As a group of dignitaries officially broke ground on a new South Stadium today in the shadow of Hayes Bilingual School (housed in the former Kosciuszko Junior High), it was hard not to look around and think, "if these walls could talk."
A relatively small assemblage of current students, MPS employees, media and government representatives were on hand Thursday morning to capture the moment when ceremonial dirt was turned to signify a new future for the field, which runs along Windlake Avenue and Becher Street.
Built in 1925 to plans drawn by MPS architect Guy Wiley, the stadium's final games were played on the pitch in October 2013. The north stands are especially beautiful stepped structures executed in variegated red brick. Two towers rise in each rear corner and are adorned with cut stone that look like flickering candle flames.
But the north stands have also been condemned for reasons that are clear in one of the photographs above. The walls are literally crumbling.
The wooden doors in the south stands look positively medieval. They're gorgeous. And the place thrums with history.
My mom, her sister, dad and grandmother all went to South Division – as did my sister-in-law and her siblings – so I expect at least a bit of family history has played out here. And the same can be said for thousands of Milwaukee families with South Side roots.
A number of the speakers made reference to the past during an event that looks to the future. A former Kosy student and stadium employee and manager, Mike Wenzel, who remembers his earliest days on the field in 1953, said, wistfully, "if these walls could talk," and mentioned the many future NFL stars that played in the stadium.
City-wide school board member Terry Falk spoke of the first kisses shared by Milwaukee teens here across the decades, drawing a playful response from the crowd and smirks from the current students on hand. Ald. Jose Perez said his wife performed as a pom-pom girl at the stadium, though that first kiss, he added, did not occur here.
But time marches on and all things must come to an end.
While the geese still love the turf – they've left their marks everywhere as proof – it's sloped and too narrow for soccer, which has been played there, despite the limitations. The encircling track is in rough shape, too.
A new $9 million field, funded by Qualified School Construction Bonds and designed by American Design, Inc., is expected to be ready by the end of 2014. The stadium will serve as the home field for South Division, Bay View and Bradley Tech High Schools' football and soccer teams.
Demolition of the old stadium, which had a seating capacity of more than 10,000, is estimated to cost $559,163, and should be complete by the end of June. Stop by and see it before it goes.
After this project is completed, MPS will begin replacing Custer Stadium.
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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.