Goodbye, "abandonment porn." A Milwaukee exhibition celebrates efforts to renovate and revitalize industrial space
"Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company Swing Bridge" (2011)
This center point swing bridge sits in the Milwaukee River before the river joins the Kinnickinnic River and then Lake Michigan. Originally part of the Northwestern Transportation Company’s network, it sits open, parallel with the river and permanently closed to rail traffic. While railroad tracks still approach the bridge from the southwest, the northeastern tracks and the depot they served have since been removed.
"Your Company Name & Logo Here" (2011)
The influence of the current financial crisis can be seen in office parks across Milwaukee. Here, a ubiquitous "Your Company Name & Logo Here" sign invites potential tenants to move into vacant office space formerly leased by Rockwell Automation. By spring 2011, the vacancy rate for office space in the city had reached close to 22 percent.
"Growing Power" (2009)
Surrounded by a string of fast-food restaurants, and a short walk from the city’s largest public-housing project, Growing Power has emerged as the most famous urban farm in America. Fourteen greenhouses sit on two acres of land while fresh produce grows in over 25,000 pots. Growing Power founder Will Allen bought the dilapidated property in 1993 in a neighborhood still reeling from a recent recession and hit hard by the process of deindustrialization. Allen’s pioneering work in aquaponics – the cultivation of plants and fish together in a constructed, recirculating ecosystem – and vermicomposting (composting that utilizes various species of worms to produce fertile soil; Growing Power then sells this nutrient-laden soil) led to him receiving a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 2008. In early 2011, the city of Milwaukee awarded Growing Power $425,000 to expand the group’s operations throughout the city. These new facilities will create 150 jobs to be staffed by beginning urban farmers in the city’s African-American community, where unemployment is close to 50 percent for black men. To Allen, “The low overall cost for the benefits the program will bring – both in terms of creating jobs and providing fresh, nutritious food for urban families – will hopefully be a powerful formula for success."
"Sweet Water Organics" (2009)
Since January 2009, Sweet Water Organics – an indoor urban farm located in the south side neighborhood of Bay View – has been producing both fish and produce for area consumers and restaurants. Located in a previously abandoned, one-time Harneschfeger factory building, Sweet Water Organics has sought to improve upon the aquaponic systems developed by Growing Power’s Will Allen. The company has taken advantage of the site’s industrial layout, transforming the railway trenches that once served the mining crane production facility into a series of in-ground fish tanks. Sweet Water is not only making the building that houses them productive again; they also see themselves as a piece of a broader citywide revitalization effort. And government officials in Milwaukee agree: In the spring of 2011 Sweet Water Organics was awarded a $250,000 forgivable loan for future development by the city.
"Pabst Brewery" (2010)
The former Pabst Brewery complex is slowly emerging as the poster child for mixed-used post-industrial development in 21st-century Milwaukee. Close to 15 years after the shuttering of the brewery itself, the complex now houses a 40,000-square-foot office building, the Blue Ribbon Brewery Lofts (a 95-unit apartment building), and Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, a gift shop, banquet room and tavern situated in the former Pabst visitors center. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is planning to place its School of Public Health on the site, and a 90-room extended hotel – the Brew House Inn & Suites – is set to open at the end of 2012. Noted real estate developer and philanthropist Joseph Zilber provided much of the capital behind these projects.
"Foundry Worker at Falk Facility, Rexnord" (2011)
A mainstay of the Menomonee Valley, Franz Falk and his business partner purchased the site Falk currently occupies for a brewery in 1856. After a brewery fire and other changes, his son, Herman Falk, sold the brewery and later founded what we know as Falk in 1895. The company went through 15 years of permutation before finding a niche in the growing gearing industry it has continued to occupy. Another Milwaukee industrial firm, Rexnord, purchased Falk in 2005 and moved employees from another facility to the Menomonee Valley plant in 2006. It is expanding the site with the assistance of federal, city and state government funds. In this photograph, a foundry worker uses a gas cutting torch to remove a riser from a rough gear. This rough gear casting will be machined to become part of an enclosed gear drive unit.
"Lakefront Brewery" (2011)
Founded in 1987 by brothers Jim and Russ Klisch, Lakefront Brewery has called the riverside building at 1872 N. Commerce St. home since 1998. Originally built in 1908 to house the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company’s coal-fired power plant, the brewery bought the building from the City of Milwaukee, which had been using the structure to house its City Forestry Department. However, in 1998 the city was planning to raze the building in order to uphold a contract with an adjacent apartment complex. The brewery was able to convince the city to sell them the structure – and the facility now produces over 17,000 barrels of beer each year. This growth has been environmentally conscious: In May 2007, The Wisconsin Department of Tourism announced that Lakefront Brewery had become the first brewery in the state and the first business in the City of Milwaukee to receive the Travel Green Wisconsin certification.
"House, Froedtert Malt Corporation/Malteurop" (2011)
Towering over single-family homes, these grain elevators and processing buildings were the largest facility of the Froedtert Malt Corp., a Milwaukee-based malt producer that supplied historic Milwaukee brewers. After a series of consolidations, Malteurop North America Inc. now owns the facility, itself a subsidiary of the world’s largest malt producer, Malteurop Group. The malting plant produces Pilsen malt and has the capacity to generate 10 percent of the Group’s total output. As with other industrial complexes, the facility is well known in peregrine falcon conservation circles as a nesting site.
"Four Seasons Skate Park" (2010)
Despite the continued presence of manufacturing in the Menomonee Valley, this region of the city has attempted to rebrand itself for a post-industrial age. From the Potawatomi Bingo Casino (which opened in 1991) to the Harley Davidson Museum (2008) the valley has increasingly become an entertainment district for the city. The Four Seasons Skate Park fits into this compelling narrative. Since 1999, the skate park has called a building that was previously part of the Milwaukee Gas Light Co. complex home. The turn-of-the-century building, which was once used to convert coal into gas, has an open floor plan and soaring ceilings that serendipitously create the perfect space for a twenty-first century indoor skate park.
"Wisconsin Leather Company Building" (2011)
This handsome 1874 building stands as a sentinel on the southern edge of downtown Milwaukee, available for lease while isolated from the rest of downtown. Originally the home of the Wisconsin Leather Co., the building’s current parking lot site and skyline backdrop are a reminder of the domination of automotive transportation and the changing fortunes of the urban core during the second half of the 20th century.
Five-Minute Museum is a weekend art series that previews interesting exhibitions -- current or upcoming -- from across the country.