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The Crusties at Yano's.
The Crusties at Yano's. (Photo: Courtesy of Pete Flessas)

A personal look at Downtown's disappeared rock clubs

This morning I posted a look back at some of Milwaukee's dead and gone Downtown rock and roll clubs. I never had the chance to visit some of them, which pre-dated not only my time in Milwaukee, but, in some cases, also my birth.

The effect of having missed some of these is one of a mysterious, almost difficult to imagine time in the city, which has changed so much since the likes of The Scene, The Attic and The Penthouse existed. Not only are the clubs long gone but the buildings they occupied also vanished decades ago. The views you see in the other post – like the one at 5th and Wisconsin with a direct line of sight up to the Arena – simply don't exist anymore.

And the thought of Jimi Hendrix on the streets of Downtown, frankly, seems surreal.

But I got here in the early '80s, which despite what you might read elsewhere, was, in fact, an exciting time in Milwaukee music. The first wave of punk and new wave bands like The Haskels was wrapping up and the hardcore scene was on the rise. You could also still see some fine transitional era bands like The Oil Tasters, Einstein's Riceboys, The Honest Disgrace and Modern Values.

The Palms was still open and new places, like The Underground, Cafe Voltaire and Irene J's, were beginning to emerge.

One of my earliest gigs in Milwaukee was at Tony Selig's subterranean Underground and I remember Tony asking my age. When I told him I was underage, he told me just to head unobtrusively toward the back exit if I saw any uniforms descending the stairs.

Other than the crowds and the low ceilings, my abiding memory of the original Underground is having patrons slip past my drum kit to get to the bathroom (and having to do the same when others were playing).

(Poster by Eric Blowtorch)

When he moved over to the old Papagaio's, everything was topsy turvy. Here the ceilings soared, the room was huge and the ample stage loomed perhaps five feet above the dancefloor.

We made friends with The Jazz Butcher and The Neighborhoods …

Moveable letters allow little kids to plot out their thoughts.
Moveable letters allow little kids to plot out their thoughts.

I can be a friend by...

Every Monday, my child gets a writing prompt at school, and we've taken to discussing them in the car on the way to and from school. It's like a mini editorial meeting. We talk about potential content for the prompts.

While they're great at getting kids to practice composing complete sentences and perfect their handwriting, at least in my kid's case, the prompts also prove a source of stress. The impromptu chats about the prompts helps release some of that pressure and allows the kids get some practice at brainstorming, which is a valuable skill in the creative working world.

I've also learned that there's a lot to learn from regular writing prompt brainstorming sessions with little ones.

This morning, we discussed the new prompt – "I can be a friend by..." – and I promised my little one that I'd work on the prompt today, too, based on the ideas we discussed in the car, though using a computer instead of a moveable alphabet, pencil and paper:

I can be a friend by being kind. While, at least at our school, children spend a lot of time learning and modeling kindness, it's something we, as adults, surely don't think about enough. We experience kindness every day, of course, in simple ways – when someone holds a door open for you, perhaps – and in profound ones, when we do something valuable for a neighbor in need, for example.

And we are blown away when we read stories of selfless do-gooders, in part because we know that for such stories to appear in the media, they must be at least somewhat rare.

Of course, one doesn't have to look carefully to find the opposite. Any news report is rife with spite, anger and evil-doing. Hop behind the wheel or go to the grocery store on a busy Saturday and it won't take long to find smaller, random acts of inconsideration. For all our preaching to kids about kindness, too many adults have defaulted to the opposite.

I can be a friend by being a good role model. Nothing encourages kindness and consideration like witnessin…

The building is expected to reopen as King IB Middle School in fall 2016.
The building is expected to reopen as King IB Middle School in fall 2016.
The southern part of the site will be developed separately by the Department of City Development.
The southern part of the site will be developed separately by the Department of City Development.

MPS approves contract to convert Malcolm X for King Middle School

The Milwaukee Board of School Directors on Thursday night approved the construction contract to renovate the vacant Malcolm X site, 2760 N. 1st St., into a new home for Rufus King International Middle School, which currently inhabits a former elementary school.

The plan to move King from the old McNair building, 4950 N. 24th St., to the controversial building on 1st and Center Streets, was made official in October.

The $9.8 million contract with Nicholas & Associates is for the renovation of the 1961 school building, which occupies the western and northern portion of the site, though the southwestern section of the building will likely be razed as part of a related plan to redevelop the southern portion of the site.

That part of the land is mostly playground space and its residential and/or commercial redevelopment is being handled by the Department of City Development.

The contract calls for work to begin on March 2 and to be completed by June 1, 2016. But folks driving past have noticed contractors' vehicles on site for months now as preparatory work – including, I believe, asbestos removal – for months.

According to a district press release, "The move gives King Middle, now housed in a former elementary school, the ability to expand to serve more families along with a full-size gym, large auditorium, more art and music opportunities, opportunities for more foreign language offerings and modern science labs. King Middle is set to open in the Malcolm X facility in the fall of 2016."

In other facilities news, the board hired Foundation Architects to design the new addition at Fernwood Montessori School in Bay View. According to one source, the goal is to have "shovels in the ground" by summer. A similar project approved for Maryland Avenue Montessori School will follow.

Seats at both successful programs are highly coveted and, thus, both programs face space issues. Maryland Avenue, on the East Side, is using two temporary classrooms erected on site until …

I wonder what the typical guest was like at Milwaukee's disappeared Hotel Auditorium (aka the Auditorium Hotel).
I wonder what the typical guest was like at Milwaukee's disappeared Hotel Auditorium (aka the Auditorium Hotel). (Photo: Milwaukee Public Library)

Welcome to the Hotel Auditorium

It always surprises me how many hotels there once were in Downtown Milwaukee, from the Cross Keys to the Gilpatrick to the Schroeder to the Maryland to the Belmont to the Wisconsin to The Pfister to the Republican House and on and on and on. Seemingly too many to count (though surely that’s not true, strictly speaking).

Recently, while nosing around Westown, I stumbled across the old Auditorium Hotel, alternately apparently known as the Hotel Auditorium (see the photo above) – not to be confused with the famous Chicago hotel of the same name or the more elaborate one with that name in Verona, near Madison.

Though the building was razed in 1965, it stood for nearly a century at 1123-25 N. 4th St. (337-339 in the old numbering system), between Highland and Juneau, on the West Side of the street, where the Bradley Center now stands.

There was a hotel on this site dating back at least to around 1850 when the wooden Fond du Lac Hotel was run by Auer and Bechtel. The two-story place was also known as the Auer Hotel for a time and it was known for its well-kept grounds.

In 1879, Peter Dix bought the place and tore down the old building to erect a new one that was reported to have 75 rooms. The three-story brick Italianate building was designed by architect Joseph Max Landguth.

Dix spent about $8,000 constructing the new – and now eponymous – hotel. The 1894 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map suggests the building was vacant but destined to house another hotel. Indeed by 1902 it was called Thomas House, owned by C. Thomas, and, later, Bogh’s European Hotel.

By 1910, the Sanborn shows the building as home to the Auditorium Hotel, which boasted steam heat, gaslight and a dining room. Just up the street was Wolf’s Hotel. Who was staying in all these places? Traveling salesmen? Visiting dignitaries? Some were likely residential hotels.

The Hotel Auditorium endured as we can see from the photo above – featuring a fine Pabst sign – which is in the stellar collection …