Friday, April 04, 2008

Retro post #4: Mother of Good Counsel Church

Before I started this blog, I made a few posts about Milwaukee on my St. Louis blog. I'm reposting them here where they're more relevant. This one went up on June 23, 2006.

Mother of Good Counsel Church, Lisbon at 70th, Milwaukee Wisconsin. Built 1966-68.

How have I never seen this place before???

It's a beautiful massing of a curved brick screen wall, capped with limestone and studded with protruding bricks, behind which stands a diamond-shaped sanctuary with narrow bands of stained glass.

Next to it is a small parish office building, which brings together a number of fairly typical Mid-Century design elements (the vertical pier intersecting the horizontal plane, the rectangular cutouts, the limestone surrounds), but in an unusually high density -- and with a couple of elements I've never seen before.

Most flabergasting is this original doorway:

I can't believe they designed this -- let alone that it's still here 40 years later. Magnificent!!

Click the images for more photos.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Retro post #3: Goodbye and good riddance to the Whaling Wall

Before I started this blog, I made a few posts about Milwaukee on my St. Louis blog. I'm reposting them here where they're more relevant. This one went up on May 10, 2006.

Milwaukee lost an iconic landmark this week, and I couldn't really care less.

The "Whaling Wall", a mural by an artist known as Wyland, adorned the Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex since 1997. It was well-known due to its position above the heavily-traveled lanes of I-43 southbound. There's been some hemming and hawing about losing the mural, which was demolished this week along with the last remnants of the aging, decaying Annex, a 1960s parking garage with a level of offices on top.

Frankly, I say screw the wall.

There are no whales in Milwaukee. In the wild, there are no whales within a thousand miles of Milwaukee. There is no aquarium here (well, that's due to change this year with the opening of the new Discovery World building, which will feature a modest aquarium.) The whale mural, basically, has jack all to do with this town.

It is simply an advertisement for Wyland's art business, and a rather kitchy one at that.

The mural is hardly unique; Wyland has plastered them on buildings all over the country. And Wyland is hardly some starving artist struggling to find an audience; his web site is a slick commercial venture that looks primed for commerce on a fairly massive scale. For once, I agree with County Executive Scott Walker -- make the guy pony up to plaster his ad on the side of a public building. And for love of all that is holy, keep it off the pristinely Modernist building of the Milwaukee Public Museum, which Wyland has apparently been slavering over for ten years.

So, let the commuters lament the loss of the whale wall. I'll celebrate the now unobstructed County Courthouse, an impressively massive Classical building that looms over the freeway like a mountain. There are causes far more worth fighting for in Milwaukee than preservation of a lowbrow mural.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Retro post #2: Modernist churches in Milwaukee

Before I started this blog, I made a few posts about Milwaukee on my St. Louis blog. I'm reposting them here where they're more relevant. This one went up on April 1, 2006.

Milwaukee has a nice collection of 1950s-1960s era Modernist churches, which make for a nice around-the-town tour as they're scattered across the inner suburbs and newer areas of the old city.

Click on any of the photos to view lots more of them on my account.

St. Stephen Martyr Church (now Chapel), N. 51st Street - 1969
A symphony of piercing angles and lapping shadows.

St. Matthias, 9300 W. Beloit Road - 1967
It features a finely detailed roof more powerful than a ship's prow, and a commanding corner wall of stained glass that glows spectacularly in the afternoon sun.

St. Rita, S. 60th Street
A glowing lantern of a building, with half the walls washed away by stained glass. The original architect returned to oversee a restoration in 2003, shortly before his death. It suffers from it city context; it's clearly an object, meant to be sitting like a crown on a hilltop.

Walther Memorial Lutheran Church, 4000 W. Fon du Lac - 1954
Fairly stock low Modernism -- right down to the characteristic orange brick.

Sacred Heart Academy and Monastary, 7300 S. Highway 100, s. of Hales Corners
Robert Venturi would call it a duck -- it's a building in the shape of the object it represents, in this case a giant crown. But within the bounds of the kitchy overall design are a number of enamoring details, including a wonderful arcade.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Retro post #1: Farewell to West Milwaukee

Before I started this blog, I made a few posts about Milwaukee on my St. Louis blog. I'm reposting them here where they're more relevant. This one went up on 26 February, 2006.

I passed by West Milwaukee today, the industrial-based inner-ring suburb attached to Milwaukee's western flank. The road running south from Miller Park stadium has long been a fascinating vista of towering grain elevators -- almost a hundred of them -- and mighty factories. It was a land of heroic architecture, concrete mountains that stood pure and powerful and enormous in the slanting light of a late afternoon sun.

But, no more.

Last summer, with the 2003 closure of the Froedtert Malt Corporation's West Milwaukee operation and a corn milling plant run by Archer Daniels Midland company a year later, a series of the grain elevators began coming down; this month, most of the remaining ones are coming down, as I discovered this evening. Layers of building have already fallen, revealing a second layer behind them. Generic big box retail will replace them all, as Miller Park Way (still known as 43rd Street elsewhere in the city) evolves into another version of S. 27th Street.

How depressing. One can already surmise what's going to go into this place, how dreadfully dull and boring it's going to look, how placeless and forgettable.

Even if I'd had my camera, the light was already too dim for photographs. I don't know when I'm going to be able to get out there in daylight -- maybe Friday. The old axiom proves true yet again: photograph now, for it'll be gone next time you're there. Only the southernmost stand of Froedtert elevators remain untouched, and I'm sure their time is coming up quickly.

Photographs from January, 2004:

I've always loved the bizarre juxtaposition of the lightweight Italianate office/research building with the massive, purely functional behemoths directly behind it. The office is gone now, reduced to a few chunks of concrete foundation. The elevator won't be far behind.

Photographs from October, 2004:

The old Hotpoint Appliance factory across the street, with its stout smokestack and multiple rail spurs curving into its grounds, is now stripped of facade and in mid-demolition.

Demolition photographs from July 2005:

Up the street, new suburban-style strip malls are sprouting faster than the weeds growing between the railroad ties. The very character of this part of town is transforming before our eyes, a tidal wave shift from industrial to residential and retail. I can't fathom what recyclable use such a gigantic collection of industrial structures might have, but I still feel keen regret at the change: when it's over, I won't really have any reason to stop along this stretch of road again. Everything that made it unique, everything that gave it such a commanding presence, will be gone.