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.


About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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