Archives for August 2013

State Sen. Chris Larson Speaking to HWTN on Sept. 4

Sen. Chris Larson, who represents HWTN and is serving as the Democratic leader of the Wisconsin Senate, will discuss the state budget and his expectations for the next legislative session at HWTN’s monthly meeting Sept. 4. He will also take questions and seek feedback about what residents would like him to work on to help the district.

Larson Headshot NewsletterAlso at the meeting, a group of residents will discuss their concerns about nightly rentals of area homes, and Ald. Nik Kovac will update HWTN on city issues and answer questions.

Chris was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate on November 2, 2010. Two years later, he was elected by his colleagues to serve as Senate Democratic Leader for the 2013-2014 Legislative Session. He is currently serving on the following committees: Committee on Senate Organization, Joint Legislative Council, Joint Committee on Employment Relations, and the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization.


The meeting takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 4, 2013, at Lake Park Pavilion’s Marcia Coles Community Room (beneath Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro) Attendees are invited to come early to socialize and enjoy coffee and cookies courtesy of Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro.



Join Walking Tour of Historic North Point Neighborhood at 1 p.m. this Sunday

Take a special guided walking tour at 1 p.m. this Sunday (Sept. 29, 2013) of our own historic North Point neighborhood through a collaboration between Historic Water Tower Neighborhood and our friends at Historic Milwaukee Inc.

watertowerposterfThis specially designed 90-minute tour for HWTN members and guests will be led by HWTN Trustee and Historic Milwaukee docent George Gurria.

The cost is $10. Please RSVP by this Friday (Sept. 27) to

After RSVP’ing, participants can pay either by:

– Check or cash the day of the tour (please make checks payable to Historic Milwaukee Inc.)

– Or by credit card in advance by calling Historic Milwaukee at (414) 277-7795 and mentioning you are interested in the HWTN North Point tour

We’ll meet at the fountain in Water Tower Park on N. Lake Drive and E. North Avenue. The tour runs rain or shine, so bring an umbrella if showers appear likely.

We look forward to seeing you!

(Note to Packers fans: This Sunday is a bye week — so you won’t miss a second of Packers football!)

Quaint Marietta Avenue home has literary past and present, was designed by prominent Milwaukee architect

A charming clapboard colonial-style home on Marietta Avenue stands out among its neighbors. The attractive white house at 3228 N. Marietta Ave. isn’t distinguished by large size but rather a relatively bigger setback from the street. It looks more like a country home than its neighbors. And it greets visitors with a cute white fence based on those of Nantucket, a favorite vacation spot of the owners.


The Georgian Revival house, built in 1904, was designed by Herman W. Buemming, who practiced architecture in Milwaukee from 1896 to 1943.

JanDougtodayAt least two of the home’s owners have literary pedigree: One of its current owners is a longtime Milwaukee Journal  Sentinel writer, and the prior owner, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, was an award-winning illustrator of children’s books. Burkert’s drawings in children’s books included a full-page illustration of the beloved Downer Avenue popcorn wagon.

A Milwaukee Journal article from the 1930s praised the Marietta home. The story quoted a Milwaukee architect who said of the home: “This is a house of real architecture.” The architect praised the proportion and detail of the home’s windows, the design of its porch and the attractive facades both in front and back.

In addition to this Marietta gem, Buemming and his firms designed many grand homes on the East Side and around the city and commercial buildings, such as the warehouse that today houses the Iron Horse Hotel.

Herman 1012Perhaps Buemming’s most notable design was for his own 1901 home at 1012 E. Pleasant St. The home, on the National Register of Historic Places, is “architecturally significant as a relatively pure example of a frame Classical Revival structure in pristine condition,” according to a city inventory of historic buildings.

– Jeff Bentoff

John Updike, an HWTN artist and the Downer Avenue popcorn wagon walked into a bar…

Actually, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike, the historic Downer Avenue popcorn wagon and a Water Tower neighborhood artist didn’t walk into a bar.

But the three were connected in a different way — they all played roles in a well known 1965 children’s book, “A Child’s Calendar.”

The text of the book was written by Updike, who wrote “Rabbit, Run,” “The Witches of Eastwick” and many other acclaimed works. The original illustrator of the book was Nancy Ekholm Burkert, who lived for many years in a charming early 1900’s Georgian Revival clapboard home at 3228 N. Marietta Ave., here in the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood. And Burkert’s lovely drawing of the historic Downer Avenue popcorn wagon graced a page of “A Child’s Calendar.”

Wagon 6





















Burkert was also the original illustrator of “James and the Giant Peach” and won a Caldecott Honor in 1973 for “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

In “A Child’s Calendar,” her drawing of the Downer popcorn wagon illustrates Updike’s poem about the month of May. Updike began the poem: “Now children may, go out of doors, without their coats, to candy stores.”

Popcorn book

Nancy Ekholm Burker headshot














The historic popcorn wagon was a fixture on the corner of Downer Avenue E. Bellview Place from 1916 to 2007, when it was removed by a developer to make way for a new parking structure. According to a city history written before its removal:

“Milwaukee’s oldest popcorn wagon has reputedly stood at this site since 1916 and it might be one of the oldest, working popcorn wagons in America. Made of wood and metal, it is reminiscent of a small, nineteenth century peddler’s wagon. The interior still retains some of its original, steam-powered popcorn-making equipment although the apparatus is now powered by electricity. Research has not yet revealed just how old the wagon really is, but according to local folklore and the recollections of some East Side residents who have since passed away, the wagon has been standing there and in continuous use since about 1916. Originally the wagon was portable and could roll about, but many years ago it became a permanent part of the district when it was embedded into a poured concrete foundation….Several popcorn wagons of similar design dotted the city’s major thoroughfares before and after World War II but today all of the other historic wagons have vanished.”

popcornwagonWagon corner







In 2008, the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the new parking structure to be built on the site. Under the terms of the certificate, the developer was allowed to remove the historic wagon but was supposed to preserve it and return it to the Downer area. Despite the requirement, the wagon’s current whereabouts and condition are uncertain.

The last article we’ve seen on the wagon’s fate suggested at the time that it might be for sale.

When we wrote about the wagon on our Facebook page in a February 2013 photo quiz, several contributed their memories and impressions:

  • “As Joni Mitchell once sang – They have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
  • “I think of Mrs. M’s –– and the popcorn with coconut oil, the candy wristwatches, among other delights –– every time I wait on that corner for the light to change.”
  • “A great loss.”
  • “Sigh.”
  • “At least in the mid to late 90s when I ran that popcorn wagon with a friend, there were no remains of steam powered popcorn making equipment.”
  • “Where is it now?”
  • “Little candies on white paper strips across from the Downer theater!!”


UWM students shine light on buildings, people and history of HWTN area

A cornucopia of historical and contemporary multimedia documentation about the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood area has been developed and is now available as part of a “field study” focused on our neighborhood this summer by students in the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures collaborative project at UW Milwaukee and Madison.

Students unveiled their field work in July before a standing-room-only crowd of HWTN members and others at an event organized by the UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the university’s Hefter Conference Center.

The results of the studies and the multimedia products are newly available for browsing and viewing on the project’s “Picturing Milwaukee: The 2013 BLC Field School” website.









The website includes a huge variety of text, photos, video and audio documenting our neighborhood. Topics include places along the Lake Michigan shore (such as the Water Tower, North Point Lighthouse, Lake Park and Bradford Beach), Downer Avenue’s shops, a number of beautiful historic homes, insights from area residents, Villa Terrace and old postcards. The site also includes mini-documentaries and an online forum for residents to discuss the neighborhood.

In describing the effort, the BLC field school website said:

“We seek to explore, examine, highlight, and share myriad neighborhoods stories of community engagement, dreams of a bright future, and fond memories of a rich past. “

HWTN raised $2,300 to help fund this year’s field school to commemorate our group’s founding 40 years ago. The funds were raised through a wine tasting,  silent auction at the annual holiday party and $500 donation from our group.

TerraceMany HWTN members worked with the students by providing guidance, review, interviews and access to their homes.

The project website described the collaboration this way:

“We are thankful to the Historic Water Tower neighborhood residents for welcoming us in their midst and for helping us document their stories. Neighborhood scholars mentored our students and reviewed their projects. The neighborhood association raised funds, provided us with classroom space and helped us in data collection. Residents allowed us to enter their buildings, measure and document them and allowed us to interview them.”

“This project coincides with the 40-year celebration of the Historic Water Tower neighborhood organization and we plan to mark this occasion by highlighting stellar stories of stewardship by local residents. In this field school, we have documented a few buildings and collected many oral histories of stalwarts and leaders from this neighborhood.”

HWTN appreciates the hard work, talent and outcome of the students and staff on this project. Now, with so much material available on the website, we encourage people to look at what the students uncovered and recorded. Let us know what you discover — and what you think about it!

– Jeff Bentoff