After spending much of the day in churches, we ended Milwaukee Doors Open by visiting a structure of the state. More specifically, Milwaukee City Hall, which is as palatial in its way as any ornate church.
The view of the building from the corner of E. Kilbourn Ave. and N. Water St.
“From 1895 until 1899, the tallest inhabited structure in the world was Milwaukee’s City Hall, a building noted for its Flemish design and landmark qualities,” says the Wisconsin Labor History Society. “Towering more than 300 feet, it was a pioneering building in an era as elevators finally were becoming practical. The building’s design has been heralded and it still stands as a trademark [sic] of Wisconsin’s largest city.”
The clock tower, from Water St. south of E. Wells St.
I didn’t realize until I read more about the building, designed by local architect Henry C. Koch, that City Hall was featured in the introduction of Laverne & Shirley, probably because I haven’t seen that show in nearly 40 years. At the time, large letters midway up the clock tower said WELCOME MILWAUKEE VISITORS. A nice sentiment, but déclassé on your city hall, and the letters were removed at some point.
The first floor lobby offers a good first impression of interior.
“The building was one of the first to feature an extensive open atrium, of 20 by 70 feet, rising eight stories in the building’s center,” the city’s web site says.
“During the Great Depression, seven people jumped to their deaths, and an eighth died of a stroke after one of the jumpers nearly missed him. Afterwards, in 1935, protective wiring was placed around the center rails of the floors to prevent accidents and suicides and remained in place until Mayor John O. Norquist took office in 1988.”
A view from the third floor, looking toward the mayor’s office on the second floor.
“The building measures 393 feet from the base of the bell tower to the top of the flagpole, making it Milwaukee’s sixth largest. The flagpole measures 40 feet in length.
“The 22,500-pound bell – named ‘Solomon Juneau’ after Milwaukee’s first mayor – was fabricated from melted copper and tin from old church and firehouse bells around the city, and was hoisted to the tower in 1896, first chiming on New Year’s Eve.
“While Milwaukee’s Allen-Bradley building (Rockwell Automation) features the world’s second largest four-sided clock, City Hall’s 18-foot clock was believed to be the world’s third largest when it was fabricated.”
On the third floor is the Common Council chamber. A lot of natural light fills the room from behind the dais.
People were taking turns sitting at the dais, holding the gavel, so why not?
Churches have their stained glass. So do municipal buildings, at least this one, at the entrance to the Common Council.
Tours of the upper reaches of the clock tower were booked by the time we got there. Too bad. Just another reason to go back next year.