Milwaukee's historic Westside Academy schoolhouse prepares for a green makeover

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You could be forgiven if you've never seen, or never noticed, Westside Academy in the former 31st Street School at 1945 N. 31st St. Although the building has served as a school, in one form or another, since it opened in 1895, unlike most schools in the city, it's barely visible from a main street.

Read on and stream this week's episode of Urban Spelunking below to learn more about this hidden architectural treasure.

Westside Academy | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee.com

The building may have been the only school designed by R.G. Kirsch and Co., an architectural firm better known for designing courthouses, which may be why the schoolhouse doesn't look quite like any other in the city.

And there's history inside the building, too, as OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo explains. Next to the school's library there's a narrow storage room filled with old books preserved in plastic envelopes. Not even all the teachers knew about them. They contain years of handwritten records for every single student, and despite many of these ledgers being more than a hundred years old, they're all beautifully preserved.

Archival student records | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee.com

This historic building is about to receive a green update. The Green Schools Consortium of Milwaukee, which has already helped add green space to Milwaukee Public Schools including Brown Street Academy, Maryland Avenue Montessori, Lloyd Barbee Montessori, will be working with Westside Academy to add gardens and outdoor classrooms to its campus -- adding yet more distinction to a school that already has it in no short supply.

Stream this week's Urban Spelunking below, and find more of Bobby Tanzilo's photos of the school, including some stunning original blueprints, at OnMilwaukee.com.

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Zócalo food truck park looks to create community through food

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As Milwaukee continues to cement its status as a foodie's paradise with multiple food halls, near-endless festivals boasting their own dedicated delicacies and unique restaurants appearing seemingly every week with new spins on old favorites, it can be easy to overlook the growing food truck scene.

One of the better known trucks in this rapidly expanding collective is Mazorca Tacos in Walker's Point. Opening in the summer of 2017 in a vacant gravel lot at the corner of Pittsburgh Avenue and First Street, the truck quickly became a favorite of those who frequent the busy area with its delicious offerings of tacos crafted with homemade tortillas. However, owner Jesus Gonzalez will soon be moving the now iconic aluminum camper as a part of a new venture with Sean Phelan of Phelan Development. Starting July 13, Mazorca will join five other trucks as a part of the Gonzalez' and Phelan's Zócalo Food Truck Park.

Zócalo will be Milwaukee's first foray into the growing national trend of food truck parks and will feature four permanent resident trucks, one seasonal, rotating truck and one "incubator concept" truck for six total restaurants.

In addition to Mazorca, the 2019 lineup will consist of the established Scratch Ice Cream company, which specializes in small batch ice cream, and the debuts of Fontelle's Eatery, Bowl Cut and Ruby's Bagels, along with a yet to be announced seasonal offering.

Gonzalez' Mazorca Tacos. Courtesy of @mazorcamke on Facebook.

Fontelle's and Bowl Cut are the remaining permanent residents and will provide sandwiches with an international flair and Asian rice bowls with snacks respectively. Ruby's Bagels is the inaugural "incubator concept," offering handmade bagels in a variety of flavors, and will receive a trailer and mentorship in order to grow as a business.

Given that the word "Zócalo" comes from the term for a public square in Mexico, the owners of the trucks hope that the park comes to serve a similar purpose for Milwaukee and become a community for entrepreneurs and patrons alike.

This sentiment is echoed through Zócalo's slogan: "You Belong," which has become their driving message on social media through a series of videos on its official Instagram page.

In addition to the six trucks, there will be a full-service bar, regular live entertainment and more than 30 parking stalls for guests.

Zócalo Food Truck Park opens to the public on Saturday, July 13, at 636 S. 6th St.

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Hydrate the Homeless MKE supplies water to those in need

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Five years ago, a Facebook post from Repairers of the Breach, a homeless outreach resource center, made its way to Amber Parham's screen. It was a Facebook status that made Parham aware that there are individuals who lack clean water. That realization ignited something in Parham and developed into Hydrate the Homeless MKE, a supply of water bottles to the homeless and people living in poverty. 

"Just anytime I would go to the grocery store, I would start delivering water, cases of water to Repairers of the Breach," said Parham. 

Last summer things started to change abundantly. Parham wanted to pick things up and take things to another level simply because there is a need for clean water and because she is a mother of two. Parham wanted to raise them on the foundation to care and give back. 

"We raised enough money to purchase 23 pallets of water," said Parham. "A total of almost 50 thousand bottles of water to the homeless community and people in poverty.. 

Water bottles given to the homeless and people in need |Courtesy of Amber Parham

Hydrate the Homeless MKE happens every summer and this season is no different. This summer's water drive will run through Aug. 1. This weekend Hydrate the Homeless MKE will be distributing a big water shipment to multiple outreach programs. Festival Foods and Rodac Development & Construction donated 15 pallets of water to Hydrate the Homeless MKE.

Let's break that down, a single pallet of water can hold up to 72 cases of water which is roughly 17 hundred water bottles. So with that logic, 15 pallets of water could equal to 26 thousand water bottles. 

Volunteers transporting water bottles |Courtesy of Amber Parham

Since the first solo grocery trip, Parham has found a supportive community. Parham stands by the sentiment that if your act of service can help the public, simply act on it. 

"With every thought and dream or idea you have, there is someone in need for it," said  Parham. "I just say just go for it." 

Small acts of service can go a long way and it's also a time to bring people together. It's a reminder to spread kindness. Hydrate the Homeless MKE is always looking for volunteers to help distribute water.

Volunteers transporting water bottles |Courtesy of Amber Parham

To learn more information, check out Hydrate the Homeless MKE's Facebook page

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Evicted stops first in Milwaukee for a national tour

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Thirty days. That is the number of days a tenant has until they are required to leave their home when given an eviction notice. In some extreme cases, that notice can be five days. In Wisconsin, there have been roughly 28,000 evictions filed in 2016 alone. 

University of Wisconsin's School of Architecture and Urban Planning partnered with Near West Side to host the first stop of the national tour: Evicted. The free exhibit will be held through Sept. 30 at the Mobile Design Box, 753 N. 27th St.

The exhibit is based on the Pulitzer Prize book "Evicted" written by Matthew Desmond and it follows eight families struggling to pay rent. Melissa Muller, a graphic designer at Quorum Architects, says the exhibit is a visual way to advocate this national issue. 

"It's very very visual," said Muller. "There are a lot of statistics but it's very eye catching and it's stunning in some cases." 

Once you enter the space you are faced with simple large housing structures. One of the homes, named Tenants, has wallpaper on the outside surface to symbolize the eviction process. There are moving boxes carefully placed to create a united states map, each state has a box with a different size to show the number of evictions filed per state. 

Evictions filed by state in 2016

In the center of the exhibit, there are items on top of each other wrapped in shrink wrap. Inside the tightly wrapped structure, are personal items you can find in any home. Some of the included items are chairs that stacked on top of each other, blankets, wall art and a teddy bear.    

Personal items in shrink wrap at Evicted exhibit

Keith Stanley, executive director of Near West Side, says that eye-catching item will speak volumes with visitors. 

"Put yourself in the position of a family who your belongings are out on the street," said Stanley. "Everything that you own are out on the street for passersby to dig through, for anybody to just take and run. What do you do?" 

One of the main priorities of this tour is to bring awareness and to help individuals who have been evicted or in the process of an eviction. 

"It's a good way to create this dialogue between people that it might affect and the people who can help them," said Muller. 

Housing is a human right and eviction is a reality for many. The staggering numbers matter and this might be a small step towards change and creating hope. You can catch this free exhibit through Sept. 30.

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Benches signify memorial and inspiration at Victory Over Violence park

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You might be reading this article while sitting down. Most likely on a chair or maybe even a couch. We use an interesting dialogue when describing furniture. We use terms like arms, leg and backs. Furniture has human properties in its physical appearance. This isn't by coincidence; designers and furniture maker model these objects with the intention to comfort the users. There is care within every step, from the selection of the material to the assembling process. 

This attention to detail is integrated throughout the entire process of Craft for a Greater Good Project. This project is the collaboration between Home GR/OWN, The Milwaukee Art Museum Teen Internship program, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and attendees from the Furniture Society. Their mission is to create benches that will be installed at Victory Over Violence Park. 

Here's why these benches are important. 

Home GR/OWN is an initiative led by our cities Environmental Collaboration Offices, or ECO, and it aims to transform selected neighborhoods by adding green spaces to promote the neighborhoods economic development. Home GR/OWN's main goal is to connect communities to the parks. 

"It's important to not only have green spaces but to have the community feel ownership of the spaces and have a stake in maintaining them," said Erick Shambarger, director of environmental sustainability. 

The Milwaukee Art Musuem teen interns are the core element of this entire project. They played a prominent role in the creative process. Their main source of inspiration was the site itself and the mural located in the park. The benches are designed with the intent to be a memorial and an inspiration. The interns say that rather than being an invasive object, they want their work to be a reflection. 

"We want the people in the area or in the community to feel like this is for them," said Xarion Latimore, one of the teen interns. 

If we break down the specific components of the bench you'll notice the seat is made from a slab of honey locust. More specifically, the live edge slab of the tree. This is aesthetically interesting because the edge of the slab is also the edge of the tree. The surface of the seat is where the bark once. With close inspection, you might even find leftover insect tracks all around the seat. The back of the bench is made from found objects from street curbs and local thrift stores. Strange objects such as hockey sticks, old chairs and an abacus set are used to create a butterfly back and dove wings. 

The creation of one of the Victory Over Violence park benches | Courtesy of Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design

Shannon Molter, a Teen educator at Milwaukee Art Museum, says her favorite moment was watching the interns disassemble the furniture components. 

"They are learning how to use tools and learning how furniture is made by taking it apart," said Molter. "They were just like totally energized." 

Beyond just having a place to sit, pause and take in your surroundings, this project hopes it facilitates growth in the neighborhood. To have a social flow of interaction within the park. To celebrate victory over violence. 

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The secret military past of the Summerfest grounds

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With how much of a signature attraction Summerfest has become for Milwaukee, it may be hard to imagine a time when the public was not welcome on the park grounds.

But back in the early 1960s, the festival park was a military base. And it housed some serious firepower.

Listen to this week's Urban Spelunking below.

This story was originally published in 2017.

Under U.S. Army ownership, the Summerfest grounds housed nuclear bombs during the Cold War era, and the long stretches of land were used as runways for military aircraft. Utilitarian buildings took up the prime real estate (the last of which were only recently torn down) and were used as office space for early organizers.

Prior to becoming a military base, the land was used as Maitland Airport. It opened in 1927 and served pilots until the late 1940s. Photo via OnMilwaukee.

When Summerfest acquired the grounds in 1969, the first two years of the festival were an adjustment period. That's when the stages went in -- slowly -- and in the early days, the paths connecting them were simply gravel, which would need to be covered in hay on rainy days.

Listen to this week's podcast to hear much more about the grounds, including an urban legend of a something rumored to be buried below lakefront property.

To read the complete story, visit OnMilwaukee.com.

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PrideFest's fireworks carry special significance for Milwaukee's LGBTQ community

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You might not have known that Milwaukee's PrideFest was the first pride event to display fireworks. Ever. Today, fireworks might seem like a simple addition to a festival but the colorful, booming show meant something 25 years ago. To some fireworks mean celebration, but to the LGBTQ it meant that the community can stand in unity, dignity and show the world their true authentic selves loudly. It meant pride.

If we go back in time to the '90s, gay rights were a focal point in politics. The Clinton administration issued a policy prohibiting harassment against closeted military personnel, while not allowing openly LGBTQ personnel in military service. This policy was known as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  

A behind-the-scenes view of this year's PrideFest fireworks launch | Photo credit: Nate Imig

Jump a little forward to 1995, Joe Masnaghetti (Maz), the crew chief of the fireworks shooting crew, worked tirelessly to create a spectacular show made exclusively for PrideFest and the pride community. 

"There were plenty of people who probably wouldn't have sold a show to people that are gay and my dad was like nope whatever they're people too," said Linda Masnaghetti, Joe Maz's daughter. 

This year, PrideFest honored Joe Maz for his contributions to the pride community. His daughter, Linda Masnaghetti, is following her father's footsteps and igniting the fuse for the fireworks show. 

"It means the world to me to be able to support them and support equality," said Masnaghetti. "My dad felt the same way 25 years ago." 

Today is a significant day. It marks the 50th year since the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall riots started when young LGBTQ community members and protesters engaged in a demonstration against the police outside a New York bar, the Stonewall Inn. This historical night had a domino effect in the advocacy for LGBTQ rights worldwide. 

If we take a look at how far we have come from historical moments such as the Stonewall Riots and policies similar to the Don't Ask, Don't tell, imagine what next years pride will bring? Inspiring future generations all thanks to a "made to look effortless" firework show and Joe Maz. 

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Summer festivals band together to feed Milwaukee

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There are many ways to get into Summerfest for free. We've written about them here, actually.

And this Sunday, you can do a little good and get into Summerfest for free by donating non-perishable food items. Bring cans of peaches or pears (packed in 100 percent juice, preferably) between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., and you're in!

Can't make it Sunday? Not going to Summerfest? You're in luck.

Every festival on the grounds will offer the same opportunity this summer, to get in free with a food donation, thanks to a unique partnership.

Find out about Fests Feed MKE below.

United Ethnic Festivals, the umbrella organization for Milwaukee's lakefront festivals, is partnering with the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee for the Fests Meed MKE initiative. The goal is to collect over 160,000 pounds of food.

Since 2015, the members of the UEF have provided free admission periods to their festivals by collecting donations of non-perishable food items to benefit the HTF, according to a press release.

Here are all the dates and times for the remaining festivals this season:

Summerfest - Sunday, June 30 from noon - 3 p.m. (while supplies last). Kohl's Family Day. Free entry to the first 2500 patrons who donate. Sponsored by Kohl's.

Festa Italiana - Sunday, July 21 10:15 a.m. - 11 a.m. Donations will be collected outside the entrance of the Mass and Procession and free entry will be given to the festival after the ceremony. (You do not need to attend the Mass to get free entry.)

German Fest, Sunday July 28 from noon - 3 p.m. (South Gate only). 

Black Arts Fest Mke, Saturday, Aug. 3 from noon - 2 p.m. 

Irish Fest, Sunday, Aug. 18. Donations will be collected from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. outside of the Mass and free entry will be given to the festival afterwards. You do not need to attend the Mass to enter and can either wait at the gate until the festival opens or receive a hand stamp for entry that will be valid all day.

Mexican Fiesta, Friday, Aug. 24 from noon - 3 p.m. 

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Milwaukee's Juneteenth tradition commemorates culture and history

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Juneteenth comes from the word combination of June and nineteenth and it's a national holiday we all should celebrate.

This historical day matters because in 1865, Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that all slaves were free. This is important to know since this day took place two and a half years after the emancipation proclamation. 

One of the many barbecue stations at Juneteenth

Now, 148 years later, Juneteenth has become a national celebration honoring this victorious moment in our history that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. 

Every year, Milwaukee celebrates Juneteenth with one of the largest block parties in the city. Even though the weather was misty and cloudy at last week's event, it didn't stop the joyous spirit of the attendees. Thousands of people gathered together to celebrate, educate the community and to pay tribute to the past. 

Troy Johnson, Vice President of the League of Martin, an organization of African American police officers, attended to join the celebration.  

"We are here to enjoy Juneteenth," said Johnson. "We are here to show our presence and socialize with the individuals and spread the joy." 

Having a good time at Milwaukee's Juneteenth block party could mean different things depending on who you ask. It's indulging in one of the many barbecue food vendors, meeting new people through the multiple information booths, and listening to the live performances. 

To some, this day is a connection to one's cultural roots. A reminder of their history and identity. A time for self-love, respect and dignity. 

Kenia Mahdi, an attendee, was there for the cultural experience that isn't present throughout the year and for being around people who look like her. 

"It was about 10, 11 years ago when I got married when I start learning how to love myself and learning to love my culture," said Mahdi.  "It feels kind of spiritual and grounded right now." 

Janice Tompkins, another attendee, says that Juneteenth is a reminder to invest in black communities. 

"Milwaukee does not have a huge African American culture in regards to economic status," said Tompkins. 

Live performers at Juneteenth

This is a sentiment shared among many individuals I spoke with throughout the party. 

"I would like to see the segregation disappear," said Johnson. 

"I would like to see more of our own money being rejuvenated into our community but in order for that to happen we do need more businesses here," said Mahdi. 

Juneteenth Day is not a holiday exclusive to just the black community. It's a part of everyone's history. Being in Milwaukee, one of the most racially polarized cities in America, means that we need to unite together to uplift communities. 

"I like to see us support one another and love one another," said Tompkins. 

If you missed the Juneteenth block party, don't panic. Just make sure to attend Bronzeville week and the Black Arts Fest MKE. 

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Summerfest welcomes international performers at its Emerging Artists Series

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When most people think of Summerfest and its status as "The World's Largest Festival," their mind instantly goes to the well-known artists that take the stage every year, including performers from this year's festivities like Billie Eilish, Bon Iver, Lil Wayne, Lizzo and The Lonely Island.

However, it would be a mistake to consider this Milwaukee tradition as simply a festival for established artists to shine. This is where platforms like the annual Emerging Artists Series come in and provide a glimpse into the rising talent who may become the headliners of the future.

Now in its 13th year, the Emerging Artists Series on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee has highlighted acts like Walk the Moon, Maren Morris, BØRNS and X Ambassadors in the past before they became known the world over.

Local talent such as Browns Crew, Zed Kenzo and Amanda Huff join national talent like Sego, Dragondeer and Tyler Boone this year in hopes of becoming the next breakout stars and are accompanied by eleven international acts as well.

These international artists hail from eight different cities and cover genres ranging from indie-pop to electro-grunge. For many of these performers, this marks the first time they are playing a show in the Midwestern United States and provides them an opportunity to reach an all-new audience.

While the main attractions are the daily performances, audiences are also encouraged to vote in a Twitter poll for their favorite performances. Each day, the band with the most votes will receive an "Emerging Artist Series Care Package" that includes nearly $3,000 in gear, merchandise and services. Two artists will be lucky enough to win a College & Non-Commercial Radio Campaign from Planetary Group.

The complete list of international artists is below.

Matt Hoyles - Auckland, New Zealand

June 26 @ 5:30 p.m.
Blues singer/songwriter

The Beths - Auckland, New Zealand

June 28 @ 5:30 p.m.
Indie-pop band

Capitano - Frankfurt/Berlin, Germany

June 29th @ 4:15 p.m.
Indie-pop band

Dan Millson - Madrid, Spain

June 30 @ 3 p.m.
Indie-folk singer/songwriter

The Prussians - Palma de Mallorca, Spain

June 30 @ 5:30 p.m.
Indie-rock band

Tribe Royal - Ottawa, Canada

July 2 @ 4:15 p.m.
Canadian/Americana rock band

Jeremie Albino - Toronto, Canada

July 2 @ 6:45 p.m.
Blues-rock singer/songwriter

Royal Prospect - Lomma, Sweden

July 3 @ 4:15 p.m.
Arena-rock band

Hot Lips - Toronto, Canada

July 3 @ 5:30 p.m.
Electro-grunge band

Jordana Talsky - Toronto, Canada

July 5 @ 4:15 p.m.
Pop-jazz singer/songwriter

Thaikkudam Bridge - Kochi, India

July 6 @ 4:15 p.m.
Indian-hard rock

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