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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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While the Aids to Navigation aspect of the Coast Guard is important, it's just one of many activities.
While the Aids to Navigation aspect of the Coast Guard is important, it's just one of many activities. (Photo: Andy Tarnoff)
The station in Bay View is part of the Coast Guard's Sector Lake Michigan.
The station in Bay View is part of the Coast Guard's Sector Lake Michigan. (Photo: Andy Tarnoff)

What I learned about the Coast Guard

Though I’ve driven past the U.S. Coast Guard Station at the foot of the Hoan Bridge in Bay View for years, I never really gave it much thought. When I arrived there last week for a trip out to the Breakwater Lighthouse, I was surprised by how much hustle and bustle there was and by how little I knew about it.

The station is headquarters of the Coast Guard's Sector Lake Michigan.

The halls were full of Coast Guard personnel and there was a buzz of activity. Out back, a group of guardsmen and guardswomen were standing in formation, looking like they were taking part in a roll call.

(Incidentally, the personnel at the station do not live on-site, but have homes and apartments in the Milwaukee area during their tours of duty here.)

And I was surprised that there’s a shop in the building that sells food and beverage and all manner of items at deep discounts to active and retired military.

Even my contact, Jon Grob, BOSN3, said he was a little surprised by some things he’s learned as a guard member.

"When I first came in, I didn’t know about the lighthouse duty," he said while we waited for the arrival of the boat that would take us to the breakwater. "The lighthouse service was brought into the Coast Guard. It merged, it was a separate group."

While the Aids to Navigation aspect of the Coast Guard is important, it’s just one of many activities performed by the local guardsmen. The day after my visit, for example, personnel from the Milwaukee station responded to a fatal plane crash on Lake Michigan.

"Stations (like Milwaukee’s) have multiple missions," said Grob.

"They'll do ports and waterways safety, just patrolling; they’ll do law enforcement, like safety boardings checking for safety equipment; they'll engage with boating and drinking, of course, is a huge part. We try to have a big presence especially on big boating holidays, we’re all over. We have safety zone enforcement, too (keeping boaters clear of fireworks launch sites, special events, et…

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The Pleasant Street Bridge is open for business!
The Pleasant Street Bridge is open for business!
31st Street School as it looks today.
31st Street School as it looks today.
31st Street School as it looked last year.
31st Street School as it looked last year.
Floral lintels to make your day a little brighter.
Floral lintels to make your day a little brighter.

Eyes open Milwaukee: 4 changes to Brew City's built environment

There are lots of changes in Milwaukee’s landscape this week. Here are a few of them ... along with one thing that hasn't changed much in more than a century.

For example, yesterday I tweeted about Milwaukee Public Museum’s project, which begins this week, to replace the reportedly unstable marble south facade on its eight-story tower with 234 solar panels.

The work will take about five months and will require the temporary closing of the butterfly wing during the removal work, which will last about a month.

Surely the change will alter the look of the main facade of the museum, which was completed in 1962. According to communications director Carrie Becker, the bird sculpture currently on the tower will be saved and mounted on the wall to the right of the main entrance.

The solar panels will generate an estimate 77,533 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. According to a press release, that’s enough to power 442 60-watt light bulbs for eight hours a day for a year.

Today is the day that the city will officially break ground on The Standard @ East Library project.

Mayor Tom Barrett, third district Ald. Nik Kovac, Milwaukee Public Library Director Paula Kiely, and Brett Haney and Ryan Schultz, owners of developer HSI Properties, will put ceremonial shovels to soil today at 1910 E. North Ave., at 1:30 p.m.

The multi-use development, slated for completion late next year, will house a new 16,000-square foot East Library, along with 99 apartments and parking.

Of more immediate value to me on a daily basis is the opening of the Pleasant Street Bridge. While the official ribbon cutting takes place on Thursday at 4 p.m., with a bash to follow at nearby Wolf Peach, I spied on Twitter this morning that the bridge was open to traffic and so I reverted to my old route to see for myself.

The new bridge is wide and smooth, with brightly painted bike lanes and crosswalks. It’s too bad the bridge house on the nearby Cherry Street Bridge wasn’t viewed as a challen…

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The Blue Ribbon Pub is part of Gorman & Co.'s Brewhouse Inn & Suites in the old Pabst brewery.
The Blue Ribbon Pub is part of Gorman & Co.'s Brewhouse Inn & Suites in the old Pabst brewery.
The cheese curds appetizer comes with two sauces.
The cheese curds appetizer comes with two sauces.
An old copper brew kettle in the hotel, from below...
An old copper brew kettle in the hotel, from below...
.. and the kettles from above.
.. and the kettles from above.
The swordfish sandwich plate could easily have been lunch for two.
The swordfish sandwich plate could easily have been lunch for two.
Gorman preserved a number of fine staircases in the complex.
Gorman preserved a number of fine staircases in the complex.
This iron one is in a corridor that connects the pub and the hotel lobby.
This iron one is in a corridor that connects the pub and the hotel lobby.

Getting acquainted with the Brewhouse's Blue Ribbon Pub

The transformation was what struck me most when I walked into Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub in the Brewhouse Inn and Suites, built in the renovated Pabst brewhouse and millhouse, 1215 N. 10th St.

My first memories are hazy ones from Pabst Brewery tours 30 years ago. But the most recent mental picture was drawn for me on a summer 2010 visit to the former brewery. Back then, inside the dilapidated brewhouse and millhouse, it was hard to imagine how the transformation could ever really happen. 

But, much like the great work it did transforming the old Peckham Junior High/Jackie Robinson Middle School into senior housing, Madison’s Gorman & Co. really made some magic here, creating modern venues while preserving facets of historic buildings.

The most stunning preservation work is in the lobby and the second floor of the hotel, where the old brew kettles shine a lustrous copper and where a number of striking staircases have been preserved, as has a sprawling stained glass window tribute to King Gambrinus.

In the restaurant, there are high ceilings, nice touches like shiny tin decorative panels along the bar. There’s a great patio and, make a mental note, Blue Ribbon Pub runs a free shuttle to Brewers games.

The menu is basic pub fare with sandwiches, salads, apps, pizzas – all reasonably priced, especially when you consider you’re eating in a Downtown hotel. Burgers are $8.99, for example, and the swordfish sandwich is $12.99. Sandwiches come with a choice of sides, and on my visit we tried the fries, which were crispy and good, with skin-on, and onion strings, which were good, though their saltiness guaranteed I wouldn’t finish them.

The saltiness, and the fact that the portions are extremely generous. The swordfish sandwich had a large piece of fish on a giant bun. Add the cup of slaw, a pickle spear and all those onion strings and, honestly, two could have shared the plate.

My favorite was the cheese curds appetizer. The curds were delicious, if a tad …

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My grandparents seemed like cool, fun-loving Milwaukeeans. I'd have liked to know them then.
My grandparents seemed like cool, fun-loving Milwaukeeans. I'd have liked to know them then.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Late last year when I climbed about as high as one can climb up the City Hall tower, I lifted the metal shades that cover the windows closest to the base of the flagpole. I looked out at the panoramic view of Milwaukee and my mind immediately went to one thing.

Well, to one person. I thought about my grandfather, a lifelong Milwaukeean, who passed away six years after I moved here. I'm not sure why he was my first thought. In part, it's likely because my view was out toward the Milwaukee Center, on whose pay phones (remember those?!) I learned that he'd been taken by ambulance to the hospital on the day he died ... a Friday the 13th.

But it goes deeper than that. If I looked a bit further west, just across the river, I could see one of the buildings where he worked and where he took us for a visit once when I was a kid. Two buildings down is Usinger's, where my grandparents would take us on each visit to Milwaukee.

Out another window I could see the white wood frame church I can see every day from my window at work, too. That church was just up the street from where my grandfather lived his entire life. He was born in the house in which he lived when he died.

That part of my family settled on the near South Side upon arrival from Germany in 1877 and didn't leave until the end of the 20th century. My children are the first generation to have never lived in that house on Greenfield Avenue.

But despite that small residential orbit for 100-plus years, my family is written across this town and I can hardly pass a day here without seeing a place or hearing of something that reminds me of my grandfather especially. Though I lived far from him for most of my life, he loomed large even when I was a child. We loved visiting and spending time with him.  He had a great sense of humor.

He worked in printing by trade, but was a passionate photographer and inveterate tinkerer. He married an aspiring artist and in 1940s photographs of them with friends, they look like a fun-…

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