Old Milwaukee in bits and pieces

As a child, I grew-up listening to stories that pieced together Milwaukee’s former glory. The historical bits my father and grandparents described over the years formed an image of a warmer, more down-to-earth Milwaukee.  When I explored the city as a child in the 1990’s, I found Milwaukee robbed of many buildings that once made it a gem. Since then, I have embarked on a search to learn more about the city’s past and connect with what was lost.  My friend, Leonard Budney, owner of American Estates in Bay View, was contracted over the years to clear old buildings in Milwaukee of architectural features before demolition. Through this work, he obtained many artifacts, and fortunately for me, he held onto several of them until I came along to add them to my collection.

The first pieces I am sharing in the photos are my largest: two blocks of terracotta from Milwaukee’s first skyscraper, the Pabst Building. Designed by Solon S. Beman and constructed in 1891 at 108 East Wisconsin Avenue, it was the tallest building in the city until 1895 with the construction of city hall. In 1948, the building was badly abused in attempts to modernize it.  The fine Flemish Renaissance tower was chopped off along with the roof line, and the structure in its entirety was painted drab gray. Eventually, the building was torn down by the Carley Capital Group in 1981 to build the “River Place Tower,” that never came to be. The site is now occupied by the Faison Building, showing some characteristics vaguely similar to its beautiful predecessor. The photo I have included of the Pabst Building was as it looked during the construction of Marine Plaza in 1961 (Period photo by Ray Szopieray).

The second piece in my collection is a terracotta block from the clock tower of the Chicago and Northwestern Depot. Designed by Charles Sumner Frost and built 1889, this beautiful railway depot once stood at the east end of Wisconsin Avenue on the lake front. When I asked my father if he was ever there, the first thing that came to his mind was the ‘400’ diesel locomotive sign.  It was illuminated by neon and had the headlights of a diesel engine with one stationary and one would sway from side-to-side. The lakefront depot served Milwaukeeans and others for approximately 75 years when the city bought the property from C&NW, intent on demolishing it to build the freeway. Closed for two years and despite valiant efforts to save it, the station was demolished in 1968. Today, the site is home to O’Donnell Park. The photo I have included of the station still standing was as it appeared while still in service in the early 1960s. (Period photo by Ray Szopieray)

The third and final piece was once part of the Milwaukee Road depot, otherwise known as the Everett Street station or Milwaukee Union depot. Designed by Edward Townsend Mix and constructed in 1886, the depot was built in the beautiful Germanic Gothic Revival style, gracing the Milwaukee skyline in this original appearance for over 60 years. In the 1950s, someone had the bright idea to remove nearly the entire tower, which could be considered the straw that broke the camel’s back. Within a decade, the depot was out of service, having been replaced by the hideous new Milwaukee Union Station (AMTRAK depot) in 1965. A year later, the Milwaukee Road depot was demolished. This block of terracotta was found when construction crews were preparing the site for the WE Energies building some 20 years later. The photo I have included of the depot was as it looked in the early 1950s, before they removed the tower. (Period photo by Ray Szopieray)

These bits and pieces of our city preserve the memory of our ancestors  who once walked the street and experienced them in their glory.  The Pabst Building, Chicago and Northwestern Depot, and Milwaukee Road Depot, are rich in their history. Their pieces that remain provide only a glimpse of their former glory, but through their conservation in my collection, I hope to preserve them for generations to come.

-Karl Bandow





The Photos of Ray Szopieray

Over the past few years, I have been acquiring slides of old Milwaukee from Leonard Budney at American Estates in Bay View. Yesterday he and my friend and fellow Milwaukee history buff, Adam Levin, who also has been collecting the slides, spotted a special little scribble on two of their pieces: the photographer’s name. Ray Szopieray, son of a Polish immigrant mother, lived from 1908 to 1992 and documented the city in depth from 1935ish to the late 1980s. I own about 200+ of his images, and he donated about 25,000 of them to the Milwaukee Historical Society to share with the public. I am proud to conserve these pieces of Milwaukee history in my collection and will keep them safe for generations to come. We must never let our past be forgotten!



Remembering the blizzard of 1947

One thing that is repeatedly brought up when talking with older residents of Milwaukee is the huge blizzard that hit the city from the 28th to the 30th of January, 1947. The first people I remember talking about it were my grandparents. Apparently they were on the way back from visiting family up north and nearly made it home when they got stuck behind a stranded car. They certainly weren’t alone…

In total, Milwaukee got just over 18 inches of snow during the storm, and as New York area recently learned, the white stuff can completely halt all plans. Nearly the entire transit system in the city was shut down by the storm. People who were children at the time have told me what a blast it was to play on the mountains of snow, or how they made a lot of money shoveling for people who were snowed in.

I look in awe at photos I own of the clean-up. The plows were quite antiquated, likely because newer models weren’t made during the war. But the city at the time was a much friendlier place and neighbors were very willing to lend a helping hand. Through hard work and determination, they slowly got the city back on its feet and the blizzard of 1947 went into history as one of the worst ever.


Destruction of Milwaukee Landmarks

As a perpetual student of history and the descendant of carpenters, it is tragic to see barren landscapes or hideous modern structures that once held beautiful works of art. In the same fatal sweep that forced my family to move from their home on 9th Street in the late 1950s, this church, First Methodist Church which once stood on Wisconsin Avenue, was demolished in the name of progress. Where it once stood is now I-43. If you never knew it was there, you wouldn’t even think twice that anything was ever in that location. I will be posting more such articles in the future, as this is an issue close to my heart.

We all have an immigrant story

Fortunately for me, my mother and father both did the heavy lifting when it came to compiling most of the family genealogy. Also fortunate for my family, my forefathers saved most of the photos. The man on the left is my 3rd Great-Grandpa, Johann Joachim Hans Heinrich Bandow, my immigrant ancestor.

A master weaver in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, he slowly lost his trade due to advances during the industrial revolution. He had to make the hard choice to head for America, which broke his mother Ilsabe’s heart. She died while he was still at sea. His wife-to-be, Maria Lucks, was not listed on the ship registry. She was a stow-away… They arrived at Castle Garden, New York (the predecessor to Ellis Island) October 30th, 1863, but that was not their final stop.  The “German Athens,” Milwaukee, awaited them, and it has been home to my family ever since.

Amazing that something like unemployment, desperation and a long trip across the ocean brought my family all the way to the city I love so much. Here is a thank you to Johann and Maria for choosing Milwaukee as their home so long ago!


Grandpa Bandow on Julia Street

Great photo of my Grandpa with his toy car on Julia Street. I think this must have been in 1929 or 1930, so it doesn’t seem that my grandpa’s family had quite felt the effects of the depression yet. Life in the depression wasn’t so bad for Milwaukee at first as industry kept on going, but things slowly caught up with the rest of the nation within two or three years and got bad. Grandpa later had to help his dad scrap old Model T’s for parts as a way to make money. We still have the old Lionel train engine his dad somehow, by some miracle, managed to get him for Christmas in those hard times.


A photo tells a thousand words…

Since I was a child, I have loved the railway. As an adult, I still like to research the Milwaukee Road, Chicago & Northwestern and The Milwaukee Electric and Light Company (TMER&L).  I bought this photo of TMER&L Interurban #1192 & 93 on ebay because I thought it was a great angle, great scene at 38th and McKinley and just overall a great shot.

Last weekend, I went to the grand opening at Antiques on Pierce with my wife and saw an incredible book about the TMER&L that I had to have. While paging through, I noticed a photo of a fairly famous local accident that happened Labor Day weekend in 1950, a sight my Grandpa actually had seen personally. A northbound train and a southbound train had collided. To my surprise, there was TMER&L Interurban #1192 & 93! To go from such a picturesque image as in the photo I purchased to a scene of misery and pain… 10 people were killed, 47 injured.

Interurban #1192 & #93 was towed from the scene to the Waukesha gravel pit, where it sat for two years before being scrapped. Sad end to a beautiful train.




1922 Milwaukee Police and Fire Call Box

Since this is a page primarily about Milwaukee history, I have to start out with a bang by sharing my largest item. Manufactured in Milwaukee in 1922, what makes this piece particularly interesting is that it was initially made for Chicago. Never made it there for reasons I likely will never know. It stood instead at the intersection of W. Walker and S. 4th Streets in Milwaukee until 1971.

I purchased the piece from a long time friend of my father. He worked for City Hall for many years, and as such, he found out when some of these were being scrapped. He paid a penny-per-pound in scrap value ($4.16!) in the early 1970s.

You still see these silent witnesses to Milwaukee history on corners throughout the city. On occasion, you can see the old red paint peeking through on some of them where the 1970s blue over-paint has began chipping away.

I am looking for parts for these, such as the light that goes on top, locks, etc. Shoot me an email if you happen to have anything Milwaukee call box related.