Matthew Prigge Lecture

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doctoral student Matthew J. Prigge will present a lecture about the incredible tale of Cora Anderson, a Milwaukee woman who passed for nearly a decade as a man named Ralph Kerwineo. As Kerwineo, Anderson lived openly with her partner, Mamie White, and was able to obtain “men’s work” and make a steady living for herself and White. In 1914, ‘Kerwineo’ left White and legally married a younger woman, driving White to expose her former partner to the police. The arrest of Anderson/Kerwineo set off a tumultuous week in which Anderson told her fantastic tale and the nation gaped in wonder at the “Girl-Man of Milwaukee.”

The lecture will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., Wisconsin Room, Second Floor.

This event is co-sponsored by the UWM Department of History and the Milwaukee Historical Society.

Milwaukee Civil Defense

The late 1950s was a time of fear far beyond what we experienced post 9/11 and still today. The Cold War and nuclear armageddon hysteria was reaching its climax all across the country. The Civil Defense Administration spent untold billions building fallout shelters and mobilizing local governments for evacuation plans.

Milwaukee, as an industrial center was a potential target of Soviet long range bombers and later ICBMs. On July 20, 1956, the first of many large scale civil defense exercises was planned across the entire country. Two nuclear bombs, each with the equivalent of 100,000 tons of TNT were “dropped” on Milwaukee in the simulation. Evacuation plans had already been drawn up the previous year as shown in the map below. The day of the simulation at 2:10pm, Conelrad (Civil Defense Radio Network) halted all radio and television broadcasts to explain the exercise to citizens. The emergency government of Milwaukee including Mayor Ziedler had evacuated to St. John’s Academy in Delafield. The exercise was meant to acquaint civil and military leaders as well as the public with the realities of survival from a nuclear war. Approximately 180,000 people were anticipated to die in the Milwaukee area from the bombs.

The result of the simulation was a large push for building more public and personal fallout shelters and stockpiling them for survival in the aftermath. Evacuation plans were solidified and signs were placed along the routes to clearly mark where people were meant to escape. Even before this in the early 1950s, schools had naive educational programs to teach their students survival, including “Duck and Cover”.

The Neenah Historical Society will begin an exhibition on May 1st about personal fallout shelters and plans for surviving nuclear holocaust.

Charles Whitnall Lecture

Historian Katherine Kaliszewski will be giving a lecture on the subject of her thesis, Charles B. Whitnall at the UWM Union this Thursday, April 18th at 2pm. Stop by and learn some insight about the father of Milwaukee’s park system.

Mayor Zeidler on WTMJ

The UWM Digital Archives started a new blog earlier this year showcasing their collections and giving behind the scenes look at their work. An interesting blog post from last month shows the WTMJ Newsfilm collection and several films on Mayor Zeidler from the early 1960s.

A great segment that was broadcast in 1960 tells the story of all of the work the mayor does as part of his job and the employees that work under him.

UWM Archives also has a Youtube channel which shows these videos and several others.

H.C. Koch Civil War Diaries

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week about the purchase of Civil War sketchbooks by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Bobby Tanzilo of found out about this book which was being sold by a dealer in Canada for over $10,000 and word must have got around to the Historical Society and they scraped together money to buy this one of a kind book for their collection.

Henry Koch spent his time during the war preparing many maps under the command of Lt. Col. G. L. Gillespie. His job was as an Assistant Cartographic Engineer and he prepared very detailed maps of various battlefields which were used for the reports of General Sheridan.

After the Civil War H.C. Koch returned to Milwaukee where he went on to become one of the city’s most famous architects. He designed the City Hall among many other well known buildings.

The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee Project

Join UWM professor Amanda Seligman Wednesday night at 7:30pm as she explains the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee project at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

MKE Memoirs – Historical Society’s New Blog

The Milwaukee County Historical Society has started to find new ways to engage the public in the last few years. With Scott Stroh as the new executive director since mid-2011, there have been many changes for the better including exhibitions and lectures which have been well attended. Because they are using more of the building space for these events, they are finding new ways to curate their collection and present history. One newer way they are doing this is with the introduction of a blog called MKE Memoirs with articles written by their archivists and curators. These blog articles allow the Society to reach a new generation with their collection of artifacts and archives. As an online blog it is easy to engage many people and to get feedback and discussion. The latest article from February 11th talks about the old Bijou Opera House and “How a Milwaukee Opera House Kick Started the Fight for Civil Rights.”

MKE Memoirs

Milwaukee County Interactive Mapping

Milwaukee County has a powerful online mapping tool which integrates a fully featured Geographic Information System, GIS. There are many layers that give useful information including historic aerial photos of the city and county going back to 1936. The 1951 aerial photo layer was completed in January which shows a highly detailed view of the entire county. Hopefully later this year an additional aerial photo set from 1928 will be included.

Also for those interested, there is up to date housing foreclosure information updated at the end of the year. As with any government GIS map, finding information on property owners is a simple click away. There is a little learning curve for people unfamiliar with using GIS maps but you cannot break it so play with it to learn.

Grand Warner Theatre Trust

I realize that not everyone uses Facebook but sometimes there are things you can only find there. This page is for a group called the Grand Warner Theatre Trust that is trying to resurrect the old theater on 2nd & Wisconsin. From the Facebook page:

Recently, a Trust headed by Myron Heaton was formed to explore purchasing and restoring the theatre. They met with architecture firm, contractors, representatives of the city, and potential funders of the project in December. Stay tuned for more info.

Hopefully they can get enough support to bring this ghost of the past back to life and I can encourage everyone interested in this theater to show their support. I will post more information as it appears.

HMI January Panel Discussion

The East Side Commercial Historic District: From Controversy to Catalyst

The HMI panel discussion on Thursday night, January 17th talked about many recent issues and changes that have happened in the East Side Commercial Historic District. This locally designated historic district, under the jurisdiction of the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is shown here:

The controversy which spawned this discussion began in 2010 with plans by Wave Development to build a new 200 room Marriott Hotel in place of five historic buildings within the district. The developers fought the HPC rejection of their initial plans. Those plans ran counter to preservation guidelines put in place for the district in 1987 as well as the Preservation Ordinance. The ensuing battle between the developer’s public relations firm, the City HPC, and preservationists became a media event for weeks. When the dust settled, the developer revised their plans to save the Noonan Block on Wisconsin Avenue. The Preservation Ordinance was subsequently put in the spotlight with promises to be gutted by Alderman Witkowski because it was viewed as anti-development. It was amended in December of 2012 by the Common Council but with changes that made it stronger and not weaker. The final consensus was that preservation “makes good economic sense”.

UWM Professor, Matt Jarosz presented the history of the district and its importance as the virtual heart of Milwaukee since the first settlement. It is unique among similar American cities in not continuously redeveloping the land as time progressed. Many of the buildings within the district are 19th century interspersed with a few early 20th century buildings examples. Professor Jarosz went on to give a multitude of examples from his students on how this district could be improved to take advantage of the current impediments. Some of the best concepts took advantage of underutilized surface parking to build modern buildings that connect to historic buildings and offer updated access to those buildings. These new buildings would add larger entrances, elevator service, and other improvements to modern standards and codes without requiring expensive retrofits to the older, historic buildings. One example showed how a new structure to the south of the Iron Block could add features to it and the Zimmermann Block next door. Infilling adjacent to the Button Block would encourage re-use of the upper floors. Another interesting proposal was converting the public alleys into shared space that could be used as a semi-covered pedestrian space or for extended outdoor seating. His common theme was that intelligent, planned new development could reinvigorate the district and encourage property owners to invest in building rehabilitation.

Some of the other presentations of the evening included an overview of the work done by architect Mark Demsky of Dental Associates with the restoration of the Iron Block Building. Dental Associates took unprecedented steps in restoring features that had been removed from the building over 100 years ago including decorative cast iron urns above the Water Street entrance and intricate grape leaves on the columns. He researched the history of renovations and found a trove of information that would be overlooked by architects doing a basic renovation. When the building is unveiled in March it should be a showpiece of preservation in Milwaukee.

Steve Schwartz, CEO of the First Hospitality Group talked about his company’s work renovating the Loyalty building on Broadway and Michigan. They faced many challenges in converting the Solomon Spencer Beman designed masterpiece from an office building into a hotel with modern conveniences. As with many 125 year-old buildings, it had been remodeled many times over the years, removing or hiding some of the notable features. The First Hospitality Group has been involved in several adaptive re-uses nationally, this building being the sixth. The first was in Indianapolis, converting a former 16-story bank building into a Hilton Garden Inn in 2003. Adaptive re-use preserves details of historic buildings that couldn’t be done economically in a new building and creates an “experiential” space encouraging participation and use.

The final talk was given by Josh Jeffers, owner of the Mitchell Building with the work he has been doing the past few years in stabilizing the foundations of his building as well as the facade and roof renovations. The persistent problem of a dropping watertable downtown have resulted in the exposure of old wooden piles under building foundations to wood rot. In the Mitchell Building, it was found that many of the footings were unsupported because of the advanced state of decay of these pilings. The exterior of the building shows some effects of the settlement over the years. The work to repair the problem has been time consuming because nearly all of the excavation has to be done by hand in tight spaces in the basement. Great care must be taken to avoid further damage to the building. The area under the stone pile caps must be removed manually, the rotted piles must be cut out and a new concrete pile cap was poured in the excavated area. In addition, a new technology of using the building’s wastewater in a sub-basement drain system was used to keep the deeper wooden piles wet and free from future rot. This major investment in the building will keep it standing firm for many years to come.