September 20, 1946 – Nat King Cole Takes Milwaukee


Before he became the iconic musician known around the world, Nat King Cole and his trio toured in the mid 1940’s. The post-war era, in particular, was amazing in Milwaukee, which became a stop for many singers and musicians who would later become household names. The King Cole Trio already had a huge hit in 1945 with “For Sentimental Reasons” and was booked on September 20, 1946 in the Circle Room of the LaSalle Hotel on North 11th Street and Wells street. In a series of events which, at the time, probably seemed common, the show was broadcast live on WEMP at 10:30 that night. The show was also recorded and can be heard in its entirety on Youtube. The sounds of clinking glasses and the chatter of some lucky Milwaukeeans’ grandparents are too awesome.

The hotel still stands as Cobeen Hall at Marquette University and why there isn’t a plaque for this show, only heaven knows.


Blatz Gum 1927

In the middle of Prohibition what was a brewery to do to keep in operation? I would not have guessed making grape flavored gum but you gotta do what you gotta do!

Just a note to stop by the Milwaukee County Historical Society to see their fantastic Brew City Mke exhibit. Going on now through April 30th.


Black History Month – The Star Trek – Milwaukee Connection


Charlie Washburn became known in the late 1960’s with his first job as a second assistant director for the original Star Trek series. His work with the series made him an essential part of the team so that he eventually was brought back as an assistant director several episodes of the Next Generation in 1987. His IMDB page shows the wide variety of films and tv shows for which he worked.

Although he was originally from Tennessee and received a degree from Kentucky, he came to Milwaukee to visit an old professor. While here he liked it and stayed for awhile to attend the University of Wisconsin and then the Milwaukee Institute of Technology where he found a love for directing. He went on to work on a master’s degree and taught telecasting in Syracuse before he headed to LA to become a director’s apprentice. After 400 days of apprenticeship he became a member of the Director’s Guild and began his career, the first African-American to be admitted and graduated from the apprenticeship program. He started with Star Trek in 1967 and quickly became a part of the team. He later went on to continue making his mark on Hollywood.

Charlie Washburn died on April 13, 2012 in Hollywood.


The Original Polar Bear – James G. Brazell

As many get ready to dip into the icy lake for the New Year’s Day tradition, we should look back at the hardy men and women of yesteryear who began the annual tradition. According to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from February 16th, 1919, printer James G. Brazell was the originator of the swim, starting it in 1910 and swam every Sunday through the winter. His compadre and fellow pioneer polar bear was Frank Sutter. By 1919, even women like Amy Jacobs, the “Nymph of Boreas”, jumped into the water for a swim. During the great Milwaukee blizzard of ’47 Brazell jumped with wild abandon into the dark waters of McKinley Beach.

The sport grew slowly, like an icicle from the roof, but popularity waned by 1928 when Brazell was the only one to hit the waters. Before he kicked all the no-shows out of the club he critiqued, “Some people like to brag about their hardiness, but it’s a different thing when they are called on to prove it!”

Read Jim Stingl’s column from December 30, 2008 for more history of the swim.


Central Library History of Movie Theaters

On display at the Milwaukee Central Library outside the 2nd Floor Humanities Room are artifacts and items from Milwaukee’s movie theaters. The display includes photos, postcards, Orpheum Circuit (vaudeville) playbills, Saxe theater chain newsletters and sheet music from the Milwaukee Public Library’s collections & staff loans. This display intersects with the 100th year anniversary of the Downer Theater.

Stop by and see this magnificent collection. As always the Public Library does a great job of displaying these little seen items.


Lecture on the New Deal


Professor Gray Brechin of the University of California, Berkeley, will deliver the 2015 Frank L. Klement Lecture on October 28, 2015. Brechin, a geographer, is one of the founders of the Living New Deal Project, an interactive map tracking thousands of New Deal projects throughout the United States. His lecture is entitled, “Recovering from the Depression: The Living New Deal Project Uncovers a Lost Civilization Built Eighty Years Ago, And What We Can Learn from It Today.” It begins at 4:00 PM and will be held in Beaumier Suites BC in the lower level of the Raynor Library. For more on Gray Brechin, go to his website.

Marquette University Raynor Library
1355 W Wisconsin Ave
Wednesday, October 28, 4:00PM

Know Your Milwaukee

From the Milwaukee Journal of February 18, 1936:


Gallagher’s Restaurant

Downtown of the 50’s and 60’s had many interesting small clubs and restaurants. Several of these were owned by the infamous Balistrieri brothers, Frank and Peter, including the Downtowner, Melody Room, Tower, The Scene, and Gallagher’s. The Balestrieri’s were well known as the “Milwaukee Mob” and owned many smaller hotels, strip-clubs, and taverns downtown and on the east side. Despite their main business of organized crime they operated these businesses that were iconic parts of mid-century Milwaukee history.

Gallagher’s was located at 829 N. 3rd St. and was the tavern portion of the Gilpatrick which was torn down in 1941. The one-story tavern was re-roofed, remodeled and began its new life. It was originally called the White Pub in the 1940’s, then when the Balistrieri’s bought it in 1954 changed to the Beachcomber before a lawsuit by the owner of the national chain forced the name change to the Trade Winds. Again, that name caused a lawsuit because it too was a popular national chain of restaurants. It finally became Gallagher’s in October 1958 and changed to a steak house/supper club. It is not know if it was an official franchise of the New York Gallagher’s although there appears to be a pattern in the choice of names.


The idea for Gallagher’s was to try to bring in a younger crowd for dinners downtown by offering quality entertainment and bands from national circuits. It featured blues and jazz groups such as Jonah Jones, Dakota Staton, Oscar Petersen, Lonnie Mack with Troy Seals, Mel Torme, and many others. Not all of them were playing standard dinner music but they drew in the crowds and added to a robust live entertainment and club scene.

Gallagher’s closed in October 1969 and the building was torn down in July 1970.


The Milwaukee Six-Day Bike Races

The Riverwest 24 bike race starts on Friday but the hardcore riders of yesteryear competed in a grueling six day race.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal of February 26, 1939, the first professional six-day race in the United States was held at the West Side Roller Rink in August 1880. Those early races were ridden on the large wheeled Columbia “specials” with front wheels 60-inches in diameter. E.M. Hicks of New York won that first race after riding 72 hours over six days and covering 656 miles. The professional sport did not gain interest in Milwaukee at the time due to the focus of the Milwaukee Bicycle Club on recreational rides instead of racing.


The Eagles Club sponsored the first modern race in 1931 from 9pm on January 6th until midnight on January 12. New York City had already been holding these races for twenty years prior so it was becoming a national sport with its own circuit. Ten two-man teams raced in twelve hour shifts over the six days on a specially built track in the Auditorium. At intervals there were sprints which gave points to the teams but otherwise it was a solid grind of pedaling around the track.

Governor Phil La Follette was on hand to fire the starting gun. Sellout crowds came over the weekend to see the cyclists and cheer on the teams. The Canadian-Irish cycling team of Torchy Peden and Polly Parrott won the race after cycling 2,367 miles and gaining a total 1,079 dash points over the six days.


The race series was successful enough to continue as an annual event for many years and was part of a nationwide circuit. By WWII, the popularity of the races dwindled and it eventually disappeared.

Bringing Back the Forst Keller

The big news unveiled today was the announcement that Pabst will once again be brewed in Milwaukee. The location of this new microbrewery and tasting room is the former Forst-Keller in the Pabst brewing complex. Several newspaper articles over the years tell of its long history including this one from 1953.


This 1973 article tells of the final closing of the restaurant.

Milwaukee Journal, September 2, 1973

Landmark Cafe to Close

The Forst-Keller, a German restaurant at 1037 W. Juneau Ave. and an official Milwaukee landmark, will close Sept. 15.

The Pabst Brewing Co., which has since owned the restaurant since the late 1890s, plans to turn the building into a brewery museum. The restaurant, originally a German Methodist Church, was built 100 years ago. In July it was designated an official landmark by the Milwaukee Landmarks commission.

The restaurant has had a long and colorful history. Over the years it has been a meeting hall for three singing societies – the Milwaukee Liederkranz, the Lieder Tafel, and the Bel Canto Chorus. The restaurant has also been a popular eating place for Courthouse judges and employes and for brewery workers.

The Forst-Keller closed for six months in 1971. It was reopened in December of that year and has been operated ever since by Karl Skacel and his wife, Gretchen. The Skacels formerly operated Karl and Gretchen’s Supper Club on Lake Nagawicka.

The restaurant was operated from 1937 to 1960 by two brothers, Richard and Fritz Baumann. Their wives did all the cooking.

Between 1964 and 1971 Adolf (Adi) Binder ran the restaurant. Binder’s mother, known as “Mutti” to customers, was the chief cook.

During World War II the Forst-Keller and other German style restaurants in the city were believed to be gathering spots for Nazi supporters. It was said that FBI agents began frequenting the restaurant in the line of duty during the war years.

No date has been set for its reopening as a museum. A brewery official said the company would refurbish the building. It will house Pabst’s collection of old beer steins, antique brewing equipment and other mementos.

And finally this newspaper story from 1901 sheds a more humorous light on the history of the Forst-Keller. Hope to have a beer there with you when it opens!