By Jim Cryns   Published Apr 28, 2003 at 5:16 AM

Atop a bluff in Bay View, overlooking the city and harbor of Milwaukee, sits a restaurant named Dom and Phil's DeMarini's. The pizza served there is recognized as some of the best in the area, but in this instance, the menu isn't the focus.

The simple white facade, the bay windows and well kept grounds wouldn't make you look twice. In fact, the structure once served as an AMVET Post for American veterans and prior to that, a mess hall for WWII prisoners of war housed at Mitchell Field.

Fifty U.S. Army officers and 250 enlisted men ran Camp Billy Mitchell Field, home to approximately 3,000 POWs. Prisoners worked in the area, including some sent to work in Burlington at the Nestle Milk Products Company where they made cans for condensed milk. The camp was closed in 1946.

"In 1947, we a got a call from the government," says Ernie Lucci, a commander of the former Louis Travis AMVET Post. "They told us they had some good news and some bad news. They said they had a mess hall at Mitchell Field that was used for German and Italian prisoners of war and it was ours for $600. The bad news was we had to go to Mitchell, break it apart and move it ourselves."

Prior to the call from the government, the veterans met at Club Garibaldi in Bay View. They had been looking for a place to call their own and wound up leasing property on Conway Street for $1 a year from the harbor commission after they acquired the POW mess hall.

"On weekends or when we had time, we'd take it apart at Mitchell Field and haul what we could. It took us two years to put it together as we dug our own basement and put in our own foundation. A cement company called Kolinski Concrete heard about us and gave us all the free concrete to build our basement." Lucci says . The mess hall had wooden flooring over which the group installed a linoleum floor. "Little by little we started improving."

Lucci says the building was never intended to be a permanent home for the post.


They were allowed to operate the new hall for special functions, but not as a money-making venture since they were only leasing the property.

"We couldn't get the proper license. In 1949, one of the aldermen in the second district around Allen-Bradley, helped us get a license. People from the neighborhood chipped in, folks from Groppi's and Club Garibaldi donated money and we gathered enough money to buy the land. We named the post after Louis Travis, who was an Italian barber in Bay View (Travis, a Sicilian immigrant, some of whose family still lives in Bay View, changed his name from Travia) and was killed in action during WWII."

When the structure was reassembled on Conway Street, Lucci says there wasn't a lot of equipment that came along with the sale.

"We had to finagle things here and there. Thankfully, we had plumbing for hot water," Lucci explains. "When you had to feed the POW‘s, you had to have plumbing. Once we got our license, Pabst Brewery helped us out and gave us a bar. In those days, we sold other bottled beers but all taps were Pabst. We were essentially a Pabst house."

The AMVETs sold the property in 1994.

"The parents of a young man came to us during the Korean War," Lucci explains. "Their son was killed in action and they asked if they could pay for and erect a flagpole in front of the building. When we sold the building, we put it in the contract that it was not to be taken down or destroyed."

It stands there today.