By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 15, 2013 at 9:22 AM

Despite the fact that we had Dan Ball – a member of the legendary Velvet Whip – write about the new Avant Garde Coffee House Project at UWM’s Inova Gallery in the Kenilworth Building, 2155 N. Prospect Ave., I stopped in last week to get a tour from organizer John Stropes.

Stropes, who teaches guitar at UWM, was a visitor to the Avant Garde when he was growing up in Racine in the 1960s and his passion for the subject was plain during the more than hour-long stroll we took through the exhibition.

I wasn’t there, like Dan Ball was, so I have a more pedestrian take on the exhibit than he does. After all, it’s not my youth up on the gallery walls, though it is part of his.

The story of the Garde, which was open from 1962 through 1968 at 2111 N. Prospect Ave., is an interesting one. It encompasses not only the Milwaukee coffee house scene and its accompanying folk revival, but also a transitional time in Milwaukee.

The Garde was there as the folk scene in some respects melded into the rock scene as the ‘60s exploded, musically and socially. And the folk scene’s resistance vibe carried over, as did some musical influences, like an attachment to the blues.

There are dozens of photos in the gallery and while the ones most interesting to Milwaukeeans might be the shots of local bands, patrons, employees and owners of the Garde, blues and folk fans will stand transfixed in front of images of blues greats, many shot in Milwaukee.

My favorite depicts Sleepy John Estes playing his guitar upstairs at Hooligan’s. That space was apparently something of a hostel for visiting musicians and to see it as it was in the ‘60s – dangling shutters and all – is thrilling.

There are some great Milwaukee streetscapes, too, including one showing a row of buildings on the northwest corner of Murray and North, which was later replaced by the building OnMilwaukee.com recently inhabited. Another shows the row of angled townhouses that fronted Cambridge Avenue, near Brady, on the site now occupied by Kinko's/FedEx.

At the beginning of the show is an informative panel about the Tullgrens, a father and son team of architects who designed a slew of stunning Milwaukee buildings, including the 1927 Bertelson Building that housed the Garde.

Also in the exhibition are posters, LPs, original furniture from the Garde, the tape machine used to record the roughly 400 hours of live performances that are now part of an archive at UWM – those recordings are piped in to the space when the exhibit it open – and more.

It runs through May 12 and admission is free. Don’t miss it.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.