Listen to the Urban Spelunking Audio Stories on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.
This week, it was announced that the 1914 building at 1025 E. Locust St. in Riverwest, long home to Ma Baensch Food Co., is for sale. Today we got a final peek inside.
Lina “Ma” Baensch – who founded the company in 1932 – purchased the 9,650-square-foot building in 1946 from Cudahy Brothers, who had built it in 1914 as a meat storage facility on land purchased that year from Schlitz Brewing Co.
Much of the basement – reached by a ramp that may have helped horses haul down ice – is a giant walk-in cooler and the main floor has a couple smaller walk-ins, too.
Previously a pair of dwellings sat on the site, which Schlitz had bought in 1891 for about $2,300 from Frederick Kauwertz and his wife Marie Geyer, who was the daughter of a prominent Lutheran minister.
Kauwertz worked in real estate and notices of land sales and ads for plots and buildings for sale by him were common in newspapers of the time.
The Kauwertzs' daughter – also named Marie – married industrialist Henry Harnischfeger in 1892.
The earliest land conveyance on record for the property was from the State of Wisconsin to Garret M. Fitzgerald in 1851.
The property has been owned since 1999 by Kim Wall, who owns Baensch Food Products Co. Lina Baensch died in 1951 at the age of 68 and her family continued to operate the business until it was sold to Wall.
The building has been empty since the company moved the last of its packing operations to a co-packer in Minnesota last August, and it is now for sale.
Amazingly only a couple spaces seem to have any hint of fish smell inside and even those it really is barely a hint ... more a suggestion.
The main floor has an office, some coolers, a larger production area full of conveyors and packing equipment and access to loading areas, including the dock on the Humboldt side that used to serve railcars.
If you look out there now you can still see one of the two rails in the ground and the scale built into the loading dock.
In the office area there's a portrait of Ma Baensch and a rack full of workshirts used by packers over the years.
Around the entire facility are a variety of Ma Baensch signs from across the decades, including one that simply says, "WOMEN WANTED." It was hung outside when packing was about to begin, says Wall.
While men maintained the machines and equipment, women did the packing, Wall adds.
"There were jobs that only men did and jobs that only women did. When I got here," she says, "I said the heck with that!"
There's also a barrel room here where herring – initially sourced from Canada but now from Norway – were stored in stacks of small barrels. You can still see circular marks on the walls where the barrel ends made contact. This is one of the few spaces that has even a trace of fish scent in the air.
On the second floor there are two separate spaces. Facing Locust Street there's what appears to be an employee breakroom and a workspace with a stainless steel vinegar tank on one end.
A rope-operated freight elevator sits next to the tank.
In the south side of the upper floor there's a large warehouse space with taller ceiling heights and, in one corner, a giant wooden vinegar tank.
"When that was full, your eyes would water," Wall says. "I had wanted my office in there at first but there was no way."
Wall has lots of memories in the building and knows it intimately. Just inside the entrance she shows me where employees over the years have scratched graffiti into the bricks.
"I've done so much here over the years," she says, referring to repairs and the like, "but it's just so old-fashioned, it's just not practical anymore."
Find the complete listing for the building here. Interested buyers can reach realtor Bill Langhoff at (414) 278-6863. An auction of equipment still inside the building is underway online and closes on Tuesday.
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.