By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 08, 2017 at 9:33 AM

Last year, the Department of City Development asked me to take a selfie in front of a building that I believe matters to Milwaukee as part of a campaign to draw attention to Milwaukee’s architectural richness, and threatened examples of it.

I didn’t even stop to think.

I took the sign to 20th and Vliet and had my kid snap a photo of me in front of the old McKinley School (aka Cold Spring Avenue School, aka 15th Ward School, aka District 15, aka District 2).

Built in the 1880s, the building was sold by MPS to a private day care and school operator a century later.

This place matters to me because:

  1. I love old schoolhouses.
  2. There is no other schoolhouse in Milwaukee that looks anything like this one; it is thoroughly unique.
  3. It is the rare schoolhouse designed by Fred Seyring, who also designed, well, not much else that I can find. He did apparently work as a county surveyor from 1886 until at least 1888, right after he’d have designed McKinley, perhaps as part of a plan to create a model schoolhouse design that could be replicated (but never was).
  4. It’s a beautiful building, despite its ragged condition.
  5. It’s an important part of the neighborhood’s history, as the place where tens of thousands of area kids spent much of their childhood over its many years of operation.
  6. It has personal meaning for me, too, though I’ve never stepped inside. Driving past frequently, it became the first school – other than their own – that my kids could identify by name. And they still do. Like me, they still seem excited to see it. While many interesting places fly by unobserved, they always look at it out the windows as we drive past and say, "there’s McKinley!"


(PHOTO: Courtesy Milwaukee Department of City Development)

I’ve written about McKinley in the past, and about its historic designation (thanks to Ald. Bob Bauman), and you can read the report (PDF) written by the city’s amazing historian Carlen Hatala here. All the background on its history and how it got to its present crumbling state can be found at these links.

It’s on my mind again because I heard that the city was finally able to acquire it when taxes went unpaid. But my immediate excitement was tempered by the fact that my source told me no one can go inside because there is friable asbestos everywhere. One city employee who has been inside reportedly called it perhaps the worst situation he’s ever seen.


(PHOTO: Courtesy Milwaukee Public Schools)

I asked Department of City Development spokesman Jeff Fleming about the school and he told me, "We acquired the building in tax foreclosure this past July. There are significant concerns regarding environmental issues, and DCD has consulted with Milwaukee DNS, Wisconsin DNR and the Federal EPA. That analysis continues.

"At this point there are no specific plans."

That doesn’t automatically mean the building will be torn down, but it sure doesn’t bode well for a huge building on a huge tract of land – a building that if renovated and developed could provide a much-needed boost to its near West Side neighborhood.

I hope there’s a way to save the old McKinley School, because this place matters to me and it matters to Milwaukee.


(PHOTO: Courtesy Milwaukee Public Schools)

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