Remembering Richard Nickel

In the 1970’s the city of Chicago, like Milwaukee saw many buildings fall to the wrecking ball. In the spring of 1972 the Chicago Stock Exchange building was being demolished. This structure was a grand example of late 19th century architecture designed by the famous Chicago architects, Dunkmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. It was considered one of Sullivan’s best remaining works of architecture in the early 1970’s. It was an imaginative work that used the latest technology of the steel frame and merged it with the highest forms of decorative arts and terra-cotta.

One person interested in documenting and trying to save the Stock Exchange and other 19th century Chicago buildings was Richard Nickel. He was an architectural photographer and historian who was continuing a project to completely document all of Adler and Sullivan’s remaining work. This started in the early 1950’s after studying under Aaron Siskind at IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. The project continued after he completed his thesis in 1957 and grew with the demolition of the Garrick Theater in 1961. Nickel launched an all-out preservation effort to try and save the Garrick early in 1960 and even with a court battle by preservationists was unable to halt the building’s demise. Luckily he was able to salvage many terra-cotta and plaster ornamentation as well as completely documenting much of the building prior to its destruction.

The last battle that he fought was the effort to save the Chicago Stock Exchange. This crusade was fought for several years before it was found to be unwinnable. As with the Garrick, the only solution was to save as much of the building’s artwork as possible. Richard Nickel worked with the Art Institute as well as the Metropolitan Museum and Southern Illinois University to save various architectural artifacts for their collections. Through his effort, many artifacts were salvaged from the Stock Exchange building including an immense entrance arch which was placed outside the Art Institute in 1977. He continued on with his salvage work and documentation, often working alone whenever he had the opportunity. He sacrificed much to save a history that many didn’t think was worth saving and because of that we know much about Adler and Sullivan that would have otherwise been lost.

The last day anyone saw him alive was 40 years ago today. He was found in May 1972 in the rubble of the Stock Exchange as the last walls came down.

I recommend:
Art Institute of Chicago website
Digital Stock Exchange
They All Fall Down

Tutorial Time

So I finally put together a few guides for working with the new blog. Most everyone should now be able to log in and comment and quite a few of you can write your own posts. If things aren’t working, shoot me an email.

The About section should give you a basic run-down of where things are. For the adventurous ones you can write something down and be famous! The Posting Guide section will step you through that process.

If we have some new people that want to try their hand and help us out here at then email me and we will get you set up.


Spanish Swindlers

The emails you get from Nigerian bureaucrats asking you to help them launder a couple million dollars for a cut of the pie are nothing new. These 419 scams have been going on long before email was around. A hundred years ago the Spaniards were adept at sending letters to hapless victims here in the US and were sometimes successful as this article suggests.

Milwaukee Sentinel, January 11, 1906


Wisconsin People Being Victimized by Story of Heritage to Fortune

Information has been placed in the hands of officials of the state and postoffice departments here that persons in Wisconsin have been victims of Spanish adventurers who are operating the old scheme of getting money out of the gullible, who are informed that they are the heirs to fortunes left by Spanish branches of their families, of whose existence they never dreamed, and who in reality never existed. The Spanish fortune scheme has been operated in the United States for twenty-five years. This government has made the matter a subject of diplomatic exchanges with Spain on several occasions and Spain has gone to extremes to break up the gang responsible for these outrages perpetrated on American citizens. A number of cases of the kind arising in Wisconsin have been brought to the attention of the authorities here and members of the state delegation. Inspectors of the postoffice department have been put on the trail and already it is understood their work has been productive of results.

The game practiced upon a Wisconsin man of some prominence, whose name is withheld, shows how the scheme is operated. The man in question received a letter some months ago, presumably from a relative with a Spanish name, stating that he was on his deathbed, and that he desired to apprise his kinsman of the fact that he had considerable property in Spain. The letter went on to say that the dying man had a daughter in Madrid, a student in a convent there, and that the daughter and the Wisconsin man were the sole heirs. Later the gullible gentleman in Wisconsin learned of the death of the mythical kinsman and was told that all of the papers substantiating his claim, together with the will of deceased, were in a trunk in a hotel in London and that to secure their release and a settlement of the claim in the Spanish courts he would have to forward $600. The Badger lost no time. He was in a hurry to get the fortune. A few days later he awoke and, after telegraphic correspondence with Washington, learned that he had been “buncoed.” The wires were again set in motion and the registered letter carrying the real money of the Wisconsin man was intercepted, and the sender will receive it back as soon as the red tape of the department necessary in such cases is unraveled.

Newly Updated Blog

It took a lot of hairpulling but I think I have the blog set up the way I like it. This will change the way everyone interacts with the site but I think after all is said and done it will be a big improvement. The forums can still be found at the link to the right under “Side Streets”. These may be retired in the future to make everything simpler.

Stay tuned!

Any comments?

Milwaukee’s Architectural Beauty

From a Milwaukee Sentinel article on May 29, 1921:


Builders Have Demonstrated That Practicability Is no Bar to Aesthetics.

By Ruth Robert.

As a man is known by the company he keeps so is a city judged by the architecture of its public buildings. No one thing in the makeup of a community goes so far in determining whether it shall be listed among the beautiful places of the world or condemned as a dumping ground of smoke stacks and brick walls.

Architecture, it has been said, is the “mother of the arts.” If that is so then Milwaukee can justly be named one of her offspring — a City Beautiful — for here may be found scores of examples of good architecture which have earned fame, for the city and the architects who created them.

Milwaukee architects have not confined themselves to beaten paths. Examples of classical works vie with Gothic spires and early English, while noteworthy structures in Italian and French Renaissance and strictly modern ideas abound.

Architecture has not yet become a subject of popular interest, nevertheless, it offers itself as a fascinating pursuit not only to the professional but to the layman. Much might be found in the buildings of this city which would be of more than passing interest to the general public if they could readily discriminate between examples which architecturally are correct and those others which are, to say the least, commonplace. Unfortunately, however, in the study of architecture by the layman, the range of interest usually is limited and a truly critical faculty checked by either a lack of appreciation for the beautiful or the absence of a proper education.

Following the development of architecture through the years, one will detect a new element grafted on to the old, a new treatment or combination of old forms and styles dependent on the needs and fancies of the ever changing period. It is not the intention here to wander off into a history of architecture, but to introduce properly the reason for selecting a few of the many examples of good architecture in Milwaukee.

One of the most familiar buildings is the public library and museum to which Milwaukee may well point with pride. The design is Italian Renaissance, the Corinthian order being used. A noteworthy feature of the design is the perfectly balanced treatment of the front and the emphasis given to the main entrance by means of the free standing columns above with the second story walls recessed in the form of a loggia. There is a feeling of solidity in the rusticated first story which provided support for the lighter appearing superstructure, exemplifying the greatest element of architecture – Truth. An examination of the enrichment, details, etc., will reveal the architect’s painstaking study of the ornamentation. The Dome has been kept low in order to harmonize with the whole design of the front where the horizontal effect appears to dominate.

The Northwestern National Fire Insurance company’s building on the corner of Jackson and Wisconsin streets is one of the best examples of modern French Renaissance in the city. The design is reminiscent of that used for the Grand Palais of the Exposition Universelle, Paris. The arrangement of the columns in pairs is successful and mention might be made of the beautiful iron railings in front of the first story windows. Clean cut mouldings with heavy shadow lines add to the boldness of the design.

The Marshall & Ilsley bank, on East Water street, is a truthful adaptation of the Grecian Ionic style, employing much of the order of the Erechtheion at Athens. The large scale and the severity of the front seems to bespeak dignity, while the refinement of Grecian details is to be seen in the delicacy of the mouldings.

The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance building is an imposing classical design based on the Corinthian order, the scale of the order demanding an individual setting such as this building possesses. It would seem many architects agree that the corner pilasters should have been doubled or that the facades would be improved by heavier treatment of the corners. Apart from this and the somewhat ponderous attic portion above the main cornice, the design is excellent. Note may be made of the green terra cotta panels used on the front emphasizing the colonnade.

St. John’s cathedral, one of the older churches in the city, in character of design is expressive of the purpose for which the building is intended. The tower, rebuilt many years after the main body of the church, has been made the predominating feature of the entire design. The tower may be considered one of the real gems of architecture in the city. The beautiful outline and proportion and the delicate and refined motive employed in its design stamp it as a lasting example of the best in Renaissance architecture. The feeling is Italian with a semblance of some of the methods used by Wren in his London city churches. It suggests a Romanesque influence.

St. James’ church, Grand avenue, also of the old school, is of early English Gothic design, well proportioned with a well detailed main entrance. There is charm in the general outline of the front, and the tower is capped with a well bundled Broach spire.

Church of the Redeemer, Nineteenth street and Grand avenue, is one of the newer churches in the city. Though the building may appear severe to the layman, it shows what may be accomplished in the judicial use of comparatively inexpensive materials, the whole design depends entirely upon the correct disposition of simple masses and the use of plain surfaces devoid of unnecessary ornament. Vertical lines predominate, and the facade builds up gradually to a high peaked gable. The great arch of the front window, limited by buttress-like pylons, still further emphasizes the vertical lines of the front. The architect relied entirely on quiet dignity and simplicity rather than the overdressed ornamental design which many architects seem to imagine is synonymous with good church architecture.

The residence of Archbishop Messmer, 2000 Grand avenue, one of the older residences, is a fine example of German Renaissance (Hanseatic school). The front is well balanced, with fanciful gables providing an interesting outline. The main porch is beautifully detailed, elaborated consistently with this style. The private chapel to the east, though of a slightly different feeling, is good, excellent in detail and cleverly designed.

The Grant Fitch residence, 55 Prospect avenue, is one of the best domestic examples of colonial architecture to be seen here. It has an aura of aristocratic dignity, a very well proportioned portico and expresses a sympathetic handling of refined details.

The Gallun residence, 108 Prospect avenue, is a good example of English domestic architecture of the Tudor period. The plan of the house permits of an interesting arrangement of the elevation. The beautiful colors of the stonework and the ruggedness of the graded slate roof adds to the charm of its appearance. Leaded glass set in metal casements further enhances the English feeling of the design. It seems that a house of this magnitude would show off to better advantage on a larger piece of property than that on which it stands.

The University club has a good colonial facade except for the fact that the unfortunate location of the entrance destroys an otherwise pleasing, symmetrical and well balanced arrangement. Ionic columns have been used for the entrance which in itself is quite good, spoiled only by its location to one side of the main axis. Interest is added to the front by the balcony at the second story level.

In closing, a word might be said of the Gargoyle restaurant as it appeared before its present remodeling. It was then a beautiful example of the use of English domestic architecture as applied to small commercial buildings.

Though small, it attracted the eye because of its unique design, charming and quaint with such features as its grotesques, and exceptionally good oriel bay window. Its irregular treatment served only to emphasize the picturesque quality.

Monday Bergh Statue

Today due to time constraints we will have a Monday without a mystery! Instead here is a view of City Hall back when the Bergh statue stood in front. Enjoy!

Two Firsts

Probably nothing new here to some, but when I came across this looking for something else (isn’t that how a good amount of old information is found?) I could not pass it up without sharing.

Milwaukee Sentinel August 6, 1870

The first tavern kept in Milwaukee was opened in 1835 by Mr. Jacques Vieau, father-in-law of Solomon Juneau, in a small building on East Water street, about opposite the present location of Lansing Bunnells’ establishment. The building was afterwards known as the Cottage Inn, and formed a portion of the new tavern which was erected in 1843 and burned down in the conflagration of 1845.

The first public house of importance built in this city was the Milwaukee House, which was commenced in 1835 and finished in 1837. It was erected by Messrs. Juneau and Martin, and occupied the present site of the Young Men’s Association building. The main building was subsequently removed to the northeast corner of Huron and Broadway, where it was destroyed by fire. A wing of the original building is yet in existence, serving as a carriage works for Meincke, corner of Main and Detroit. It was for a long time known as the Keystone State Hotel, and was quite popular under the landlordship of the late Andrew J. McCormick.

Dennis Pajot

Monday Milwaukee Mystery

Start your week off right by trying to guess which building the gargoyle sits atop. The clues for this little guy is a church right on the edge of downtown. Other clues can be found in the picture if you are a good detective!

Piecing Together The Past

Last year I was browsing the Library of Congress website doing research on some of their photographic collections of Milwaukee material. I was already familiar with the work of John Vachon, a Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer who had spent some time in Milwaukee in September 1939 and was browsing his work. Some of the catalogued pictures had no descriptions but obviously were from the same date as other pictures from Milwaukee. This one in particular intrigued me because it was a Milwaukee-style building but I did not recognize it at all.

It stayed in the back of mind for months but it was a building that was long lost or from somewhere else. Today while looking through some images I have scanned from other sources I came across this picture and recognized it almost immediately. It was the mystery building right in the heart of downtown! I still have yet to piece together the history of the lost building but now I have an address which is a start.

Sometime in the 1960s it was torn down to make way for this nondescript parking structure.


Should Aldermen Be Paid? – 1882

Interesting thoughts on pay for aldermen, from the Daily Republican-Sentinel of December 19, 1882. I wonder how this discussion would go today.

Dennis Pajot

The Council went into committee of the whole, with Ald. Dixon in the chair, to consider the question of salaries for aldermen, to take effect January 1.

Ald. Dodge moved to refer the whole matter to a special committee of five, who would present it to the Legislature to have the compensation fixed as thought best, not to exceed $500. Ald. Barth moved to make the remuneration $1000 per annum, $500 not being enough for good men. Ald. Stemper said he drew up the bill to secure salaries with the best intentions in the world. The members of the Council get no thanks for anything, but were always ridiculed and blamed. Ald. Stirn favored the passage of the bill to take effect in the year 2000. Ald. Hinsey said the offices were accepted with the knowledge that there was no recompense, and it was belittling the position to go to voting salaries. It did not agree with the aid to reduce taxes. Ald. Wood thought the aldermen were abused for everything, and should be paid, yet he could hardly vote for it. Ald. Barth referred to the modesty of the Council in not wishing to vote themselves pay, and moved no present member receive emolument, but in future $1,000 per annum be paid. Ald. Chase said to take such a step would lower the standing of the Council, as it would be filled, if there was a salary attached, by men with no other wish than to get the money. Ald. Stemper said he did not know when he was elected how much work there was attached, or he would not have accepted. The gentleman spoke at some length very warmly in support of his bill, jingling the change in his pockets meanwhile, as though it was the fat “roll” of a year’s wages at his figure. Ald. Stirn said if the aldermen were paid, the school commissioners should be, and wanted to know if that was done, where for God’s sake would the city go to? Ald Swan said Ald. Chase had hit the nail on the head. If aldermen became salaried officers caucuses would be packed, and elections would be made to carry out schemes. Ald. Fritz put it that his time was worth money, and he wanted pay for his services. Ald. Knoernschild said he had worked all he cared to for glory, and he wanted money. He would recommend, however, that the first year of service there be no compensation, but for the next two of the term of office there be paid $1000. The committee adjourned to report progress.

Ald. Dodge