Milwaukee’s Supermodel

Most may have heard about Martin Tullgren and his sons, the family of early 20th century architects who made an impact on the landscape of the city. They are well know for a variety of incredibly decorative masterpieces such as the Watts Building at the northwest corner of Mason & Jefferson and the Bertelson Building on Prospect & Windsor Place. The two sons who took over the business when their father Martin died in 1922 were Herbert and Minard. Minard died scant years later in 1928 at the age of 41 of a heart attack leaving behind a wife and two young sons and two much younger daughters.

His oldest daughter, Barbara was only four at his death but grew up to be a beautiful young woman of 17 in 1941. She entered and won a statewide beauty contest for the American Legion where she won in a pool of 50 contestants. She became the queen and official hostess when the American Legion had their national convention here in September of that year. After graduating from Shorewood High School she studied for a time at Layton School of Art in fashion design before her big break came.

In March 1943, her mother persuaded her to enter a contest at the Riverside theater to select an entrant most closely resembling a Powers model, the largest model agency in the country located in New York. Of course she easily won against 69 other contestants and won a trip to New York to meet with John Powers. She set out for the big apple with her aunt as chaperone but once there she at once was brought to the headquarters of the agency where she met John Powers. When he set eyes on her he exclaimed, “My God, where did you come from? So you want to stay in New York?”, and her career was launched. Within a week she was modeling for Vogue and meeting celebrities and Hollywood stars. Her rise was so quick it was like a fairy tale.


The Lion in the Public Library

If you got to read the January issue of the Historic Milwaukee, Inc. newsletter, “Echo” you already know the story told by Dan Lee of Sim the lion who lived on the roof of the Central Library in the late 1920’s. If not you may want to see this news story from Fox 6 telling the story last month. The Milwaukee Public Museum also has a video posted on Youtube with rare, original film of Sim when he was just a cub.

Caution for cute lion cub pictures.

Florence Killilea

Several years back, Dennis Pajot had written a great bio of Florence Killilea, the president of the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1929 and 1930 seasons. Sadly, she left us in 1931 when she was much too young and never had the chance to show her true potential. The sketch shown below was from the Wisconsin News in May 2, 1929.


Buildings That Are Older Than They Seem

Those people that came downtown during Doors Open Milwaukee last month had a chance to see some old, historic buildings. The age of the buildings was apparent in the layers of dust and dirt and the classic architectural features like mansard roofs, elaborate cornices, carved stonework, and incredible terra cotta ornaments. Some of the buildings that weren’t open were probably given a quick look as they were passed but nothing much stood out to identify the buildings as historic and old.

It is surprising to find that a building’s history is much older than it seems. Even when the building looks old, it might be that it is much older. One interesting example is the Lou Fritzel Building located at 733 N. Milwaukee Street. The Fritzel women’s clothing business occupied the building since it was renovated in 1939 until it closed 50 years later in 1989. Since then it has mostly remained vacant and time is starting to take its toll on the empty shell, making it look older than the style of its Moderne facade. In fact the building actually was built in 1877 with an Italianate style common to some neighboring buildings.


The renovation of 1939 clipped off the top two stories and made the building a one story building that was very modern looking for the street at the time. On the adjacent buildings the ghost silhouette of the original building can still be seen. There really are no visible clues to the real age of the building when seen from the street.


Another nearby building that might seem to be very recent is the 14 story Banker’s Building at the northeast corner of Water and Wisconsin. It was actually built in 1929 by Eschweiler and Eschweiler architects in a stylish neo-classical design similar to many buildings built at that time like the Hilton Hotel at 5th & Wisconsin or the Empire Building at Plankinton & Wisconsin. It originally had a much different exterior with terra cotta banding on the cornice and top floors. The bottom two floors had elaborate terra cotta ornamentation and large plate glass windows with darker brass metalwork. A complete renovation in 1983 removed all of the old brick work and terra cotta to be replaced with a more monochrome, dark red brick. Windows were replaced with modern, dark windows in vertical bands making the building appear very contemporary.


A few other buildings exist downtown that have been made over a few times and are extremely different than they once looked. I’ll try to write a future blog post about these other buildings.

Police Court Scenes 1915

One of my favorite columns from the Milwaukee Daily News was the Police Court Scenes. Reporters from several dailies at the time always found interesting stories at the Police Court every day. Sometimes they were sad stories of abuse and sometimes odd and funny stories unfolded in the courtroom. This story was one of the latter. Enjoy!

Milwaukee Daily News, June 24, 1915


The wheels of justice were grinding out their grist of verdicts and decisions and fines; the courtroom was silent but for the drone of low-voiced witnesses and the occasional sharp rap of the deputy’s hammer. Suddenly the spectators, the attorney and the judge were astonished to hear irrelevant words apparently spring from the lips of a witness who had just been sworn.

“Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub; the cow jumped over the moon,” was what it sounded like.

The judge glanced up sharply. The lips of the witness twitched and he looked startled.

“Honest. I didn’t say a word!” he stammered.

The court was framing a reprimand when another interruption came. This time a solemn, gray-haired police sergeant, who was sitting in one of the front rows, seemed to shout:

“I’m getting tired of hanging around this blamed court. If something doesn’t happen soon, I’ll pull my revolver and start something!”

Everybody turned his way. The sergeant almost fell off the bench. But attention was distracted when from underneath one of the benches came sounds indicating a dog fight. There were whines, barks and yelps of pain. The deputies made for the spot and nearly collapsed when they found no trace of a canine.

“Spooks!” they gasped.

“Right-o!” cried a dapper little fellow who popped out of the bull pen, hat in hand and smiling blandly. “Reginald Spooks of Spokane, that’s me. Cops nabbed me last night for being drunk. Didn’t know who I was. Here’s my card,” and he handed a pasteboard to the judge.

“‘Reginald Spooks, ventriloquist,'” read the judge. “Oh!” he exclaimed as an afterthought, “that explains it.”

“I can throw my voice forty ways,” grinned Spooks. “Some dog fight that was, eh? Ha! Ha! I’m clever – what?”

“You may entertain the prisoners at the workhouse for fifteen days,” said the judge.

Milwaukee Architect – Herman W. Buemming


Milwaukee has had its share of architects with german heritage who have helped to shape the style and development of the city. Herman Weis Buemming worked for the most part in the early part of the 20th century designing many commercial buildings and homes which remain as part of the landscape. His hand is seen most densely in the downtown area between 3rd Street, Plankinton, Kilbourn and Wells Street. In that area, three of his buildings remain; the Pietsch Building at 826 N. Plankinton, the Chalet at the River across the street at 823 N. 2nd St. and the Watkins Building at the corner of 3rd and Kilbourn. A few others still stand nearby on West Wisconsin Avenue although their appearances have been much changed.

His buildings remain because they are utilitarian enough to be adapted to changing purposes. The Chalet at the River was originally a furniture manufacturing and sales company and has since been re-purposed to apartments and stores. The buildings are sedately commercial in style without extra terra cotta ornamentation that was in vogue at the time. Because of the lack of ostentatious style they are easy to overlook but that is part of their strength. They are built solid with a reinforced concrete structure that withstands the passage of time.

Herman was the first son of German emigres, Julius and Charlotte Buemming, born in Toledo, Ohio on September 5, 1872. Julius was a salesman who came to America in 1868. The family eventually settled in Milwaukee in 1884 when Herman was 12 and there the parents had two more children; Carl W. and Charlotte.

After Herman graduated from the Sixteenth District School in 1888, he apprenticed for a short time as a draftsman with Charles A. Gombert and then became a head draftsman at Pabst Brewing Company. In 1891 he enrolled as a “special student” at Columbia University architectural school in New York City where he studied for three years. After leaving Columbia he worked as a Superintendent until 1896 in the office of well known New York architect, George P. Post who designed many famous Beaux Arts style buildings in New York but also designed the Wisconsin State Capitol.

In December 1896, Herman returned to Milwaukee with enough experience to start his own business in partnership with Gustave Dick. They worked together until 1907 and designed buildings such as the former Century Hall on Farwell near North Avenue and the Otto Pietsch building at 826 N. Plankinton. He also designed his own “honeymoon house” at 1012 East Pleasant Street in 1901 where he lived with his wife, Gertrude after they married on April 27th. The following year their son, John Durr Buemming was born.

When his partnership with Gustave Dick dissolved in 1907, Herman spent some time traveling in Europe and working on his own designing homes and buildings such as the Watkins Building which stands on the southeast corner of Third and Kilbourn and the Chalet at the River (formerly CW Fischer Furniture store) at 823 N. 2nd Street. He eventually partnered with Alexander C. Guth in 1918 and they worked together until 1927. Together they designed buildings such as the Bartlett Building at 176 W. Wisconsin Avenue which still exists although its exterior was modernized in 1983.

Once his son John graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1926 and was ready to start working in the family business he was under pressure to succeed as his father had. The pressure along with health problems led John to commit suicide in 1933 at the family home. At a time when the Great Depression was at its peak and when commissions were very difficult to find, Herman most likely felt extreme hopelessness over his son’s death. During the period between the stock market crash in 1927 until 1934, only one large building designed by the architect was built. He continued to work in his own practice for several years until 1939.

His final partnership was formed in 1939 with Clarence W. Jahn and lasted until Herman retired from practice in 1943, possibly after the death of his partner in December. One of the buildings they designed was the Abbotsford Apartments at 722 N. 13th Street which has since been bought by Marquette University and converted to student housing. Herman died after a short illness on April 17, 1947.

Building Age, May 1906, p. 145, “Competition in $6500 Houses; Second Prize Design”
Milwaukee Journal, April 17, 1947, Obituary, p. 24
American Institute of Architects online archives
Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission files

Randolph Hotel Demolition July 1985


The Randolph Hotel was one of Milwaukee’s large hotels in the west end of downtown at 4th & Wisconsin. It was built the same year as the Hilton(originally Schroeder Hotel) at 5th Street at a time when downtown was bursting at the seams and growth was at its highest point for the city. This rapid growth would last only a few more years until the stock market crash of 1929. The crash led to the owner of the hotel, Archie Tegtmeyer, to default on payments after which he lost the new hotel. World War II and the post war boom years helped downtown flourish after the Great Depression but by the late 1960s downtown began to stagnate. The late 1970’s were a low point with many of the mid-sized hotels like the Randolph taking on low-income tenants for longer periods of time to make ends meet. The shopping districts which helped to support downtown moved to the suburbs.

By the early 1980’s, with the Grand Avenue Mall project attempting to turn around the decay of downtown, there were plans by the City of Milwaukee to clear adjacent properties to spur continued development. The Randolph Hotel was one of many properties in that urban renewal corridor to be purchased for subsequent demolition. Because of its size, the Randolph could not be demolished easily and it was a candidate for demolition by explosives. The early morning of July 21st, 1985 was a unique event which drew crowds downtown to watch the fireworks. The following animated gif and photo shows how the Randolph Hotel met its end. Thanks to John Harley for the picture.


Volunteer For Doors Open Milwaukee

Not only attend Doors Open Milwaukee this September 20th and 21st, be part of it! We need 600 volunteers to help the estimated 25,000 people who attend Milwaukee’s open house weekend, and we hope you can be one of them!

Don’t be shy! Volunteers are not responsible for giving tours. All we ask is that you help with one four hour shift greeting visitors, distributing Doors Open materials, helping with crowd control, stamping kids’ passports and having fun! All volunteers get the perk of skipping ahead of the long lines with their volunteer badge when they are attending the event, as well as attending a thank you reception exclusively for Doors Open volunteers and supporters.

We are looking for people to commit to four-hour shifts at one of a hundred buildings on either Saturday, September 20 or Sunday, September 21. Shifts run from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM or 1:15 PM to 5:15 PM. Work one shift or as many shifts as you like.

We ask that all volunteers attend a brief orientation on either Saturday, August 16th from 10 AM to 12 PM or Tuesday, August 19th from 6 PM to 8 PM. You only need to attend one training session.

Visit the Doors Open website to learn more about the event or take the opportunity to sign up right now.

Sign up to volunteer for Doors Open Milwaukee

Historic Milwaukee, Inc. (HMI) is a private, non-profit educational and advocacy organization, founded in 1974, whose mission is dedicated to increasing awareness of, and commitment to, Milwaukee’s history, architecture, and the preservation of our built environment.

German Heritage Tour – July 26th & 27th

Historic Milwaukee, Inc. has partnered with German Fest Milwaukee to offer a special German Heritage Tour on Saturday, July 26th and Sunday, July 27th!

Tickets are available for $15 and includes admission to German Fest!

About the tour: Walking down Old World Third Street today you are not likely to see many German shops advertising “English Spoken Here” as a special or unique service; but as early as 1848, Germans represented 1/3 of the entire population in Milwaukee and this section of the city was the life’s blood of German immigrants. This tour showcases buildings that represent German-American business, education, faith, politics, entertainment, and publishing. Join our experienced tour guides and learn about Milwaukee’s most notable German biermeisters, tanners, artists, butchers, bakers, merchants, publishers, masons, architects and clergymen. This tour celebrates Milwaukee’s German heritage and recognizes the German community as having one of the greatest cultural impacts on our city.

This 1.5 hour walking tour travels down Old World Third Street and through downtown Milwaukee. Guests should wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to walk entire length of the tour. Highlights of the tour include: Turner Hall, Maders, Pritzlaff Building, Usingers, Second Ward Bank (Milwaukee County Historical Society), Germania Building, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pabst Theater, City Hall, Old Saint Mary’s Church, German English Academy and the Blatz Brewery Complex.

This special tour includes admission to German Fest AND a free shuttle from/to German Fest grounds.

Schedule for July 26th & 27th tours:
9:45 am – Depart German Fest Southgate Entrance via bus to Turner Hall
10:00 am – Tour begins in front of Turner Hall
11:30 am – Tour ends in front of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
11:45 am – Return to German Fest Southgate Entrance via bus
12:00 pm – Gates open to German Fest

Click here for more information and book online!

Click here for more information on German Fest!

Historic Milwaukee, Inc. (HMI) is a private, non-profit educational and advocacy organization, founded in 1974, whose mission is dedicated to increasing awareness of, and commitment to, Milwaukee’s history, architecture, and the preservation of our built environment.

Amateur Night at the Star Theater, 1906

If anyone has watched American Idol or even grew up watching the Gong Show, you know how amateur night works and how funny it can be. Back in 1906, there were several burlesque, vaudeville theaters in Milwaukee which offered their own amateur talent shows giving people the opportunity to perform in front of an audience and win prize money if they were good enough.

The following article from the Milwaukee Free Press covers one night in an anateur talent show at the Star Theater. The Star Theater was located at N. Plankinton Ave. on the east side and north of Michigan St. It was torn down in 1914 for the expansion of Gimbels. The picture below shows how it looked.


The article that I transcribed here tells about several performers who tried to win the first and second prizes offered and either won or lost horribly. It is fun to try and picture a packed theater watching these amateurs perform!

Milwaukee Free Press, March 25, 1906
Get the hook! A Night With Amateur Thespians at the Burlesque Theater

It takes a brave amateur to face the audience that assembles at the Star theater on Thursday night. But numerous Milwaukee folks, who think they possess talents, vocal, histrionic, acrobatic or terpsichorean, make their appearance there once a week and endure an ordeal calculated if they survive it to make real professionals of them in one trial.

Thursday night is “amateur” night at the Star, which means that after the close of the regular performance, the amateur aspirants for theater fame are allowed to do their turns, and take what’s coming to them, if they fall short. Most of them do, as a rule, and howls of derision from all over the theater but especially from the gallery, assail the awkward beginner.

“The hook, the hook! Get the hook! Get off!” shout the spectators.

These cries are the signal for the backdrop to be lifted, while a stage hand reaches forth a long pole, terminating in a sickle-like prehensile contrivance that grasps the performer and hustles him away back, while the drop descends and hides him from view.

The scheme works so effectively as to suggest it might be used as a test for some professional players who persist in inflicting themselves on a suffering public, and who might thus be discouraged and induced to go to work for a living.

But the chief purpose of “amateur” night is to furnish hilarious fun for the spectators. For the lamer the efforts of the amateurs, the more excuses to cry “Get the hook!” and enjoy the forcible removal of the tyre from the stage.

But to the closer observer of the player and his art, “amateur” night affords some interesting object lessons. The most conspicuous failing in the novice, even though perhaps possessed of natural aptitude and talent, is lack of confidence. And this is noticeable the instant the performer sets foot in view of the spectators. It is betrayed by the hesitating step, when walking toward the middle of the stage, and by the seeming fear to go as far as the center, as though the performer dared not get too far away from the wings. And then if it is a song the amateur is about a perpetrate, the first two or three bars are scarcely audible.

With the professional, the behavior is in striking contrast to this. There is not a vestige of timidity in his confident stride, ingratiating smile and loud voice. And confidence is half the battle.

Last Thursday night at the Star one of the amateurs was a colored boy, who was down for a song. But he was too timid to walk down the stage in front of the leader, and feared to let his voice out. It was a musical organ, but he had not sung two notes before the crowd in front Began to yell:
“Get the hook! Take him off!” And they did.

The boy’s gingerly walk and feeble beginning betrayed stage fright. That was nuts to the gallery but disastrous to the lad.

A child soprano, a girl of 10 or 11 years, quite pretty also made a bad start, whereat the people in the gallery hooted and clamored for “the hook” but it is not used on girls and she bravely sang two verses though she looked anything but happy. The demonstration made her lose the key in the first verse and the result was torture to the ear.

There were nine acts on the amateur programme, of which the fifth afforded the most hilarity. It was the acme of asinine amateurishness.

Two brothers, it was announced, would oblige with comic songs. They had no sooner appeared than pandemonium began. Their costumes were outlandish, but in the remotest degree funny, and their make-ups hideous, their faces reflecting garish daubs of red paint, in no sense comic, picturesque or human. They were perfect exemplifications of amateurism entirely untamed and uncontrolled. When the orchestra started to play, they did not begin to sing, but looked foolishly at one another, grinned in a silly way over the footlights, until at last the backdrop ascended and one of the freaks was hauled off. But the other remain for fully five minutes longer, not seeming to comprehend that the act was over. It was a pathetic exhibition.

Then came the gem of the programme.

“Mickey Daly will sing,” was the announcement.

And a black-eyed little girl with raven hair and olive complexion, resembling rather a daughter of southern skies, than of the Emerald isle, came out and sang “Cheyenne.” Her voice was full of sympathy and her eyes twinkled expressively as she sang. Deafening applause greeted her, and in response she sang “That Little German Band.” She made no gestures, but her countenance spoke volumes.

The next act was a wire walking performance, by Master Nevaro, Jr., whose brothers are professional equilibrists. The boy performed difficult feats with professional-like confidence. He was awarded the second prize, $2, the first prize, $5, being given to the little Daly girl, by vote of the audience.

G. Reno, a youth of 21 or thereabouts, made his appearance as a buck and wing dancer and the spectators started in to howl him off, but cries of “Get the hook,” didn’t fluster his feet a bit, and they were all he was using. He just smiled and kept on dancing, until finally dexterous steps changed the hooting into applause.

Mr. Schlieve, the “iron jawed man, chair balancer and rod breaker,” appeared on the scene followed by a suckling pig, which he lured about the stage, with a bottle of milk equipped with an attachment which piggie easily to his mouth. The spectators laughed heartily at the pig, who betrayed no amateurish anxiety over his act, and while they laughed, Mr. Schlieve took off his coat and vest, and began to balance aloft, from one to five chairs, their weight all resting on his jaw. So he escaped the peering his absurd facial make-up would have unquestionably provoked had he appeared without his little pig.

The amateur diversion closed with a peppery two-round go between two bantam-weight brothers, that proved thoroughly enjoyable.

The amateurs appear at the stage door of the Star, on Thursday night, before the regular show begins and stage manager Hoolihan takes their names and arranges the order of their turns, which as a rule do not exceed ten in number. they provide their own costumes, though as a rule they appear in their ordinary street attire, and are allowed to make up their faces, should they use grease paint, which they seldom do, unless perchance an amateur imagines he is cut out for a funny man.