There are few more iconic images in Milwaukee than the Pabst sign that spans Juneau Avenue at 10th Street, connecting the old malt house on the southwest corner with the former brewhouse on the northwest corner.
The sign is instantly recognizable and, especially now that Pabst is coming back to the site to brew beer in the former Forst Keller Restaurant and Pabst training center, it’s been an extremely visible symbol of the city’s brewing history.
It’s also a pretty cool place to visit.
Early in September, Dan McCarthy – VP of The Brewery project on the site of the former brewery – went up to the sign, which is also a bridge connecting two key buildings in the old Pabst operation.
While the north side of the sign is accessed from the roof of the former brewhouse, and now home to Brewhouse Inn & Suites, a short staircase on the opposite end once lead up onto a small platform with an entrance into the upper floors of the old malt house – itself slated for a renovation, but this time into residential units.
The bridge has a bolted steel frame with plywood sheets for a floor. The giant letters are attached to the frame, which also serves as a safety railing.
There’s not much history out there on the sign itself, so I turned to a couple local Pabst experts.
John Eastberg, the extremely knowledgeable executive director of The Pabst Mansion and author of a number of works about Capt. Pabst and his brewery, only had a rough sketch ...
"The appearance of a sign across Juneau dates back to the 1880s, at least that is about as far back as I can go," he said, referring to a previous sign that once spanned Juneau Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.
"There is a stereoview image (above) of the plant (in which the sign) states ‘Best Brewing Company,’ predating the name change of Best to Pabst in 1889. After the name change, it obviously became Pabst and the sign was later electrified I am assuming that the neon appeared post Prohibition."
Fortunately, he did have a small selection of historical images of that old sign, all of which appear here.
According to brewing historian John Steiner, that old bridge connected Elevator A with Refrigerator House VIII. Those structures and the bridge connecting them are long gone.
The current bridge and sign dates to the 1950s, according to Steiner.
Unsurprisingly, the sign offers some great views.
First there’s that amazing, ornate, iron staircase, now rusting slowing to dust.
There are also close-ups of some of the crenellations and other cream city brick decoration on the old brewhouse and malt house.
And, there are incredible views of the Downtown skyline and over the top of much of the city, thanks to the fact that the entire neighborhood sits on high ground.
Because I couldn’t take you all with me when I visited, I shot this video – with the help of Andy Tarnoff stationed on the street below – so you could experience it with me.
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 an episode of TV's "Party of Five," 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.