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Lately, I’ve been hearing a number of interesting stories about things unearthed while digging and today I’ve got some photos from an especially good one.
Last week, while a telecom company was boring a hole in the sidewalk on the west side of South 70th Street, it penetrated the thick concrete walls of an old tunnel that ran under 70th, connecting the old Allis-Chalmers office complex with the “clubhouse” across the street.
The only access to the tunnel at the moment is through the hole and the tunnel is about half filled with water.
The office building – designed by architect Edwin Reynolds – went up in 1902 and had many additions over the years as the company expanded, including in 1906, 1924, 1936, 1942, 1956 and 1965.
The clubhouse was built in 1905 as a meeting place and dining hall for Allis-Chalmers employees, superintendents and factory foremen, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
“Here, for a nominal fee, they could enjoy the benefits of a private club with dinners served at noon,” WHS notes. “The meals, which were served ‘a la carte’ were also served at supper for those obliged to stay late at the office. There were three dining rooms, one for men, one for ladies and a third for officers and heads of departments.
“In addition to serving as a dining spot, the large rooms in the building were regularly used for lectures attended by the graduate engineering students working at Allis Chalmers. The building was frequently used evenings for receptions, parties or other forms of entertainment.”
Club patrons apparently also had the benefit of a direct route to the place from their offices without fear of traffic or inclement weather, though it's unclear if that was the main intended purpose of the tunnel.
The City of West Allis did not provide a construction date for the tunnel.
Later, the Craftsman-style building, 1115 S. 70th St., was home to SueShar’s Restaurant.
It was torn down in 1997. The last bit of the old administration complex, 1126 S. 70th St., on the east side of 70th Street, was demolished in 2019.
I wrote an Urban Spelunking story about what remains of the sprawling Allis-Chalmers complex in this 2019 article. But last week’s find was something we didn’t know about then.
However, some veteran folks in the West Allis Engineering Department have not only known about the tunnel for years, but have been inside it. This week, some other folks unexpectedly learned of it and got a peek.
The tunnel was meant to have been filled in as part of recent work on a new development along 70th Street, but that apparently did not happen or hadn’t yet happened. Surely, it will now, ending the long run of this mostly forgotten remnant of the company that gave West Allis its name.
According to a source at the City of West Allis, the details of when the hole will be filled and who is responsible for that task are being worked out now.
"There is no immediate danger of collapse," the source said. "Judging by how hard it was to open a small hole, the whole structure still seems very solid."
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.