Preserving Faith and Natural Resources

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

Who says churches aren’t sustainable? Last weekend we toured Doors Open Milwaukee and the top “must-see” on my list was the Basilica of St. Josaphat. Wow! Step inside this work of art and you experience sustainability in more ways than one.

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

According to the basilica’s story, in the late 1800s Polish immigrants were pouring into this neighborhood of south Milwaukee and 12,000 of them were members of St. Josaphat. The parish’s Father Wilhelm Grutza sought a way to affordably build a larger church. He learned of plans to demolish the Chicago Post Office and Custom House, so for $20,000 he was able to purchase the salvaged materials and have them shipped up to Milwaukee. From this the parish built its new church. It was completed in 1901.

It’s often said that churches of old were believed to be portals to the divine, that their beauty helped prepare parishioners to the experience of worship. It this were true, Milwaukee’s doorway would open straight to the heavens. There is an exceptional number of stunningly beautiful churches in this city and as we stood outside St. Josaphat, we knew this was one of them.

And then we stepped inside the nave…

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

We were completely blown away! I’ve never been in European cathedrals, but this is how I imagine them to be—breathtakingly beautiful.

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

Over the years I’ve been accumulating a photography collection of rose windows. St. Josaphat added quite a few to my collection!

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, WI

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, WI

Basilica of St. Josaphat, Doors Open Milwaukee

I appreciate religious organizations that aren’t shy in promoting their history or their physical assets. In a lower level of St. Josaphat, the parish displays a fascinating timeline of its structure. It’s a wonderful illustration of how much God has done for them and reminds members to be good stewards of their wonderful blessings!

So that’s it folks, our day of Doors Open Milwaukee! Definitely a worthwhile time and one we want to do again next year!


An Edifice of Eternal Encasing

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee 2014

If it seems like every time you drive past Milwaukee’s City Hall it’s encased in scaffolding, it’s because it is. It’s been that way now for years. And years. And years.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee 2014

In 2006, the city began an exciting restoration project on the historic building’s exterior and due to some unfortunate developments, the project just never ends. Originally built in 1895, the City Hall is a 393-foot Flemish Renaissance Revival and is trapezoidally nestled between four angled streets.

And scaffolding.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee 2014

To get into the building, you have to walk through a tunnel of scaffolding before it gives way to what someday will once again be a welcoming open-air rotunda.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee

And then you step inside. Voilà…here is this fascinating interior of intrigue. All eight floors of it.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee

As history goes, seven people jumped to their deaths during the Great Depression. This led to the installation of a protective wire barrier and it remained in place until 1988.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee

I like this. It shows both a sense of sustainability and community. I also like the creative display of responses.

Milwaukee City Hall, Doors Open Milwaukee

There is great beauty in repetition and serendipitous alignment!

That’s all for today, folks. Come back tomorrow for the Basilica of St. Josaphat. You’ve just got to see it!


When the Flame is Blue

Gas Light Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

When the flame is red, it’s warm weather ahead!
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold!
When the flame is blue, there’s no change in view!
When there’s a flickering flame, expect snow or rain!

Since 1956, downtown Milwaukeeans have only needed to look to the rooftop of the Milwaukee Gas Light Building for their next day’s forecast. See that flame-shaped dome at the top of this magnificent, 20-floor, Art Deo skyscraper? It’s the gift of the Wisconsin Gas Company (owners of the building at the time) to Milwaukee—a color-changing beacon along with a cute rhyme of explanation. It’s iconic treasures such as this that instill a hometown in the hearts of its people.


After decades of Victorian extremism, imagine how, in 1930 when the Gas Light Building was completed, its simplicity was noticeably distinct. That’s kind of how we felt as we stepped inside for Doors Open Milwaukee. It’s obviously different than the previous buildings we’d toured, but we thought it beautiful nonetheless.

Wisconsin Gas Light Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

Who says Art Deco isn’t ornate? Don’t you just love this jazzy sunburst?

Apparently in the 1960s (oh, those architecturally dreadful ’60s), the gas company “modernized” the building. Along with removing granite ornamentation and other characteristic elements, they did away with the deco bronze sunburst. However in 2002, the Paul Weise Real Estate Corporation purchased the building and restored it to its original luster, including a duplicated sunburst.

Milwaukee Gas Light Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

Once again, design is in the details. Even the street address is done in Art Deco. Such a classy typeface!

Gas Light Weather, Milwaukee, WI

And to close of this lovely autumn day, maybe you want a little Art Deco, weather-predicting, Milwaukee-flame excitement for your iPhone. Here’s a Gas Light app. Don’t worry if you don’t live in Milwaukee, it will forecast weather no matter where you are. Milwaukeeans are really nice like that.

Next stop? Check in tomorrow for Milwaukee City Hall!

Meet Me at the Pfister

The Pfister Hotel, Doors Open Milwaukee

This spring my daughter-in-law, a native of Chile, became a U.S. citizen. Her naturalization ceremony took place in Milwaukee’s majestic Federal Courthouse and afterward we celebrated with lunch at the Pfister Hotel. It was very special. So naturally, since we were in the neighborhood for the Doors Open Milwaukee event, we stepped into the Pfister for a reminiscing visit.

One of many things that made our spring luncheon meaningful was the attentiveness of our waitress. When she heard of my daughter-in-law’s celebration she lavished us with anecdotal history of the hotel. “Meet me at the Pfister,” she said, was a common thing to pass along from one immigrant to another. Because the Pfister is right across the street from the Federal Courthouse, meeting there before and after a naturalization ceremony was the traditional thing to do. And since both buildings date back to the late 1800s, you can bet generations of immigrants have met at the Pfister.

The Pfister Hotel, Doors Open Milwaukee

As you can see, the hotel glories in its Victorian style. It’s described as a Romanesque Revival and everything about it, from the extensive artwork to the potted palms, affirms Victorian.

With one exception…

Pfister Hotel, Doors Open Milwaukee

In 1962, the Pfister was purchased by Ben Marcus. He restored the structure to its original glory, which is awesome. But he also added a 23-story tower of rooms that is, shall we generously say, not-so-awesome. Luxurious as they are on the interior, from the exterior they don’t quite harmonize with the Romanesque Revival. I hate when that happens. But once again in the spirit of generosity, let’s predict that the addition will someday be a historic example of typical 1960’s architecture.

The grey building with copper turrets on the left is the Federal Courthouse Building. The building of yellow brick, known as Cream City Brick, in the center is the original Pfister Hotel. And the lovely (ahem) circular tower behind it is the Pfister Hotel addition.

Milwaukee does have an interesting skyline, doesn’t it? I took this photo from the Gas Light Building. Stay tuned until tomorrow!

‘Doors Open Milwaukee’ Offers Access to History

Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

This past weekend more than 150 architectural gems of Milwaukee threw open their doors and let us, the inquisitive public, meander inside for a peek. They were all part of Doors Open Milwaukee, a Historic Milwaukee 2-day event that was loads of fun. There were so many interesting buildings on the list, I would have loved to stay in town and tour both days!

Here’s one of the five we toured.

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

Public Service Building

So if your husband is a line mechanic for WE Energies, you for sure have to visit the Public Service Building. Well, you should no matter where you or your husband works just because it’s an absolutely gorgeous building. Completed in 1905 by the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company, it’s an interesting blend of neoclassical and art deco design.

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

As they say, design is in the details. Here, two elements consistently carry the design throughout the building: archways and the icon of a fist holding lightening bolts (it is a power company after all). Imagine using this elevator for your work days.

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

The chandelier mirrors the ornate Victorian details of the lobby.

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

Another consistent element were the architectural keystones above the main archways. The informative and not-too-wordy guide pointed out how the marble is cut so each piece is mirrored to the one next to it.

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open Milwaukee

How’s this for a ceiling? This room is the auditorium, complete with a balcony and stage. In the 1940s the company, by then known as Wisconsin Electric Power Company, gave much of the building an art deco makeover to go with the moderne style of the day. Yes, it’s a bit of contrasting ‘wow’ when you walk into this room. But it’s interesting nonetheless. WE Energies had a display set up here with their annual cookie books, a tradition they’ve kept since 1932. I’m proud to say I have nearly all of them from 1991-2013!


I love how the designers married the art deco to the original style simply by bringing in the fist and lightening bolts. Consistency is key, even in contrast, yes?

WE Energies Public Service Building, Doors Open, Milwaukee

The Public Service Building was originally used as an interurban passenger depot and trains came right into the building through these doors. Nowadays trains are no longer part of Milwaukee’s public transportation and the building is used for WE Energy corporate offices. These doors are replicas of the original depot doors.

So there you have it, a sneak peak into one of Milwaukee’s notable buildings! Stay tuned for our next stop: the Pfister!