Milwaukee has a rich history and, fortunately, a passion for preserving it, too. Take, for example the Wisconsin Architectural Archive, housed at the Milwaukee Public Library.
Founded in 1975 by Thomas L. Eschweiler – yes, of THAT Eschweiler family – and a few others, the collection, housed within the Central Library's Art & Music department, archives more than 20,000 architectural drawings by nearly 500 Wisconsin architects.
Recently, I heard about the collection and decided to check it out. Today, I went over to meet Gayle Ecklund, an archives technician at MPL, who told me a bit about the collection and showed me some stunning original plans, drawn by Hugo Schnetzky, of Walnut Street School, which burned and was razed in 1978.
The collection got started, Ecklund told me, when Eschweiler was trying to find a home for the drawings made by his family's famous Milwaukee firm, Eschweiler and Eschweiler.
That sparked Eschweiler and his cohorts to actively seek out items for the collection. "They'd drive around in a station wagon to pick up plans," Ecklund said.
Now, folks approach the archive with donations, too.
Sadly, and perhaps ironically since they designed the stunning Central Library building itself, there are few works by George Ferry & Alfred Clas, because, says Ecklund, the story (perhaps apocryphal?) goes that after a balcony collapsed in one of their buildings, the architects feared liability issues and burned all their drawings.
I was pleased to see that Henry Koch, who designed many prominent Milwaukee buildings, is fairly well represented. The collection holds Koch's plans for City Hall, Turner Hall, Gesu Church, the old South Division High School and a few other works.
There is a searchable, computerized index to the collection, however, it is not yet accessible online. To use the collection, call the Frank P. Zeidler Humanities Room at (414) 286-3061 to see if the archives has what you're looking for. If so, she can pull the drawings and make an appointment for you to look at them.
Ecklund says the archive gets anywhere from 150 to 300 requests annually. Many are from folks searching for plans for or more information on their homes. Copies of drawings are available for a fee.
The WAA is a great historical archive housed in the heart of Milwaukee; we're lucky to have it.
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.