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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

These two reinforced concrete columns are really the remnant of something that never was. They were meant to support a portion of the Layton School of Art that

In Milwaukee Buzz

The pillars are seen here in this 1950s-era photo of the Layton School of Art. (Photo: Russell Zimmermann)

In Milwaukee Buzz

This wall is all that remains of the 1913 Gordon Park Bath House, also called the Gordon Park Boathouse.

In Milwaukee Buzz

This postcard image shows the Gordon Park Bath House in its heyday.

Milwaukee ruins: Layton School & Gordon Park bath house


Sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain site in parks, along roadsides, at the lakefront, are remnants of Milwaukee's past scattered. While Milwaukee has preserved parts of its past built environment, many buildings and bridges and other structures have long disappeared.

Meanwhile, stray bits of that past can still be seen. Here are a few...

Layton School of Art, Prospect Avenue

About halfway down the bluff on the east side of Prospect Avenue, just north of Ogden Avenue, stand a pair of reinforced cement columns sprouting rebar out the tops. These are the remains of the Layton School of Art, sort of...

Originally located adjacent to the Layton Art Gallery on Jefferson Street, the Layton School of Art was always pressed for space. By the close of the 1940s, School Director Charlotte Partridge had located and acquired a new site for the school, on Prospect Avenue and one of the school's industrial design teachers, Jack Waldheim, designed a striking glass box that was one of the most exciting modernist buildings in Milwaukee at the time.

The plan included a long pavilion that cantilevered out over the bluff. That part of the building would be supported by two square reinforced concrete columns. However, says, John Eastberg, co-author of "Layton's Legacy," cost overruns spelled changes.

"The school turned out to be wildly over budget and that part of the building, which had an auditorium, was never built," he says.

So, in effect, these columns – which stand long after the building was closed in the summer of 1970 and demolished soon after – are actually the remains of something never built.

The rest of the school was built, however, to critical acclaim.

"I had heard your school was the most beautiful art school in the United States," said respected photographer Yousuf Karsh during a visit. "Now that I have seen it, I must say that the previous report sounds like typically British understatement."

The Gordon Park Boat / Bath House, Milwaukee River at Locust Street

The Milwaukee River was once a center for recreation to a degree that we almost can't imagine anymore. There was a swimming school at North Avenue, a resort in what is now Riverside Park (a long staircase remains) and other swimming and boating sites.

At Locust Street, on the west bank of the river, stands a wall with an opening that is the final bit of the Gordon Park Boathouse (also sometimes referred to as the Gordon Park Bath House), built in 1913.

Though the wall is now yards and yards away from the water, it once was right up at the edge and connected by a bridge to a wide wooden dock perfect for diving – or sliding – into the dip. In the photo above you can see the gap in the wall where the wooden bridge out to the dock intersected.

Megan Daniels has some more background on this wall – as well as a 1940 boathouse built higher up the bluff – and images here.

Unknown building elements, lakefront

Much of what we know and enjoy as the lakefront today sits atop a former lake bed. And I don't mean tens of thousands of years ago. Much of it is the result of landfill deposited over the past century, and some of it has even been created in the 30 years I've lived in the city.

A lot of the landfill is stone and soil dug up during the creation of other projects, like the deep tunnel, for example. But, when the weather begins to cooperate, stroll along the lakefront south and north of the Linnwood water treatment plant and you'll find decorative capitals and other architectural elements from unknown buildings. There are photos of some of these to be found on Flickr, like this one.

Stay tuned for another installment of Milwaukee Ruins.

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