Friday, September 28, 2007

An Unfortunate Decision for the Goldmann's Building

Goldmann's Last Day

Today was the final day of business for Goldmann's Department Store. Though the store was virtually empty of goods and wares, the lunch counter was packed throughout the day. At mid-afternoon, a crowd gathered to hear words from Mayor Barrett, the store's current and future owners, and neighborhood representatives.

Closing Ceremonies

Among the words of bittersweet reminisce and optimism that the building will continue as a place of commerce and communal gathering was a statement regarding its architectural future. The building will be remodeled inside and out, with the exterior being returned to its 1920s appearance.

Goldmann's Department Store

Goldmann's Department Store

I think it's a big, big mistake to do this.

Exploratory work has been done on the west elevation, removing some of the CMU coverup facade to see what remains of the older building beneath. From what I can gather, it looks like there might actually be two older facades underneath the 1950s coverup, one on the west side dating from the building's original construction (a strongly Victorian composition in red brick) and a circa 1920s reworking on the Mitchell Street side in brown brick. From the looks of what's been exposed, none of what remains is in particularly great shape, and a lot is missing. It can certainly be repaired, but it's going to be a lot of work.

Testing the waters

But the end result will be undistinguished. Not that the building itself will necessarily look bad, but it will simply be more of what we already have lots of in Milwaukee. Brick Victorian commercial buildings are a dime a dozen in this town. Heck, there's a brown brick Chicago School building right next door.

The kind of bold, slightly campy yet unabashedly Modernist facade that has adorned Goldmann's for the last fifty years, however, is a vanishing rarity in Milwaukee. When this facade is wrecked, there won't be another one like it in the city. It is a unique creation, and its demolition is no less an architectural tragedy than the demolition of 19th century buildings is.

Goldmann's Last Day

You want historical value? Nobody born after 1945 is likely to even remember the way the store used to look. For most Milwaukeeans, Goldmann's current appearance is simply how the store has always been.

Does it fit with its surroundings? Well, exactly which surroundings are we talking about? The Beaux Arts detailed Schuster's building? The Deco building next to that? The wood-framed gabled buildings with Flemish curved facades? Maybe the 1960s Modern bank across the street? Mitchell Street is a riot of architectural styles, both high and low, each one contributing to the street's visual vitality. Removing its premier 1950s entry will not enliven it, but make it more bland.

Goldmann's Last Day

Is the facade bland and boring? Not at all. A close look rewards the viewer: the facade uses several different kinds of CMU, two of them tinted, one with ground glass embedded in it. Metal panels cover another portion of the facade, with a minimalist clock (sadly nonfunctional) at one end. A marching row of metal rods sits in front of this portion, offering an endless play of shadows as the sun moves across the facade. Details include the clock, the shiny aluminum and neon sign, and the bold lettering on the western facade.

Goldmann's Last Day

People gathered today to lament the loss of an institution. Yet the loss of its physical embodiment was treated as cause for celebration. I'll say it again: in twenty years, people are going look at the heritage of the 1950s, and wonder why the heck we didn't save any of this stuff.

Book Bargain

The Heritage Guidebook by H. Russell Zimmermann is on sale at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops for $5. It's a thorough guide to "landmarks and historical sites in southeastern Wisconsin", with entries on hundreds of buildings in Milwaukee and the towns surrounding it. It's well worth picking up, especially at that price!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

UWM Needs New Bike Racks

For all the effort that UWM puts into encouraging its students not to drive to the crowded campus...they sure don't seem very committed to encouraging bicycle use.

Take a look at the bike racks at the Union, mid-day on a Wednesday:

A mob of bikes

They're jam packed. All three racks are full, and more bikes are locked to the guard rails around a nearby stairwell.

But look at the racks. They're the old-fashioned gridiron type. This type of bike rack is meant to have the bike's front wheel lifted over it. This requires a considerable ffort on the part of the users, especially if the racks are crowded. (If??

UWM bike rack

But many bikes today (such as my own hybrid) can't fit over these racks. Users then have no choice but to lock nothing but the front wheel -- an open invitation for the rest of the bicycle to be stolen.

Bike racks at the Grand Avenue Mall

Modern racks are a W shape, like these outside the Grand Avenue Mall downtown. They allow bikes to roll in without lifting and allow all types of bikes to be locked by the frame, not just the front wheel. They are permanently installed, rather than being a loose rack that gets shoved around when empty. And they are far more attractive.

UWM should be installing these, rather than letting this clear need go so inadequately met.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Doomed Mid-Century Modern

Surely Doomed

This little bat-winged building stands in West Allis, on Greenfield at 61st Street. It faces a simpler building across a parking lot. Both are fenced off; the second building appears to have undergone abatement (removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials.) Abatement's the harbinger of either renovation or demolition. Given the vintage, I'm betting on the latter.

It's a shame. The bat-wing building is particularly nice, with two clusters of multi-height hanging lamps at the apex of its pyramidal roofs, overhangs lined with downward-aiming can lights, and a stepped roof unlike anything I've ever seen. Like the similarly-conceived Mark Twain Cinema in St. Louis, I'm sure it looked impressive when lit up at night.

Surely Doomed

The sign -- another interesting period piece -- announces it as the St. Ann's Village Center, offering bingo, but the VV logo points to a previous name along the lines of Value Village. The second building was most recently a sales center for bathtubs and whirlpools.

And so another bit of our Mid-Century heritage passes away. In twenty years, they're gonna wonder why we didn't save any of this stuff.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Walgreens revisited

Massive, bold, strong

A recent Journal-Sentinel column praised the design of the new East Side Walgreens on Oakland Avenue. I agree, as a building, it's pretty sweet -- it's a set of bold forms, with some nice accent detailing (it's forbidden in these Modern days to call it "ornament" even though that's exactly what it is, but that's a subject for another post.) It's pleasing to look at, and a big, big step up from a typical suburban outlot Walgreens.

It's ornament!!

But it's still a Walgreens. It still means we lost our neighborhood grocery store, the only one within easy walking distance for thousands of UWM students and neighborhood residents. It still replaced a functionally identical Walgreens just a block south.

But I've griped about that before. It was a business transaction, among consenting private entities; the fact that it screwed the entire neighborhood.... well, that's just tough luck for us, right? Free market and all that. Me, I've been doing my best to avoid the Oakland Walgreens since last summer, when they killed off our Sentry.

For the present, here are a few other notes:

- The bike racks, which I had understood to be respectfully placed within the brick wall recesses along the sidewalk, are in fact located nearly at the back of the lot, on a sidewalk alongside the store -- a clear statement that they were an afterthought, not a priority. Similar non-consideration was given to the propane tank storage, a crude metal cage plopped on the sidewalk (and closer to the entrance than the bike racks.)
You need binoculars to see the other end.

- I can scarcely fathom how enormous the parking lot is, especially for its highly urban location. I wonder if it will ever be anywhere close to full. I wonder if Walgreens has any statistics on how many of their customers arrive on foot or by bicycle. But hey boy, lookit that there green space!! That's what Oakland & Locust really needed -- not more businesses, not apartments, but some fantastic green space. After all, it's an arduous five hundred foot walk to the nearest major urban park.

- Someone was clearly hammering a square peg into a round hole. The Oakland Street elevation consists of massive glass windows, which open up the store's interior and allow passersby on the sidewalk an inviting view of....

Loo with a view

...the doors to the bathrooms?!

And where are the window displays, which, y'know, are ostensibly the point of having display windows? Windows can also serve to open up the space to the outside, and to bring natural light, but those seem to be verboten under retail rules of conduct, and indeed if you removed the blue panels you'd find yourself looking at the backside of a display shelf.

Display windows, missing just one little thing...

- There are several nice benches and half-walls to provide space for people to sit while waiting for a bus or whatever else. It's a thoughtful gesture.

- I've heard many people over the years complain about Modernist design, and a couple in regards to this particular building. I perosnally find an unambiguous beauty in this sort of bold massing contrasted with delicate, transparent ornament.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

It may be chilly, but it looks nice!

It's been a beautiful week in Milwaukee! Clear skies and crisp air have drawn me outside with my camera every evening this week, and I've come back with a crop of great photos.

Milwaukee Deco

Jet skiing

My only friend

Many more can be seen here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Two urban articles, and a note

Two interesting and topically related articles in the Shepherd this week:

Urban Living, Sprawl and Transit: an interview with former mayor John Norquist.

On the Road to Sprawlville, Shop 'Til You Drop: a look at the shady politics supporting the exurban Pabst Farms development.

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The FlexCar system has debuted at UWM! This fantastic idea lets you essentially rent a car on an hourly basis -- allowing you to bypass the expense and difficulty of car ownership without suffering the negative side effects.

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On a personal note, I will be moving to Chicago at the end of this month, in pursuit of both professional and personal goals. This blog will remain in place, for the foreseeable future at least. Given the mental backlog of topics I still want to write about, I could keep going for quite some time!