Tree shadows growing along a wall (à la Edward Hopper)


Somehow these slanted early-morning shadows remind me of Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning,” which you can see here in the Whitney Museum of Art collection.  That sweep of light washing swiftly down a street, stretching everything in its path into spindly lines across the landscape.  The sharp angles as these shadows encounter and are bent by obstacles of their own.  Such drama in the stillness :)



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Sixth Street Viaduct

Milwaukee's Sixth Street Viaduct

I took this photo of the Sixth Street Viaduct over Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley while waiting to cross the street after dropping my younger daughter off at the train station this morning.  She caught the 8:05 Amtrak Hiawatha for a field trip with her art history classmates to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. What a sweetheart—and so looking forward to this experience!  She even made a list of all the artworks she wants to see so she won’t miss out on anything.

But going back to my picture, I love that the iPhone camera lens has a zoom feature.  The above close-up shot of the viaduct makes a cool photograph, while the image below taken with the “shorter” lens is kind of “meh.”



IMG_0627[1]The Bublr Bikes are a relatively new addition to the Milwaukee scene.  There are bike stations like this scattered around Downtown, the Lakefront, and the Lower East Side, which makes it easy to get on a bike in one place, ride it to your destination, and then just leave it there instead of needing to return it to the original location.


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Val. Blatz Brewing Company – 1901 / 1946 / 2015

Blatz bottling facility and refrigeration/warehouse buildings

It was the lines that got me.  I’ve passed this way so many times, but for some reason the strongly oppositional vertical and horizontal lines had never presented themselves so starkly before.  So I had to get out my phone and take a photo.  Both buildings are part of the old Val. (with a period :) ) Blatz Brewing Company, but each represents a vastly different era.  The building on the right is the older of the two, obviously.  It was built in 1901.  The newer building was built in 1946.

I took this photo several weeks ago in early March as I was walking from my office to my Great Books event—a sold-out session on The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit with lots of intriguing discussion not only about the novel’s theme and characters but also about World War II and the three-martini lunch, corporate workplace, and suburban family life of the 1950s.  Not to mention we had maraschino cherry cake for dessert :)

MSOE’s Great Books Dinner & Discussion evenings are held in the former company offices of the Val. Blatz Brewing Company, now MSOE’s (Milwaukee School of Engineering) Alumni Partnership Center.


Below is another photo of the Alumni Partnership Center, drawn from the Historic Photo Collection in the F. P. Zeidler Humanities Room (Frank Zeidler was mayor of Milwaukee in the mid-twentieth century) of the Milwaukee Public Library’s digital archive (view the full-sized version here).  This photo, taken back when the building was the Blatz Brewing Company General Offices, is labeled “pre-1960″—and certainly looks it!

Blatz Brewing Company General Offices (Historic Photo Collection, F.P. Zeidler Humanities Room, Milwaukee Public Library, used with permission)

Blatz Brewing Company General Offices (Historic Photo Collection, F.P. Zeidler Humanities Room, Milwaukee Public Library, used with permission)

And check out this photo (again, view the full-sized version  here in the Milwaukee Public Library’s collection).  Arches towering over Broadway mark the entrance into the Blatz Brewing complex.

Val Blatz Brewing Company complex entrance (Historic Photo Collection, F.P. Zeidler Humanities Room, Milwaukee Public Library, used with permission)

Val Blatz Brewing Company complex entrance (Historic Photo Collection, F.P. Zeidler Humanities Room, Milwaukee Public Library, used with permission)

No traffic whatsoever in this photo except for three horse-drawn wagons showing up teeny-tiny in this photo, in the middle of the center and right arches, on what is now a very busy street!  The dates on either side of the words “Val. Blatz Brewing Company” are 1845 and 1895—so the arches would have marked the company’s 50th anniversary.

With its columns astride the street, this archway reminds me of the Colossus of Rhodes :)

Can you make out the six-pointed star right under the “B” of the “Val. Blatz” name at the top center of the archway?  There’s also a gigantic version of that star on the front of the building behind the archway.  I noticed this same kind of star on one of the historic Miller Brewing buildings the other day as I drove through Miller Valley.  Then I wondered if maybe Frederick Miller had been Jewish and thus put the Star of David on his building.

However, seeing a similar star on the Blatz sign in this photo made me question that assumption.  Sure enough, I did a little digging and discovered that the six-pointed star has special significance for beer makers. It is called (in German) the “Bierstern” (beer star) or “Brauerstern” (brewer star) and is a traditional sign for places where beer is brewed or tapped.  Sort of along the same lines as the traditional pawnbroker’s sign of three hanging balls.  Isn’t that interesting?  Learned something new today :)

I snapped the pictures below of the newer Blatz building (the one on the left in the first photo in today’s post) while waiting for the traffic light to change at the corner of State and Broadway.


Don’t you love the aerodynamic sweep?

MSOE Campus Center

I’ve always felt a kinship with this building.  When I moved to Milwaukee in the early 1980s, I think it was owned by Pabst, another now-defunct Milwaukee brewery.  At that time it was one of the most striking buildings I’d ever seen, very Art Deco/Moderne —as seen in Airstream trailers and streamlined 1930s automobiles and not to mention the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha) —with parallel tubes of purple neon lighting that wrapped around the rounded corners and emphasized the building’s curved lines.  At night it glowed like a beautiful alien spaceship.

This image I found on Pinterest of The Brothers Lounge in Cleveland comes closest to approximating the look.

Thirty-some years ago I used to change my driving route deliberately in order to go past this building.  That’s how much joy I got from seeing it.  And now I teach here several times a week and walk past and through it every day.  Life is certainly surprising in its concentricity!

I had to search for quite a while to discover when the building went up.  I never did find an official opening date, but I did find this photograph in the Milwaukee Public Library’s collection.  You can view the original here.  The photo, dated August 22, 1946, shows the Blatz Brewery Bottle House under construction (that’s City Hall in the background).

Blatz bottling facility under construction 8-22-1946

Blatz Brewery Bottle House under construction, August 22, 1946. Photograph by Graphic Studios Commercial Photographers (Historic Photo Collection, F.P. Zeidler Humanities Room, Milwaukee Public Library, used with permission)

Here is the same building today (now MSOE’s Campus Center) from a similar vantage point but shot from a lower angle.

Milwaukee School of Engineering Campus Center (from the 2014-2015 Undergraduate Academic Catalog)

Although the building has been updated and adapted for use as a university facility, it still contains many of its original features.

For example, this drinking fountain, with a note that you should let the water run a few minutes before drinking—presumably because it’s been sitting in old lead pipes.

Moderne drinking fountain

Also these doors.

Moderne doors

And this mural.  In keeping with the “beer” theme of the building, those are hops hanging down from the top and stalks of barley on the bottom.


So that’s today’s little local history lesson about the Val. (short for Valentin) Blatz Brewing Company.  Hope you enjoyed it! :)

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Milwaukee Grayscale


I noticed this bird atop a light pole as I left campus tonight. Downtown Milwaukee has been partially shrouded by mist/fog today, most likely caused by the difference between air and Lake Michigan temperatures.  Away from the lake it was warm and sunny.

Below is City Hall, the bell tower and flag vanishing into the mist. On days like this, the top two-thirds of skyscrapers are swallowed by fog.  It’s very strange to be high up in one of these buildings and look out at nothing but gray fog pressing against the windows. Kind of  claustrophobic.


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Geometric Reflections on Spring

Trees are sprouting leaves and it feels like spring is finally here!  Took this photo on MSOE’s campus in downtown Milwaukee as I walked from one meeting to another yesterday around noon.


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A Slice of Milwaukee’s City Hall

Took this photo this morning just because I found the view of City Hall from this perspective kind of arresting.


After I took the picture, I noticed that the flag is at half mast today and wondered why.  Not that terrible things aren’t happening the world over—like the deaths of all those poor migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean while seeking a better life in Europe—but I couldn’t remember any recent incident with a specific American connection.

I searched online for “flag half mast Wisconsin April 2015″ and discovered that Governor Walker’s Executive Order #158, signed yesterday, has ordered all Wisconsin flags to be flown at half mast today as a mark of respect for Airman First Class Kelly Tomfohrde, who died April 5th while stationed at the Kadena Air Base in Japan.

So by accident I’ve documented our State’s official recognition of her service and sacrifice.  May she rest in peace.

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Choosing the Clarinet

When it came time for my kids to join the band in elementary school, selecting an instrument prompted great angst.  As they ruminated on each possibility’s merits, they asked why I had decided on the clarinet.  How had I known that it was “the one”?

Well, I just knew.

But how did I know?

That stumped me.  I wasn’t sure.  There just had never been any question in my mind.

Not till after I got satellite radio about a year and a half ago did I realize why my choice might have been so clear.  One of the stations I listen to somewhat regularly is “Forties on 4,” which plays nothing but 1940s music.  Lots of big band stuff.  Like Artie Shaw.  Woody Herman.  Benny Goodman.

All clarinetists.

Although I was born well after the 1940s,  I guess the music from that era must still have been on my grandparents’ radios when I was young.  Heck, I can remember Guy Lombardo still playing New Year’s Eve on television through the evening of 1976-77.  (In the clip below, Lombardo’s final broadcast, the show starts out with “Baby Face,” a 1926 song that seems entirely fitting for the Royal Canadians.  But the second number is Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs.”  Which seems less so :) )

Probably the main reason I knew all about the clarinet, however, was “The Lawrence Welk Show.”  I remember watching that mostly at my grandmother’s house.  She had color TV, and “Lawrence Welk”— with its elaborate sets and pouffy crinoline dresses, not to mention pouffy bouffant hairstyles—was a show that seemed made for color television.

So, okay, yes, Lawrence Welk was old school and kind of hokey.  But the show showcased individual singers and dancers and musicians every week, and that’s why I was so familiar with the clarinet and knew without question that it was the instrument for me.  When Henry Cuesta played his clarinet, I loved how its warm, woody lower range could sound so mellow while its higher notes could rage and wail out the wildest blues songs.

Speaking of Lawrence Welk, I cannot close out a post that mentions that show without giving a shout-out to my favorite performer, Jo Ann Castle.  Totally the happiest piano player ever!


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