During a special meeting Monday at City Hall, the Milwaukee Common Council’s Historic Preservation Commission voted to grant temporary historical landmark status to two former A. Gettelman Brewing Co. buildings on the MillerCoors brewery site at 4400 W. State St.
The designation stays the potential demolition of the buildings – built around 1856 and 1858 – for at least three months. MillerCoors, which had planned to tear down the two buildings to make room for a parking lot and truck depot, has the right to appeal the decision within five days.
Supporters of the preservation of the State Theater tried, and failed, last month to get similar designation from the HPC for that building, which burned in February.
A historic preservation report prepared by the city can be downloaded as a PDF here.
"The Gettelman Brewery at 4400 West State Street is significant as the last remaining vestige of one of Milwaukee’s important and long-lived breweries," the report concludes. "Established in 1854, the brewery expanded on its site and once could count a number of buildings in its complex but it never grew into the type of complex we see at the Schlitz, Pabst Miller or even Blatz. By intent, the brewery stayed a local then regional business run by family members so there was never the drive to keep expanding production, outlets and distribution or acquire other breweries. Modest size does not equate with insignificance.
"Frederick "Fritz" Gettelman ... developed many patents for equipment, machinery, even snowplows. Many of these products were soon adopted by other breweries and Fritz’s achievements were recognized in his lifetime by professional brewery organizations."
The brewery was founded on the site in 1854, and Gettelman sold the buildings to Miller in 1961. Gettelman continued as a separate brand until 1970. Miller’s popular Milwaukee’s Best brand began as as a Gettelman label in 1895.
Miller ceased using the buildings more than two decades ago.
Part of the reason preservationists and brewing history buffs are eager to save the structures is that Gettelman – who was born in one of the buildings, which had been the family home before it was converted to the operation's office – was a brewing pioneer.
Among Gettleman’s innovations were glass-lined beer tanks, a chain-type basket pasteurizer for milk and beer, a bottle washing system and the snow plow.
In 2014, a Gettleman descendant suggested a permanent brewing museum in Milwaukee, and multiple Facebook suggestions have pointed to the former Gettelman building as home to that. Another suggestion was to move the buildings to Old World Wisconsin.
The latter, however, wouldn’t save what is perhaps the most exciting feature for beer history fans: the underground brick lagering caves, which were once a common feature of a number of Milwaukee breweries.
Today, few survive.
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.