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!!”