By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 16, 2021 at 12:02 PM

Now that a replacement is basically complete next door and opening this coming school year, demolition has begun at McKinley Elementary, 2435 N. 89th St., in Wauwatosa.


As of this morning nearly half the 1930 Art Deco schoolhouse was razed.

You can see inside the building before demolition began in a video on the McKinley Elementary School Facebook page.

There’s also information there about how you can have a physical reminder of the lovely buff brick building that was designed by architects Herbst & Kuenzli, who also drew the near-twin, Roosevelt Elementary a mile to the east in 1929.

As demo got started a couple weeks ago, a time capsule placed inside the masonry at the main entrance was recovered and according to Tosa Schools spokeswoman Sarah Frittitta, it will be opened during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new building.

A date for that event has not yet been announced.

The new building (pictured below) was designed by Plunkett Raysich Architects.


According to terra cotta artist and expert and art teach Ben Tyjeski, Herbst & Kuenzli were responsible for a number of schoolhouse design during the 1920s.

“Between 1924 and 1929, they designed several schools in their offices on the top floor of the Bartlett Building. Marquette University High School (1924), St. Catherine School (1928), Messmer High School (1929), and Wauwatosa High School (1929) were a few,” he wrote in his excellent blog post on McKinley.

“Each of these school buildings had facades made of architectural terra cotta and brick. Faience tile was also found in all of the interiors. In terms of design, they were some of the most prestigious in the 1920s.”


The old school is being torn down after its replacement was built as part of a nearly $125 million plan, approved in a referendum, to replace four schools: McKinley, Underwood, Lincoln and Wilson.

In January 2018, a facilities advisory committee considered "possible heavy renovation/repairs versus replacement, and considered comparative costs of each" at McKinley.

In the end, the committee recommended replacement over repair.

Capital improvements were also approved for Eisenhower, Tosa Montessori and Longfellow Middle School.

McKinley and Roosevelt are distinguished inside by their great tile work, photos of which Tykeski included in his post.

“Gorgeous tiles are abundant at McKinley,” he wrote, noting that faience tiles were made by the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio.

“These tiles are of historic significance and they contribute to the culture of education,” wrote Tyjeski. “Some of the tile is simply functional, such as the floor tile in the bathrooms and the coping found on many windowsills. However, much of the tiles are works of art."

“They were designed to make schoolchildren feel welcome at school, to enjoy the learning environment, and to feel at home.  They were meant to capture student's imaginations, nurture their creativity, and foster their appreciation for art.  Nowadays, these tiles can still teach students craft, beauty, and how to imagine creative ways to use wall spaces.”

terra cotta
Exterior terra cotta is now inside.
Tile elements are preserved and on display.

According to retired teacher Julie Gunderson, who provided these photos above and below, tile and terra cotta has been preserved and installed in the new building, ironwork that once adorned the entrance is now on display at the entrance to the school's media center and the fireplace from the kindergarten room has been installed in the new school, too.

The fireplace in its new home.
Exterior ironwork is now inside the building.

That's great news!

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.