If you're too young to remember this late 1970's TV show, it was about the misadventures of two best friends Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney, who were roommates and polar opposites. They were struggling to make their way in the world by working at the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee.
While letting 70's sitcoms paint my picture of the world is probably a terrible idea, this show left me with expectations of finding Milwaukee to be a fun-loving, blue collar city.
I was partly right.
[Let me add that I am woefully behind in my blogging. We visited here in September, 2018]
Here was our designated route through the state of Wisconsin:
Our initial impression is that the state is very beautiful. Forests and farms. Farms and forests. Dappled with numerous small towns and populated with friendly "help your neighbor" type of folks. If not for the appalling, snow-filled winters, it looks like a great place to live.
The first campground we chose was right outside of the city of Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.
It was big parking lot with sewer, electric, and water hook-ups. Good location. No frills. No complaints. We gave it four out of five stars. It's exactly what you'd expect from a fairground.
Within walking distance was a little pub named Liquid Johnny's. While the interior was a bit run down, it was a nice place to go for a casual drink, friendly conversation and a plateful of pub grub.
After settling in, we drove into downtown Milwaukee..
I was a bit disappointed at what we found. Not only was it smaller than expected but it looks quite similar to many other mid-sized, nondescript, post-industrial towns that ring the Great Lakes.
Municipalities whose vibrancy undulates with the fortunes of the automotive and steel business. In the aftermath of the implosion of these industries in the 70's, many of these feeder-cities slid helplessly into decline and only in the past decade, or so, been able to claw their way out of the morass.
I wish I could use words such as: lively, unique, artsy, quaint or colorful to describe this city but I just can't. It seems to be a quiet, no-frills, just-business community.
We spent most of the afternoon walking along the Menomonee River that bifurcates the downtown area.
There were many old warehouses that had been repurposed but we found none of the boutique shops or trendy cafes that line the waterways in other cities such as San Antonio or Chicago. No colorful lights. No hanging baskets of fragrant flowers. No couples sharing a romantic walk. I think I pass more people in my living room on a daily basis than we passed along this waterway.
Sticking with my t.v. motif, I would call this area the Dragnet of waterfronts: "Just the facts, ma'am".
Here are a few pictures I took while there.
While there, we found a statue dedicated to an unexpected hero:
That's right. A statue commemorating Arthur Fonzarelli, "The Fonz" from the Happy Days TV show. Another popular TV show set in the city of Milwaukee.
When the sculpture was unveiled on August 18, 2008, most of the Happy Days cast, including Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, Don Most, and Anson Williams, attended the dedication ceremony. And to that, I say:
(For some reason, we found no statue dedicated to Lavern and Shirley! Just doesn't seem fair)
On the bright side, there were signs of revitalization through out the downtown area. Lots of construction equipment, orange cones and large cranes.
Lots of movement forward.
As I mentioned earlier, Laverne and Shirley worked at a fictitious brewery named Shotz.
In the opening scene of the show, there are clips of them working on an active bottling line.
So we thought we try to find the location of these shots. As it turns out the bottling line used in the opening scene, was filmed at the old Schlitz Brewery here in Milwaukee. Sadly, that facility was torn down in 1983.
But the machinery survives. It was sold to Lakefront Brewery who still uses the equipment today.
We toured the brewery but sadly the bottling line was under repair and not part of the tour. Disappointed that I wouldn't be standing next to the whirring line of beer bottles, as portrayed in the shows opening credits, I shoved my over-sized work glove back into my pocket (fans of the show know what I'm talking about).
Before you can sample their beers you have to sing the song!
Lorraine even won the Cork Master Award for guzzling a beer in under four seconds! Just kidding, she won the award asking the most questions.
OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST:
We found a few buildings that seemed out of place in this box-like city. This is the Mitchell Building, originally built in 1873 for a bank and insurance company, it stands as one of the oldest building in Milwaukee.
The Art Museum (below) which unfortunately was closed when we were there.
And of course, Miller Park home of the Milwaukee Brewers.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT:
If you've followed our blog for any period of time, you know that we love to scout out homes and buildings designed by the father of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright. We found three interesting ones in this area.
--S. C. JOHNSON OFFICE BUILDING:
In the city of Racine there are two structures built by Wright. First, the 15-story office building and research laboratory (tower) of S.C. Johnson Wax. Completed in 1938, the building incorporates many of FLW's older and some newer design concepts.
First, lots of his old stand-byes: earth tones, "Cherokee red" bricks, natural light through the use of large windows and the use of angles and circles to break continuity (he often said he was "at war" with right angles).
Essentially, he designed a round building inside a square one.
Another innovative concept Wright incorporated was the use of rows of Pyrex tubing instead of traditional glass windows (as seen above). These tubes provide light without transparency. They let in ample amounts of sunlight but distorted the workers view of the industrial surroundings below. The original sealant used to hold the horizontal rows together could not withstand the temperature extremes of the area and eventually began leaking. It was later replaced with a silicon sealant. The Pyrex was later replaced with plexiglass. (The entire tower was closed down in 1980 for safety reasons).
In the administrative area of the complex, he introduced the "lily pad". Dendriform columns. Smaller at the base than at their peak.
Wright called this area "the cathedral of work". He wanted the employees to feel as though they were working in a pine forest. He promised these surroundings would increase workers productivity by 25%.
We heard an interesting story about these columns, which are 9 inches in diameter at the bottom and 18 feet in diameter at the top:
"This difference in diameter between the bottom and top of the column did not accord with building codes at the time; they deemed the pillar's dimensions too slender at the base to support the weight. Building inspectors required that a test column be built and loaded with twelve tons of material. The test column, once it was built, was not only tough enough to support the requested weight but Wright insisted that it be loaded with fivefold the weight. It took sixty tons of materials before the "calyx," the part of the column that meets the lily pad, cracked (and even then, only collapsing when the wooden beams supporting the "lily-pad" were removed; crashing the 60 tons of materials to the ground, even damaging a water main 30 feet underground). After this demonstration, a vindicated Wright was given his building permit."
Wright was very particular about the furnishings and decor that were used in his structures. Each item had to serve a particular purpose. Each item had to be very utilitarian. Functional yet contributing into the overall sensory experience. This is why he meticulously designed the furnishings himself. He took great pains in designing work desks that were just the right height and width, open at the bottom so employees couldn't "clutter" their areas. And each rounded desk was spaced far enough away so employees couldn't yell to their co-worker but had to get up and have a personal interaction.
He came up with some very innovative concepts that are still in use today. But he also had some clunkers. Take this beautiful office chair that he designed.
Although elegant in design, it was not so functional in purpose. He gave it only three legs so occupants had to keep both feet on the ground. He thought it would contribute to better posture and less fatigue. They were placed at every desk.
After a few weeks, the president of the company had Wright come down to the building for a visit. Upon Wright's arrival H. C. Johnson pulled out a one of Wright's chairs and had him sit in it. Wright sat down and was very pleased with his creation. Johnson then asked him to roll the chair closer to him. When Wright attempted to scoot the chair forward, it tipped over spilling the always fashionably-dressed Wright onto the floor. Wright immediately went about revising the design of the chair with four legs!
Below is an overview of the entire office complex. Another interesting feature was that Wright designed the complex to have only ONE entrance (there were numerous exits).
In the days before email and cell-phones, Wright thought a central entrance would increase communications between staff (I wonder if he also did it to encourage employees to arrive early as to get a good parking spot near the entrance!)
The original cost estimates of the building was $200,000. It ended up costing $1.2 million to complete.
I found a short but fascinating news-reel that was shot in the 1950's about the S. C. Johnson, Tower of Glass:
And the second structure we visited was the home of Herbert F. Johnson, Jr., a third-generation leader of the S. C. Johnson (Johnson Wax) company. So impressed was he with Wright's work on their office building, that he had Wright design his personal residence as well.
Completed in 1939, and named Wingspread by Wright, the massive 14,000 sq ft home beautifully interacts with the expansive prairie on which it sits.
Walking through the home we recognized many trademarks of Wright's "organic architecture": Large windows and skylights which let in bountiful, warm sunlight, a central chimney, horizontal lines that carry the eye around the room, low pitched roofs with overhanging eaves, construction materials of local origin and, lastly, a leaky roof (more on that in a minute).
One of Wright's pet peeves was clutter. This is why he purposefully left little space for storage (and the accumulation) of personal-belongings in his designs. His homes are almost void of garages (although he did use car ports), closets, and/or shelving.
Wright called this home "the last of the Prairie [inspired] houses."
The interior is a masterpiece of design. Smaller spaces flowing into larger "open plan" living areas with the aim of drawing the occupants out of their "corners"..
One of the bedrooms..
..and into a shared central living area.
Our tour guide related an amusing anecdote about Wright's "honest arrogance". One night, while entertaining guests at his Wingspread home, a sudden thunderstorm sent a stream of rainwater down onto the head of H. F. Johnson.
In a moment of righteous anger, he put in an immediate call to Wright in Phoenix. He told Wright that the house was beautiful but it had a leaky roof and water was leaking onto his head!
Wright's reply, which was loud enough for all to hear, burst from the phone: "Well, Hib, why don't you move your chair!?"
Wingspread was eventually donated to the Johnson Foundation and is currently used as a conference center.
--ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH:
This is an active Greek Orthodox church in the town of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It was designed in 1956, and completed in 1961, two years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death.
We weren’t greeted by a tour guide when we arrived, just someone who was working in the church office. They unlocked the doors to the church and told us to feel free to poke around. So we did.
While the building was beautiful, we were disappointed at the degree of degradation of this structure. Because this church serves a small and dwindling congregation, there is very little money left over for upkeep. Upon closer inspection we found cracks in the walls, carpeting in need of replacement, water stains and peeling paint. We left a generous donation.
The interior is not very spacious, especially by modern standards. The nave of the church is cramped, the aisle ways narrow, and the seats don't look very comfortable. I shutter to think what would happen if this building, packed with parishioners, had to be evacuated quickly.
After doing a little research, I found out that when Wright received a commission for a church, “he consulted his wife, who was brought up in the Greek Orthodox faith, about the predominant symbols of the church. 'The cross and the dome,' was her reply." These two architectural forms dominate the design. The floor plan itself is a Greek cross. Wide arches support the upper level, or balcony. The roof dome sits atop an inverted dome, or bowl.”
In fact Wright had an interesting interpretation of the design, he said: "The edifice is in itself a complete work of modern art and science belonging to today but dedicated to ancient tradition—contributing to tradition instead of living upon it."
One last interesting tidbit of information we learned about Frank was that he always grossly underestimated the cost of his designs. His clients said that working with him will either drive you to the poor house or the mad house. Whether intentional or not, his design fees (around 7%) were based on the final cost of the project leaving him little concern for cost-overruns.
After absorbing as much of the area as possible in the five days we were here, we packed up and headed north to the town of Green Bay. The topic of my next blog post.
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