In Milwaukee History

The former Madison Street School during its tenure as home to MFD's Bureau of Instruction and Training. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Jim Ley)

Madison Street was an early example of an adaptive reuse of a former school

As Milwaukee continues to look for ways to re-purpose moribund schoolhouses, we turn an eye toward the old Madison Street School, 930 W. Madison St., in Walker's Point, which offers an early example of a creative re-use for a shuttered schoolhouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools erected what became Madison Street School in 1879 on the corner of Madison Street and Fifth Avenue (now 10th Street), at a cost of $48,820 for the land and the building.

It was designated District 8-2. Other Eighth Ward schools – under the old ward lines – were Kagel (8-1) – which is still open on 12th and Mineral, and Eugene Field (8-3), which was on 7th and Scott, until it burned in 1975.


(PHOTO: MPS' "Where We Go To School")

From 1893 until 1899 – when its own building was finally complete and ready – the South high school program was located in Madison Street (and for a few years in Field, which was then called Second Avenue School).

A 1927 MPS publication noted that the school at that time had an enrollment of 438 students in 10 classrooms.

By 1940, Madison Street School had closed and Milwaukee Fire Department took it over, moving its Training Bureau there on April 29, 1942.

In his book, "10-19 Return to Quarters: A History of Milwaukee's Fire Stations," Jim Ley wrote that "the Fire Department exchanged this building (at 3100 W. Lloyd St.) with the School Board for the Training School Building located at South 9th and West Madison Streets)," though it appears MFD housed Engine 24 in the Lloyd Street quarters until 1949. (Note: The Lloyd Street building was likely used as a social center before being razed in 1962. The site is now a small park.)

According to Ley, the Madison Street building was remodeled to suit MFD's use as a training center. A wooden tower was built and a garage added.

During World War II, the former school was used to train hundreds of factory workers, including many women, to serve as auxiliary firefighters.

In 1951, more work was done on the building.

"An extensive remodeling project began," Ley wrote. "A new drill tower and building alterations, including a new personnel office and landscaping took place." In 1968, a dive training tank was installed.

But by then the building was already likely on its way toward extinction. In 1965, MFD started to train a class of 53 recruits, which Ley said was the largest in the department's history.


(PHOTO: Milwaukee Fire Historical Society/Jim Ley)

In 1974, the new Public Safety Academy at 6680 N. Teutonia Ave. was ready and the fire training center was moved there, where it remains today.

The Madison Street location remained briefly in use after the move, but soon closed. In June 1975 – just a few months before nearby Eugene Field, which the city was in the process of razing, was consumed by fire – it was torn down, ending nearly a century of the building's service to the community.

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