Author steps back in time to study Milwaukee schoolhouse history
OnMilwaukee.com Managing Editor Bobby Tanzilo is already a published author beyond the pages of the magazine you're reading right now. It's his fourth book, however, that spawned from an interest in where his own kids go to school, not to mention his long-time interest in "going behind the scenes."
"Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses" hit bookshelves this fall and chronicles the amazing architecture of the landmarks we send our children to every day. World-class architects built these schools in a time when quality mattered, and more than a century later, many stand strong today.
The idea for the book sprung up organically, says Tanzilo, himself an MPS parent.
"I was posting pictures on Facebook, and people kept saying, 'Are you writing a book? Are you writing a book?' So I approached the publisher of my last book with the idea, and they loved it."
Tanzilo says the writing and research of the paperback took a few months, researching old photos and documents. He says that MPS was extremely helpful in the process, too. Superintendent Gregory Thornton, in fact, wrote the forward to the book.
"I went to an old school building when I was a kid, and I was interested in those places you could never go," says Tanzilo. "But no, I didn't especially love going to school. Though I didn't hate it and I was a pretty good student."
Still, some of what Tanzilo discovered during his research surprised him.
"I got interested when I realized that the buildings were built by Milwaukee's greatest architects. I would've thought that schools were designed by some civil engineer who worked in a municipal building, but they really took them seriously," says Tanzilo. "A few of them are on the National Register of Historical Places."
For example, the architect who built most of the school houses in the 1870s, Henry Koch, also designed City Hall and The Pfister.
"Though they took bids, the Common Council wasn't looking for the cheapest way out," he says. "They had the best and the brightest architects working on these schools."
During the research and writing process, Tanzilo found a few personal favorites, too.
"Of the 1880s buildings, Garfield Avenue School is pretty hard to beat. By the '30s, you have some Eschweiler buildings. One called Phillipp, which is near Rufus King, is really amazing, with great woodwork and tilework."
Interestingly, some of these buildings are now closed and have an unknown future. MPS enrollment has been shrinking for some time, but if it's cyclical and more facilities are needed, these gems are available on a moment's notice.
"The reception of the book has been great so far," says Tanzilo. "And it's great that people are taking an interest in these schools, that are, I think, among the most beautiful old buildings in the city."
"Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses" is available now at Boswell Books, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Tanzilo will hold a book-singing event on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. Boswell, 2559 N. Downer Ave.
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