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.

DoorsOpen2014_Gas_2

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!

DoorsOpen2014_PublicServiceBuilding_9

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!

National Entrepreneurship Week and My Go-Getting Grandparents

old fashioned general store

When I was young, my grandparents owned a general store. It was one of those mom-and-pop groceries, complete with creaky wooden floors and a penny candy display behind the counter. This is my grandfather, George, proudly showcasing his adventure a few years after purchasing the business.

I pulled out this photo because February 15-22 is National Entrepreneurship Week and my grandparents were the most daring, go-getters I know. As I look at this, I’m thinking they shared many of the unique qualities we celebrate in entrepreneurs today.

Dreamers

So George and Ruth purchased their store in 1946. They were in their 30-40s at the time, but you could compare them to people in today’s millennial generation who look for careers that satisfy their passions.

For more than twenty years George had worked as an accountant for a Chicago meat packing company and, according to my grandmother, the job was affecting his health. They wanted something different, something that would get him out of the office and offer them greater personal meaning.

Go-Getters

When it came to buying their store, George and Ruth were as venturous as any entrepreneur today. As the story goes, one weekend while visiting family in Michigan, they saw the store advertised for sale in a newspaper. They immediately checked it out and paid a $500 down payment. Two months later they moved their family from a very settled, big city life in Chicago to the unknowns of rural (hicksville) Henderson, population 250.

Isn’t that intriguing? I guess we’re not the only generation who dreams of escaping the confines of a working cubicle, whether literal or not, and moving off the beaten path to something we can call our own.

 Innovators

old family photo

Okay, so here’s a picture of George and Ruth with their daughters in Chicago. Contrast this with the picture below that shows the family with friends a few years later in front of their store. Need I say more of their willingness to step outside their own comfort zone?

Here’s a fun story my grandmother would tell of their move. My grandparents had nice furniture, including a baby grand piano, all of which they paid to have shipped from Chicago to Henderson in advance of their arrival. This, of course, created a great buzz of interest even before they themselves pulled into town. Today, might we consider this a calculating PR tactic?

And then there’s my grandfather’s ingenuity. He may have previously spent decades in an office chair, but he certainly didn’t lack for hands-on moxie in his store. According to my grandmother, he built all new shelving and a walk-in cooler. He learned to cut meat and updated the store with a glass meat counter and an ice cream freezer.

Isn’t it interesting what entrepreneurs take on nowadays? We not only practice our area of expertise, we also learn marketing, communications and social media. And if there’s something we’re better off not doing, it’s easy enough to search online for someone who can.

family in front of old general store

Determined

As I remember my grandparents, I imagine they would have carefully planned the realities of going into business for themselves. George was a qualified bookkeeper and experienced in the food industry. Ruth was a networking guru half a century before such marketing terminology existed. Yet, the skills that likely kept them going most were that of hard work, perseverance and understanding.

According to my grandmother, she and George worked side by side in the first years of their ownership. Then they decided the store needed some updates. So Ruth took a job. At first she worked nights in a factory. After that she worked as a bookkeeper for a local business, a position she held for the next 14 years.

Many businesses today start out as side gigs to a day job. Just like my grandparents’ store, they need a few years of financial support, health insurance or an all-around oomph of stability. I’ll be the first to admit I wouldn’t be enjoying entrepreneurship if I didn’t have the backing of my husband’s secure job.

Integrators

My grandparents lived in an apartment above the store. The back stairway that merged their work and life was one they navigated many times a day. Such a setup was common in those days, wasn’t it? And weren’t businesses often family affairs that involved husband, wife and children?

How interesting that we’re once again returning to this concept. A great number of entrepreneurs work from their home offices. They participate in the day-to-day care of their children and they integrate work time with family time.

What about you?

Are there any like-minded entrepreneurs in your family? We can learn so much from innovators of the past and apply that to how we work today. Tell us all about them!

Leave a comment!

 

How ‘Local’ Builds a Community (or Not)

Studebaker emblem
Last month we visited our son in South Bend, Indiana. When he first moved there I was real excited. South Bend is a college town, meaning it should be cultural, historical, eclectic and all-around cool. Right?

Uh, in reality, not so much.

Okay, so South Bend’s not horribly bad. But it’s also not quite what you’d expect of an urban locale that’s just two hours from Chicago and home to multiple universities, one of them being the University of Notre Dame. A quick drive through and it’s obvious the town’s heyday came to an end a few years ago. Fifty, in fact.

In December 1963 the Studebaker Automobile Manufacturing closed its doors in South Bend. As the city’s largest employer, this put thousands of people out of work and ended what had been a legacy for more than a hundred years (Studebaker originally was the world’s largest wagon builder).

(Interestingly, this happened just two weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Can you imagine the emotional uproar those townsfolk felt?)

Studebaker National Museum, South Bend, IN

So while we were in town, we toured the Studebaker National Museum. It’s a full-scale museum with great cars and wonderful history, both local and national. The Oliver House was also included in the price of the ticket, but unfortunately we ran out of time. Next visit, for sure.

Studebaker National Museum

I love this green truck! It’s so indicative of calloused hands, the working class, and a good days’ labor—all the things that built our Midwest. Although this truck’s just a wee bit shinier than all that, don’t you think?

Studebaker National Museum, South Bend, IN

Of course, whenever you have a major industry, you have many smaller ones feeding off it. The museum did a great job showcasing the local businesses that developed because of Studebaker, most of which eminently suffered when the plant closed down. Apparently, in the decades following the demise of Studebaker and other manufacturers, South Bend’s population decreased by 30,000 people.

So here’s where the local comes in.

Local is such a fad word these days, but for good reason—it means as much now as it did in 1963. When local businesses thrive, the whole community thrives. When they fail, the community fails. Next Saturday, November 30, is Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting small and local businesses. One special day tucked between two of the biggest shopping days of the year makes a huge difference to small, privately-owned businesses. I know, I’m one of them!

Be sure to shop small and local! Help your community thrive!

Small Business Saturday Shop Small