasek said. “Just about every contact who comes up here is connected in some way with the firehouse.”
Ondrasek, a Fond du Lac native who has practiced law here the past 35 years, said he fondly recalls youthful days when his mother would take him along to Malady’s Meat Market, which was located across from the former fire station. The meat market site is now the Walgreen's property. If he was lucky, he’d get to see and hear the fire engines pull out of the station.
Little did Ondrasek know that one day he’d be calling the majestic structure home.
Italian architect Frederick Green constructed the building. The structure has been remodeled many times since, Ondrasek said.
“We have vintage pictures,” he added. “There is a bead board ceiling – it’s almost mahogany in color. We wanted to preserve that.”
McLane said Fond du Lac, in 1860, was the second-largest city in the state. At that time Milwaukee had a population of 77,000, followed by 12,000 in Fond du Lac, 4,500 in Green Bay and less in Oshkosh.
“Fire was a great enemy of all early cities,” McLane said.
The first settlers arrived in Fond du Lac in 1836 and the firehouse was built in 1874.
“It was a big, impressive building for the time with a watch tower and bell,” McLane said.
Former owner Richard Matthew said, at age 78, it was time to simplify his estate and sell the treasured building.
The Chicago firm that bought Matthew’s Talking House transmitter business was given a six-month lease.
“I hated to sell the building,” Matthew said. “I’ve become attached to it, for its historic nature. (But) I’m happy Doug (Ondrasek) bought it and that he’s preserving the outside. He was a real gentleman to do business with.”
Matthew said that as a condition of the sale, he left historical photos, but kept a 20-foot brass pole that was believed to be a portion of an original pole used by firefighters.
Decades ago, longtime residents say, the bell inside the tower was rung as a 10 p.m. curfew for children.
Matthew said as he showed the bell to Ondrasek, he decided to ring it – something he had never done in the six years he owned the building.
North Central Construction of Fond du Lac has been working to renovate the building.
Meanwhile, Dave Duley of Duley Painting and Roofing Inc., Eldorado, was suspended Monday from a scaffolding box 80 feet up as he worked to restore the cupola atop the old tower.
The cupola was used by firefighters to hang wet hoses to dry.
“We’re using plans and pictures to help keep memories alive, especially for youngsters who never knew it like I did,” Ondrasek said.
Matthew said he believes the Aetna name came from Aetna Insurance Companies. Years ago, he said, it was in the interest of insurance companies to own fire companies.
Old fire station accessories will be used with historic photos to decorate a portion of the building.
Ondrasek’s law office and new mediation service area is located on the first floor.
A commercial rental property has generated interest, but is not yet rented to anyone.
The Ondraseks moved May 1 into an upstairs apartment. His law office is set to open next week at its new location.
“People are really fond of this building,” Ondrasek said.
“Barbara and I looked to relocate here, improve the north part of Fond du Lac and Main Street.”
The fire station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Reporter, Wednesday, July 30, 2003
By Michael Mentzer
The Reporter
The historic tower atop the old Aetna No. 5 fire station building on North Main Street has a new lease on life.
The tower, which dates to 1874, was refurbished Monday and Tuesday by Dave Duley of Duley Painting and Roofing Inc. of Eldorado. Duley attracted plenty of attention on high as he scraped, power-washed, caulked, pounded and painted the old tower back into shape to withstand wind, sun and rain for another block of years.
Duley went about his business while reaching out to the tower from the security of a basket suspended by a crane 85 or more feet above the ground.
"There were serious signs of weathering and decay, especially on the south side," Duley said. "But it worked out well. I think it's going to be OK."
Local history buffs have expressed concern from time to time in recent years about suspected deterioration of the tower.
Special wooden pieces were made to replace missing and damaged pieces. A carpenter from Sheboygan was able to fashion a specially milled and bent portion of a window frame to replace a rotted section. Duley said.
Duley, 43, has been doing such high-profile projects in addition to the normal down-to-earth variety since 1988.
He says he's not bothered by heights and he feels right at home in the "man basket" suspended from the crane.
Duley said caulking of cracks and seams was the most challenging part of the project.
He said he enjoyed the view and got a close-up look at the bell that is still operational in the tower.
"I could see it real good," Duley said. "The date on the bell is 1877. It said West Troy, N.Y. Distribute to Fond du Lac."