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.

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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.

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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.

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

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. My blog is a space for playing with ideas about creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and the nature of "insight."
This entry was posted in architecture, History, Milwaukee, Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Val. Blatz Brewing Company – 1901 / 1946 / 2015

  1. Cathy Tenzo says:

    Great post and very interesting. I love the history and the visuals and forgotten about Blatz until you mentioned it. I was born in Milwaukee but left at the age of three. I have been as an adult and really liked the city, especially the architecture. Your discussion on that book sounds fascinating. I have been meaning to read it as a follow-up to Mad Men.

  2. Sally Cissna says:

    I loved it! I love building and I love history and I’m starting to love MSOE again…slowly, slowly. So many years spent there, it’s great to learn something new and see those old pictures. Isn’t it fun to research and explore! Now if we could just convince the students of this 🙂

  3. mworfolk says:

    What a great post. I learned a lot and enjoyed the gorgeous photos!

  4. Nice photos! The drinking fountain reminds me of a men’s urinal ! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Blue Skies over the MSOE Campus Center / Blatz Brewery Bottle House | Katherine Wikoff

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