By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 05, 2023 at 9:04 AM

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Walk into Lakefront Brewery, 1872 N. Commerce St., and you’ll likely be struck by the big open space in this former power plant.

Maybe you’ll be immediately charmed by the beer hall vibe, or maybe you’ll beeline to the bar for a pint.

But take a second to glance upward to see a series of beautiful Arts & Crafts-style lanterns dangling from the ceiling.

They once lit the Terrace Garden Room of the Plankinton Hotel that stood at 609 N. Plankinton Ave., on the northwest corner at Michigan Street.

Designed by architects Fernekes and Cramer, the eight-story, 450-room hotel opened on April 5, 1917 – the day before the U.S. Congress voted to declare war on Germany – as a replacement for the old Plankinton House that had been torn down to make way for the construction of the Plankinton Arcade on Wisconsin Avenue, between Plankinton and 2nd Street.

Plankinton Hotel
A postcard view of the hotel. (PHOTO: Courtesy of UWM Libraries)

Much like the Lakefront beer hall, the Terrace Garden Room was large – 110 by 40 feet. It was adorned with living plants in deep garden beds and a vine-covered pergola.

The ceiling had two layers of blue and white glass with 40 lights in between to create a variety of effects.

“Night will be turned into day in more ways than one in the Plankinton Terrace Garden, because from sundown until closing time visitors may be beguiled into believing they are under nature’s blue dome,” wrote the Sentinel on opening day.

“Behind the arched glass roof, painted to represent the sky from the appearance of the first golden rays of morning, through the full blue and fleecy white of noon to the golden sunset, clouds will drift though space, and occasional yellow gleams will post as stars.”

Sky Room
A postcard view.

The paper declared that as exciting as that feature was, it was “secondary in importance when compared with the magnificent marble floor” with its “gleaming stretches of marble that are almost priceless, and that have come from every country in the world where fine marble is produced,” including Germany, Spain, Wales, England and, especially Italy, where examples were from Siena, La Spezia and Carrara.

There were venetian blinds, French doors into the men’s cafe and a silk curtain. Five long rows of tables filled the room, though some were moved at times to create a dance floor.


Connected was The Sky Room Grill and Cafe. (Later, the whole space would be renamed The Sky Room.)

The room was so big that it had three entrances, including one from the men’s cafe and two directly from the street. One reached Plankinton via a long corridor and the main entrance to the hotel and the other from Michigan Street, was the room’s main entry.

Soon after, one visitor judged the room to be, “one of the most beautiful of its kind in the northwest.”

The colored glass lights have a sort of pagoda-style cap atop a hexagonal tube with two window-like apertures atop each side. There are turquoise and green motifs creating an effect that conjures Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

(PHOTO: Michael Stodola)

Although the designer of these lanterns is apparently unknown, one can’t help but think of Milwaukee's George Niedecken, although I wasn’t able to find other works of his with similar geometric floral designs.

According to information from Lakefront, the lanterns were custom-built for the hotel and they remained in place for 53 years, long after the Terrace Garden Room.

In 1980, the hotel was doomed, torn down to make space for a parking garage for The Grand Avenue Mall, which opened in 1982.

Fortunately, the City of Milwaukee had the foresight to save the lanterns, putting them in storage, where they stayed until 2001, when an online auction was held for 12 of them.

The lanterns were valued at $18,500, with a minimum bid of $5,000.

Lakefront co-founder Russ Klisch bid $5,008 and was decisively outbid by a Chicago art broker, who bid $10,000.

However, the City of Milwaukee preferred to keep the lanterns in the city and accepted Lakefront’s bid.

Before they could be displayed, Mark Winter and Steve Drager were tapped to restore the lanterns, which needed welding and glass replacement.

Lakefront hung six of the 12 above the bar.

Above the bar
Lanters above the bar (above) and in the chandelier (below). (PHOTOS: Michael Stodola)

Winter also created the top half of a chandelier – designed by architect Robert D. Cooper – at the main entrance of the beer hall made with the other six lights.

“As soon as I hoisted the first of these historic lanterns into place,” said Klisch, “I knew they had found their home. Although the Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden lacks the marble floor and ceiling of the Terrace Garden, it is a big room with enough height in its ceiling to appropriately display these large lanterns.

“I think you’ll agree that these lanterns are a delightful addition to the Lakefront Brewery Palm Garden, a fitting tribute to the skilled craftsmanship of an earlier era and a brilliant expression of the important role of historic preservation.”

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 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.