Downtown Renovation Unveils 19th Century Bull Durham Ad

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Construction workers renovating a former La Crosse bank have uncovered a remnant of the city’s history.

Contractor Craig Jambois and his crew were gutting the Tausche Hardware building at 203 S. Fourth St. this week when they discovered the underside of a bull standing above the letters T-O-B painted on the bricks of a common wall with the Fayze’s restaurant building.

The animal’s upper body was obscured by the third floor; whatever extended beyond the building’s back wall has long since been painted over.

“I bet that’s Bull Durham,” said an electrician with an eye for art.

Once among the world’s largest tobacco manufacturers, W.T. Blackwell & Co. sold tobacco under the Bull Durham brand, which was promoted in the late 1800s with an aggressive outdoor advertising campaign.

Painters roamed the country splashing the bull on billboards and the sides of buildings. In fact, Bull Durham ghost signs have been uncovered during demolition projects in cities across the nation.

The ad was painted on the south wall of 137 S. Fourth St., built in the mid-1880s by Frank Doerre to house his hardware store.

A Bavarian tinner who had made his way upriver to La Crosse, Doerre later sold the business to fellow hardware merchant Vincent Tausche, whose name would adorn it and two adjacent buildings for most of the 20th century.

The bull hadn’t seen the light of day since 1891, when John Lienlokken built a bank on the adjacent lot.

Born in Norway, Lienlokken came to Wisconsin with his father in 1860 and settled in the town of Washington, where he was town clerk before serving five terms as La Crosse County treasurer, according to his obituary in the La Crosse Tribune.

In 1886, he ran for mayor of La Crosse as a Republican, finishing a distant third to popular incumbent Doc Powell and Democrat George Scharpf.

Having served as cashier of the Union National Bank, Lienlokken opened his own bank just before the panic of 1893, a financial crisis that led to the nation’s worst depression to date.

“The panic years of the nineties resulted disastrously for Mr. Lienlokken,” the Tribune wrote. “And in 1896 his bank was forced to the wall.”

City directories show Lienlokken later dealt in fire insurance and steam ship tickets. He then headed west, working in South Dakota real estate before he died unexpectedly in Montana after an operation for an unknown ailment.

His bank building provided office space for attorneys, a doctor, a music teacher, artist and tailors — as well as a basement barber shop — before it was eventually taken over by Tausche.

Architectural historian Les Crocker described the Lienlokken building as “one of the most distinctive of the late 19th century examples in the city.” It is also the last to feature a basement accessible from the sidewalk, according to a 1983 report by the Commission on City Historical Sites.

In more recent years the Tausche building — as it is labeled on the cornice — was home to Salon Medusa.

Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions acquired it in 2008 and plans to build four luxury apartments above a first-floor retail space.

“People want to be in those historic buildings,” said developer Marvin Wanders, who completed a similar makeover of the Monet building on Main Street in 2011 and plans to do the same with 411 Jay St., which shares an alley with the Tausche building.

Wanders notes that Lienlokken used hard brick, unlike the softer material found in many downtown structures.

“He actually should have gone into the construction business,” Wanders said. “He really built a nice building there.”

The vault remains in the first floor retail space. Workers demolished the 20-inch brick walls on the second floor, where it had since been converted to a kitchen.

It’s not clear whether the bull will be allowed to stand in what will be a shared hallway.

Because the project is subsidized with historic preservation tax credits, designs are subject to approval of the National Park Service. The wall is supposed to be covered the way it was when the building was constructed.

“We’re going to send them some photos,” Wanders said.

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