A Milwaukee icon is about to shine a little brighter on the Downtown skyline.
On Wednesday, Richard H. Driehaus and Chicago-based M & J Wilkow, Ltd., owners of the Milwaukee Gas Light Building, at 626 E. Wisconsin Ave., will flip the switch on a newly completed lighting upgrade that will cause the weather-forecasting flame atop the building to burn more brightly.
The 1930 Art Deco building was designed by Milwaukee’s Eschweiler & Eschweiler architectural firm, which had its offices around the corner on Mason Street, and also designed this warehouse that I featured in an Urban Spelunking story this morning.
According to a statement issued by Wangard Investment Real Estate, which manages the building, the owners, "have taken advantage of advances in LED technology and upgraded the ... flame-shaped light that crowns the 20-story building.
"Thanks to a more sophisticated LED system, significantly more dynamic lighting schemes will be projected on the building’s upper floors. The unlimited light colors and patterns include the option to animate the flame-shaped light so it appears lit by gas instead of LED lights. While the building will feature a new lighting pattern, the flame will continue as it has for generations to serve as a weather beacon indicating the forecast by its color and flicker."
The lighting project was undertaken by MainStage Theatrical, Visual Terrain and Faith Technologies.
Technology will allow the 21-foot flame – it was added to the top of the building in 1956 – to be controlled autonomously using data from 11 weather stations around the city, which will determine the color of the flame, according to the now age-old Milwaukee stanza:
When the flame is red, it's warm weather ahead.
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold.
When the flame is blue, there's no change in view.
When there's a flickering flame, expect snow or rain.
"The Gas Light building is a tremendous historic legacy," said Driehaus. "Old buildings tell us where we came from – both architecturally and socially. Preserving their beauty enhances our lives, our environments and respects our heritage."
You can read more about the building and its history and get up close to the flame here, and you can read about another building Eschweiler designed for Wisconsin Gas Company that will soon re-open as home to City Lights Brewing.
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.