Deco on Rye

Okay, my title is like a bad pun.  But that’s what I thought of when I saw such a tiny building squeezed into the space between two larger and older buildings.

A sandwich :)

Art Deco facade on Water Street

This somewhat out of place Art Deco building is part of a stretch of historic buildings running several blocks long on Water Street in downtown Milwaukee.  About 25 years ago there was talk of tearing much of it down, but a compromise was reached to preserve the buildings’ facades, at least.

Because the Market Street shortcut to the east of City Hall is open again, I walked on the opposite side of Water than usual on my way to the dentist’s office yesterday.  Funny how a change in location (like across the street) opens your eyes to a whole new perspective. When walking past on the sidewalk three feet away, I never noticed how very different this building looks from its neighbors.

And what a pretty little gem!  It looks like a fancy cake in a bakery with all of its decorations and gleaming tile—like nonpareils and piped frosting atop a shiny surface of poured fondant.

You can physically trace the history of Milwaukee in the way styles of architecture change as you move outward from the center of downtown.  That is, you can tell which areas once marked the outer edge of the expanding city at distinct points in time by looking at which architectural styles mark it—my assumption being that the newest buildings at any given time would be built in the newest neighborhoods and would reflect the architectural tastes of the moment.

Older Downtown buildings are often built of Cream City brick and date mostly from the 1870s and ’80s.  Then starting at 12th Street, just outside of downtown proper, is the first ring of residential neighborhoods, most dating to about the same period—late 1800s and into about the First World War era.  As you move further west (or north, etc.) you eventually begin to see not only occasional Art Deco office buildings and factories but also, more frequently, storefronts and apartment buildings that feature the tiled roofs and spiraling ornaments of Moorish Revival architecture from the 1920s.  Ironically, the 1920s seems to start at around 20th Street.

Below is Milwaukee’s Tripoli Shrine, built in 1928 and located at 3000 West Wisconsin Avenue.

Milwaukee’s Tripoli Shrine Temple Photo by Sulfer, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 and GNU Free Documentation License)


I just thought of something that would be a fun post to do this summer—traveling outward from Downtown on some of Milwaukee’s main streets and documenting with photos the changes in architecture.


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Coffers and Corinthians

Milwaukee City Hall coffered side entry and Corinthian columns

A trip to the dentist took me past City Hall again for the second time in a couple months. In December it had been probably a few years since I’d been able to get up close, thanks to the scaffolding in place to perform restoration work.  That afternoon I took a picture of the fire escape, which was so ornate it didn’t even look like a fire escape to me.  A small version of the photo is below, but you can view the full-sized version here.


Today it was the columns flanking the side entrance on the east side of the building that caught my eye.  Not the columns themselves, although I do love how that gleaming, white marble contrasts with the sandstone.  No, what I noticed today were the small cherub faces peering out through the foliage of the Corinthian capitals.

Milwaukee City Hall cherub face

More cherub faces—all different from one another—can be found on each side of every column.  For example, you can see three cherubs in the photo below.

Milwaukee City Hall cherub faces in Corinthian columns 2

And here’s another.

Milwaukee City Hall cherub in Corinthian column 3

I actually only noticed the “coffers” of this post’s title courtesy of my younger daughter.  She’s studying art history, and as soon as she saw the arched entryway just inside the exterior wall in the first photo of today’s post, she exclaimed, “Oh, it’s just like the Pantheon!”

Which it really is.  At least in terms of being arched and coffered :)

Interior of ancient Rome’s Pantheon dome, by Владимир Шеляпин CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikipedia)


Milwaukee’s City Hall is such a treasure.  I know I’ve said it before, but we are so fortunate to have this building!

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The Northern Soul Project – The Father-Son Shredded Wheat Commercial (Post #5)

Warning: this television ad (or, “advert,” as they apparently say in England) will make your heart melt.

Apparently just released within the past week, this Shredded Wheat cereal commercial profiles a father and son who go out dancing at the all-nighters together.  In Post #3 of the series about my lifelong-learning/self-education project, I wrote about how Northern Soul’s sense of community embraces all ages, all races.  This ad captures some of that.

If you’d like to read other posts in my Northern Soul Project, you can link to them below.




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Perspective (2)


Bright sunshine today for the first time in maybe a week. Had to pull down the blinds in my office . . . at which point I noticed another “perspective”-type convergence of lines similar (vaguely) to my post last Friday, “Perspective.”

“Perspective” is one of my favorite visual concepts.  Here are two images I’m particularly fond of in film.  The first film still is from Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964).

I wrote about this sequence in a post a couple of years ago, so I won’t repeat myself.  If you’d like to read my thoughts on how Hitchcock marries form and content through the use of perspective in Marnie’s opening sequence, you can read that post, “Perspectives on depth perception as metaphor in film,” here.

The second still is from The Dark Knight (2008).  It has been a few years since I watched this movie, so I can’t remember seeing this shot or where it comes in the film.  But I’ve seen this photo so many times that it has taken on its own significance for me. The vanishing point is obviously somewhere behind the Joker.  So a few thoughts here.  First, the use of perspective uses the two planes of office buildings to sweep the viewer’s gaze down the street to where the Joker is waiting for us.  The Joker’s stillness contrasts with our involuntary  movement toward him.  Second, the Joker appears to have emerged from the darkness at the center, like the evil thing that he is.  And third, the Joker is standing between us and the horizon.  We’re not going anywhere because he won’t let us.  We’re trapped and facing an ominous doom.

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger

In art, the concept of “perspective” got its start during the Italian Renaissance.  Its invention is generally attributed to Italian architect (artist, sculptor, artisan-engineer) Filippo Di Ser Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the man behind the dome at The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, an incredibly brilliant engineering marvel.  (More on that another time, maybe.  If you’d like to learn more, here’s the Wikipedia article about him, which has more detail.)

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, via Wikipedia, by MarcusObal (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“A cube drawing using 2-point perspective,” via Wikipedia by Ejahng (CC BY-SA 3.0)

So what Bruneschelli did was realize that you could create a three-dimensional effect on a two-dimensional surface by using one or more “vanishing points” and having lines converge on those.  In Bruneschelli’s case, he figured out how to draw perspective in art using science.  The concept of “perspective” is derived from both disciplines.

“Brunelleschi’s perspective experiment,” via Wikipedia, by Amphicoelias (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The term “Renaissance man” is generally used to describe a person who is accomplished in many areas.  It comes from men like Bruneschelli and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci—men who lived during the Renaissance and were widely accomplished in the arts and sciences. Once you take a longer, wider view of knowledge, you realize there really are very few significant divides among disciplines.

Maybe that’s why the idea of “perspective” captures my imagination, both the art term and the concepts generated by the broader definition of the word itself.  “Perspective” comes from the following roots (courtesy of Wiktionary):

  • Medieval Latin perspectiva ars (“the science of optics”)
  •  per (“through”) + specere (“to look at”)
  • Italian prospettiva (“prospect”/”possibility”)
  • Italian prospetto (“elevation,” “view, prospect,” “front, facade,” “table, schedule,” and “summary”)

I especially like that “prospect”/”possibility” connection, in the way the word “perspective” brings together the idea of both sight and thought.  Sometimes a change of scenery can prompt a whole new outlook.

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General Tom Thumb rescued from deadly Milwaukee hotel fire!

In doing some class prep I came across a book titled Vintage Milwaukee Postcards, by Larry Widen, which talks about, among other interesting pieces of Milwaukee history, the famous (in its day) Newhall House Fire.

The Newhall House was a sprawling six-story, wood-framed luxury hotel located on N. Broadway in downtown Milwaukee.  In 1883 it burned to the ground, killing 72 people and becoming Milwaukee’s deadliest fire ever.  (Now that I’m on Facebook, I can tell you that Retro Milwaukee has a page on this fire, with lots of photos. You may want to check it out if you’re interested in learning more.)

Among the fire’s survivors was “the world-famous midget General Tom Thumb.”  As this screenshot passage from Widen’s book indicates, the actor “was rescued by a fireman who carried the 25-inch Thumb from the hotel on a ladder.”

Vintage Milwaukee Postcards

What a small world!  One never knows what awaits discovery in the course of just moving through the day :)

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Be my Facebook friend?

In a comment at the end of a post a couple days ago Kitty Barran ( mentioned that she’d rather receive my blog posts through Facebook than either email or Twitter.

So I’ve done it.  Joined Facebook.  I now have a “profile picture” and a “cover photo” there but nothing else.  No “friends” yet.

I think I’ve set up my WordPress account to send out my blog posts to Facebook followers/friends.  But, as I have no Facebook friends so far, I can’t tell for sure that it’s working.  If you’d like to get my blog updates via Facebook, can you be my “friend” and let me know if the posts come through?


Update (January 23):  Duh—I just realized that I didn’t include a link to my profile.  If you decided to be my Facebook friend, you might not be able to find me!  So here it is: the link to my Facebook profile :)


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MSOE Schroeder Room

I definitely was paying attention at the Faculty Senate meeting this morning in the Schroeder Room of MSOE’s Walter Schroeder Library!

But sitting in a different seat than usual led to a new perspective on a view that is normally at my back.  As I focused on our invited guest, I couldn’t help but notice the interesting parallel lines and planes behind him on the other side of that window.

I think today’s lack of shadows and glare—thanks to a gray, cloudy sky—amplified the building’s spare geometry even more than if it had been a sunny day.

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