Last September, a slim but fascinating book appeared during the debut of the amazing Historic Milwaukee, Inc., Doors Open event.
Written by Yance Marti, "Missing Milwaukee: The Lost Buildings of Milwaukee" featured the photographs of Alan Magayne-Roshak and Gordy Simons.
Marti, a local architecture historian and webmaster of OldMilwaukee.net, and the lensmen offered a glimpse at more than two dozen stunning buildings that have vanished from the Milwaukee landscape. Often, they were replaced by little more than a surface parking lot.
Some of them, like the Pabst Building, T.A. Chapman's department store and the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Depot were nothing short of Milwaukee landmarks.
Now, Marti will do a companion tour, at 5:30 p.m., Friday, May 11. Yes, you can tour Downtown Milwaukee to see the sites where these buildings were located. How will he do it?
Well, we asked Marti that and some other questions, too...
OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell me about how the book came to be? Was it an idea of yours that you pitched to HMI or vice versa?
Yance Marti: This was an idea I pitched to HMI. I know the two photographers and their unpublished work begged to be seen and appreciated. Both have an appreciation for older architecture and preservation so their work fits in well with HMI's mission. Originally I wanted to do a gallery showing of the photography but decided a book would offer an opportunity to reach a bigger audience with an impact that would be more lasting.
OMC: Tell me a bit about the selection process in terms of how you decided what to include?
YM: To tie it in with last year's Doors Open Milwaukee event, we decided to focus on Downtown buildings. The book was first available the weekend of Doors Open and it would give people an opportunity to take the book along when they were touring the buildings to appreciate more of Downtown that was no longer here. I picked through the archives of Gordy and Alan and they both had such amazing pictures of these lost buildings. I ended up using almost everything they had of Downtown buildings. They both are professional photographers of the highest caliber.
OMC: Are you considering future books like this for other parts of town?
YM: It is a possibility. Gordy Simons also has many photographs he took in the inner city, East Side and elsewhere around town mostly from the early 1980s. I had to leave out some of Alan's photographs which were on the East Side. Much of the focus of my research on older architecture is on Downtown buildings so I tapped into information I already had for the majority of the buildings in the book.
OMC: What do you think is Milwaukee's current state of preservation in terms of architecture?
YM: Milwaukee has improved its architectural preservation. Especially once the Third Ward district was developed in the 1980s, suddenly people saw the value in these old buildings that would otherwise be demolished. Prior to that older buildings were always seen as detriments to the urban landscape. Most of the buildings that are shown in the book weren't given much of a second thought after the decision was made to tear them down.
OMC: Which sites you will visit on the tour?
YM: About half the buildings from the book will be on the tour. I wanted to keep the walking tour relatively short and didn't want to turn it into a feat of endurance! The former buildings that will be on the list are the Enterprise Building, Randolph Hotel, Buildings in the 400 block of Wisconsin Avenue, Belmont Hotel, Metropolitan Block, Waldheim's Building, Pabst Building, Potato Brothers Building, Friend Blocks, and the Broadway Buildings south of the Chamber of Commerce building. So, basically, it will be a loop west on Michigan Street to Fourth Street to State Street, down Plankinton to Wells, then to Water Street and back to Michigan Street.
OMC: Is it difficult to lead a tour of non-existent buildings?
YM: It will be a challenge, of course, but I will be tying the history of the former buildings into the surrounding buildings that still remain and how the neighborhood was affected. When you go from a living and used building like the Randolph Hotel and replace it with a half-used parking lot there is a definite change in the fabric of the immediate neighborhood. The tour will give the history of the buildings but I will also explain the hows and whys of the building demolitions. What happened before and after these buildings were demolished? And the final question of was it necessary?
Tickets for the tour are $15 for HMI members, $20 for non-members. The tour and a copy of the book can be had for $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Call (414) 277-7795 or visit historicmilwaukee.org.
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.