Go inside the ‘Lion House’ on Milwaukee’s East Side

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If you’re an East Side regular, you’ll surely recognize these lion sculptures flanking the entrance of an ornate East Side mansion at 1241 N. Franklin Pl. And you’d be forgiven for assuming those lions have been there as long as the house.

The Lion House, 1241 N. Franklin Pl., on Milwaukee’s East Side. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Turns out, the wooden lion sculptures were indeed put in place when the home was built between 1855 and 1856, but after 90 years exposed to the elements, they were removed. For several decades after, the iconic lions were never replaced, yet neighbors still commonly referred to the home as the “lion house.” It’s hard to shake 90 years of history, after all.

It wasn’t until 1984 when the lions were recreated — and reinstalled — at the property by then-owners Shoreline Real Estate. Now home to the Wisconsin Securities Partners’ offices, the lions continue to keep watch.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Listen to this week’s podcast for more about the history of the East Side “Lion House” and the two other homes connected on that historic block.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

‘Black Like Me’ explored the N-word through dance

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The Marcus Center for Performing Arts, home to Broadway shows, detoured from musicals and opened its doors last week to present a one night only dance performance of “Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nigger.”

“Black Like Me” is created by Jade Soloman Curtis, a dancer, choreographer and founder of Solo Magic, a nonprofit art initiative that combines art with activism. Curtis said the five-part multidisciplinary was caused after a horrific experience she had recently Seattle. 

“I was walking down the street one evening and a white man yelled at me from the window seal of a building, ‘I didn’t know N-words came down here,'” said Curtis. “I was thrown off and had to step back, look at my upbringing and question why this was a word that was acceptable in my community and not acceptable when used toward me outside of my community?”

A traveling show, “Black Like Me” was previously shown in Seattle, California, Canada and South Korea.

Jade Soloman Curtis dancing | Courtesy of Jade Soloman Curtis

The Performance

Before the performance, I talked to Curtis about “Black Like Me,” but she never gave me any details on what to expect as an audience member.

When I walked into the theater, instantly I noticed the loud explicit music playing. The music was created by her students to reflect mainstream rap. We took our seats and waited for it to start and at this point, the music became background noise. I didn’t realize the number of times the N-word was said throughout the songs, a note that Curtis said was purposeful.

Without an announcement, the dance started and Curtis took the stage. Through body movement, she examined the word and its history. It was deeply beautiful, complex and at times uncomfortable.

The performance followed five different narratives. One of the perspectives had graphic images of lynching in the background. Another incorporated lights to mirror the flashers on a police car.

“We all are sitting in the same room, experiencing very similar things but everyone walks out feeling differently,” said Curtis. “I wanted to provide a platform where people could see themselves or have the conversation in different ways.”

Throughout the night, there were two panels, one on the slang term and another on the word in music. But the main question of the night was regardless of race should anyone use the word?

There were three general responses throughout the participants: yes, no and unsure. There were two microphones on each side of the room, where audience members could share their thoughts or ask questions.

The performance wasn’t intended to push an agenda but rather truly analyze why the word is used and its history. Curtis says when she’s performing she has one thing in mind.

“My goal is channeling my ancestors,” said Curtis. “The sole purpose of why I do what I do is allowing my ancestors and my elders to move through me in the physical form.”

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Milwaukee OATS builds an art movement through screen printing

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When I first heard of Milwaukee OATS, a local screen printing shop, I thought of grains. To my surprise, the name has no connection to hearty cereal. Instead it’s an acronym for “Only a T-Shirt.”

Enrique Murguia, the owner of OATS, never saw himself as a screen printer. When he was a kid he struggled connecting with people but found a way to express himself by creating urban art. 

“Growing up learning English and Spanish, my communication skills weren’t the best,” said Murguia. “Art allowed me to connect with different communities and to break the barrier.”

Another passion for Murguia was politics. In high school, he tried experimenting with art to bring light to local issues. Nothing clicked, however, until he saw the work of Shepard Fairey. Fairey is a street artist and founder of OBEY Clothing, notably known for the “Hope” poster of Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential campaign.

When he was enrolled at Stevens Point University, he created shirts for his friend group from videos on YouTube and mentorship through Bay Tex Inc. After attracting a small clientele on campus, OATS was created.

“Even though we were providing a product, a product that meant so much to somebody, at the end of the day it was only a T-shirt,” said Murguia.

OATS has worked with organizations like Urban Underground, Youth Justice Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Beyond creating merchandise for organizations, OATS works with individuals creating their own brands and movements. Murguia says Milwaukee is creating its own entrepreneurship ecosystem.

 “I know if I can help one young person, that young person is going to go into the community and help ten other people,” said Murguia.

Currently, OATS is opening an internship to teach the art of screen printing and the process of building your business.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Vanilla Ice, Naughty By Nature and Rob Base will play a Brewers game in July

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The Brewers revealed their 2020 promotional schedule and theme nights last month, but they had at least one more promotion up their sleeve: The team will host a post-game concert from Vanilla Ice, Naughty By Nature and Rob Base on Saturday, July 11. The three are touring as part of a package called the “I Love the ’90s Tour.”

All tickets for that night’s game will include access to “the ultra-nostalgic postgame show,” according to the team, but for those who really want to get up close to Vanilla Ice, there’s also a chance to get up close with a $30 Field Pass, which gives fans on-field access for the performance. (That’s $30 on top of the price of a ticket to that night’s game — which, we’ll be honest, sounds like a lot of money for a Vanilla Ice/Naughty By Nature/Rob Base show, but to each their own).

Fans may remember that in 2014 Vanilla Ice threw out the first pitch at a Brewers game, which resulted in this happening:

The Brewers will be playing the Colorado Rockies at 3:10 p.m. on July 11. You can stream some “ultra-nostalgic” videos below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The Hop service interrupted after steetcar partially derails

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Milwaukee’s streetcar service was partially interrupted on Thursday afternoon after a streetcar appeared to derail on Ogden near Humboldt Road.

“Due to a mechanical issue, service on the northern part of the route has been temporarily suspended,” The Hop’s Twitter account posted at 2 p.m. “Streetcars will continue to run on the southern part of the route, as shown in the picture below. We will provide updates as they come.”

Fox 6 reporter Ben Handelman shared video of the scene, which shows the streetcar just slightly off its tracks. “Told on scene a snow plow hitting the tracks may be to blame,” Handelman tweeted.

According to an early Journal Sentinel report, the Milwaukee fire department was using hydraulic equipment to reset the car.

You can find a map showing the temporarily suspended streetcar route in The Hop’s tweet below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

There’s a huge primary election on Tuesday; here’s what’s on Milwaukee ballots

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Between impeachment, the presidential primary, the impending Democratic National Convention and a dozen other things, Wisconsin’s primary elections this month haven’t received too much attention — you could be forgiven if you didn’t even realize there was an election on Tuesday. Despite the modest media coverage, though, there will be some huge races on that ballot on Feb. 18, especially if you live in Milwaukee.

In addition to aldermanic races and a race for Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge, the ballot will host primaries for mayor (where incumbent Tom Barrett faces three challengers, including Lena Taylor and Tony Zielinski), Wisconsin Supreme Court and Milwaukee county executive, where multiple candidates are vying to replace outgoing County Executive Chris Abele.

A sampling of some of Tuesday’s contested races

There are also contests for Milwaukee city attorney and Milwaukee comptroller — hardly the stuff of office water-cooler talk, but every vote matters, so if you have strong opinions about how city debt is managed this is your chance to weigh in.

Ballots will vary by district, but you can preview what’s on yours via My Vote Wisconsin.

Early voting runs through Friday, Feb. 14.

Confused about how to vote? We have all the information below. Two big things to remember: You can register at the polls on election day, and you will need to bring identification with you (here’s a helpful graphic about valid identification).

Here’s how to register to vote in Wisconsin

The following information comes from the ACLU of Wisconsin.

To see if you’re registered at your current address, check online at https://myvote.wi.gov/en-US/RegisterToVote

You have to REGISTER if:

  • You’ve never voted in Wisconsin before;
  • You’ve moved since the last time you voted in Wisconsin – even if you just moved across the street or to a new apartment in your building;
  • You changed your name (by marriage, divorce, etc.) since the last time you voted. (If you changed your name you must first update your name IN PERSON at the Social Security Office and at the DMV. Then you can register to vote);
  • You haven’t voted in four years or more (and have been taken off the voter registration rolls); or
  • You were taken off the voter registration rolls because of being convicted of a felony, and now you’re “off paper” and want to vote again. More info on voting for persons with criminal convictions click here.

There are many ways to register:

To register, if you have a current, valid Wisconsin driver’s license or Wisconsin ID, you need to put the license or ID number and expiration date on the online or paper registration form.

  • If you have a valid Wis. license or State ID but don’t know the number and expiration date, get it from the DMV by calling 608-266-2261.
  • If you don’t have a Wisconsin license or ID, YOU STILL CAN REGISTER. Just write the last four digits of your Social Security number on the online or paper form.
  • IMPORTANT: You DO NOT need a photo ID to register to vote, but you MUST HAVE a photo ID to vote. See more information about photo ID here.

If you are registering in person or by mail, you have to show a document with your first and last name, and current (voting) address.

  • The document must be valid on the day it is used to register.
  • If you are registering in person at the Clerk’s office or at the polls on Election Day you can show an electronic copy from your smartphone or tablet. Otherwise, you usually have to show or mail a paper copy of the document.
  • If you are registering by mail, send a copy of the document with your registration form.

You CAN’T use collection notices, magazines or personal mail to prove your address.

The document with your name and current address can be:

  • a recent utility bill (electric, gas, cell or landline phone, cable, internet, etc.);
  • a lease (unless you are registering by mail);
  • a WI drivers license or ID card;
  • a contract or intake document prepared by a residential care facility that says you currently reside in that facility;
  • any ID card issued by a WI governmental body (like a fishing/hunting license, or concealed carry license);
  • an employer ID card with your photo and home address (but not a business card);
  • bank or credit union statement (which includes mortgage or home equity statements, as well as credit card statements from a bank, credit union, or retailer);
  • a paycheck;
  • a WI college/university photo ID along with a tuition fee receipt;
  • a letter from any agency that serves homeless persons (does NOT have to be an overnight shelter – can be also day shelter, church, meal program, etc.);
  • any government document or check like:
  • Car, truck and other vehicle registrations;
  • Speeding tickets, underage drinking tickets or other municipal tickets;
  • Food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid/BadgerCare, Wisconsin Works (W-2), and Wisc. Shares, letters, notices, benefit statements or paperwork;
  • Social Security and SSI notices, letters and benefit statements;
  • Medicare Notices and Explanation of Benefits (EOBs) (not from  private health insurance providers);
  • Unemployment compensation notices, letters and benefit statements;
  • Public high school, public technical college, public college, and public university letters and documents, including admissions correspondence, financial aid notices, report cards, and class schedules;
  • Federal or state government financial aid letters & notices (not from private entities like Sallie Mae or Great Lakes Higher Ed. Corp.);
  • Public library letters or records;
  • Court notices and paperwork;
  • Police reports;
  • Tax refund checks or notices from IRS or Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue;
  • Billing statements and collection notices from a governmental entity;
  • Letters from a federally recognized Wisconsin Native American tribe;
  • Letters, notices or paperwork from the city, town, village or public school district; city, town, village or county clerk or treasurer’s office; etc.;
  • Letters, notices or other paperwork from state agencies like Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV or DOT), Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD), Dept. of Health Services (DHS), Dept. of Children and Families (DCF), and many others
  • Letters, notices or paperwork from the federal government, like Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration (SSA), & many others;
  • Veterans’ Administration (VA) papers like letters, notices, & medical records.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Tons of priceless artwork is stored inside this Milwaukee building

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File this one under “who knew?” When you make your way through the Menomonee Valley via St. Paul Avenue, you’re likely to pass a priceless collection of art and other rare objects, discreetly tucked inside a 1924 building.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we go inside Guardian Fine Art Services, a super-secure art storage warehouse at 1635 W. St. Paul Ave.

Guardian Fine Art Services at 1635 W. St. Paul Ave. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Understandably, details were a bit scarce for confidentiality reasons, but it’s clear security is a top priority. In addition to locked lockers, cameras monitor every storage area, with 24/7 staff on hand. The five-story space is also humidity and climate-controlled to ensure the oldest and most valuable pieces remain in the best condition possible.

We were not allowed to view an actual storage locker, but here’s a look at a model. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Again, for security reasons, the Guardian’s management couldn’t divulge specific clients, but we’re told Milwaukee area museums keep precious items in storage there, as well as private collectors.

And here’s another part that may be surprising — even in such a secure space, there is a portion of the building that is open to the public. The Warehouse is a fine art gallery that is open to visitors at select times.

A view of The Warehouse art gallery. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo

Listen to this week’s podcast for more about the facility and the gallery, plus details on the building’s former life as a warehouse in the Menomonee Valley.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Bougie Berries guarantees mouth-watering desserts in time for Valentine’s Day

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Caitlin Alexandria Russell always had an itch for baking. Unlike most kids, she spent her early years in the kitchen, covered in flour, turning the imaginary into substantial, edible desserts.

Russell is the owner of Bougie Berries, 7157 W. Burleigh St., a Milwaukee dessert boutique. Although her earliest memories were spent in the kitchen, Russell didn’t consider baking a viable business venture until she enrolled at Alverno college.

“It wasn’t due to passion,” said Russell. “It was something I was good at and I was able to make money to pay for books. It was a resource and it spiraled out of control from there.”

It started with a few dessert items at college events, then she became the go-to person for creating tasty treats. Russell’s first job was catering a wedding which led to a loyal clientele. It was around that time she realized she could make a living off of her passion and switched to a business major.

“Food is love and desserts are love times 10,” said Russell.

Russell said that baking also eases her social anxieties. “This is calming for me,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know that I have really bad anxiety. Baking gives me a place to release that and feel comfortable.”

Bougie Berries is a prime example of how a self-made business invests back in the community. It’s shown in Russell’s decision to locate her business right across from she grew up, to partner with organizations like Teens Grow Greens and Milwaukee Urban League, where she mentors kids and to collaborate with local businesses for a weekly soulful Sunday pop up shop.

“It’s the bridge that I have between the community and the people that I may not know,” said Russell. “If you had my cupcake, you know me.”

For more information on Bougie Berries and how to place an order, check out it’s Instagram page and Facebook page.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Black Lens beams a light on black filmmakers

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If we take a look back at cinema in 2014, the dominant films were “Gone Girl,” “Whiplash,” “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and it’s not a fluke that all of them featured white characters. Researchers at the University of Southern California studied the top-grossing films from 2007-2014 and concluded that out of the top 100 films of 2014, nearly three-quarters of all characters were white.

If we sharpen a lens on Milwaukee that year, the Milwaukee Film Festival was thriving. At the very least, I saw it that way and began my tradition of circling films to see but not going because of scheduling. I did, however, make a few appearances, one being the first Black Lens program, a spotlight on African American filmmakers.

Black Lens started as part of the festival but was soon spun off into its own year-round programming. This year, for the second time, Black Lens is curating an entire month series in honor of Black History Month.

Some of the highlights of the Black History Month 2020 film series include screenings of the 20th anniversary of “Love & Basketball” on Feb. 13 and “The D’Angelo Experience” on Feb. 29. I had the opportunity to see one of the screenings, a range of short films, “Black Women: Both Sides of the Lens,” on Feb 6.

“These are films that are all directed by black women and star black women and girls,” said Mikey Murry, Cultures and Communities Project Coordinator. “You have folks telling their own stories, reclaiming their narrative. We’re giving black women filmmakers an opportunity to shine because there is such a small pool. Often if you’re not looking, you can look right past it.”  

Film poster of “Origins,” part of “Black Women: Both Sides of the Lens” | Courtesy of Milwaukee Film

The screening showed five short films, each with a different narrative and tone. There was a thrilling story about seeking revenge, a heart-wrenching picture on conversion therapy and my absolute favorite, a hilarious depiction of self intimacy.

They addressed the black female experience, one that isn’t singular. Black Lens Cultures and Communities Director Geraud Blanks says those experiences aren’t all just negative. 

“I’m very careful of how much trauma we depict and if we portrayal trauma we want to balance that,” said Blanks.

Blanks and Murry said that for many attendees, Black Lens was an introduction to both the Oriental Theatre and Milwaukee Film and that’s why these programs are essential. 

“If you don’t have a Black Lens, where do black people show up and be our authentic selves?” said Blanks. “We have to create those spaces, they are not just naturally, organically created for us.” 

Beyond providing entertainment, Black Lens creates access to cinematic discussions. That’s the beauty of cinema: engulfing someone’s work, dissecting it, feeling something whether good or bad and having a discourse.

For this month’s screenings and program details check out Milwaukee Film’s website.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The Retreat brings a shared meeting and performance space to Bronzeville

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Milwaukee’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood is now home to The Retreat, a space that serves as “both a position and a place.” Located at 2215 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and owned and operated by Milwaukee change leaders, Dasha Kelly Hamilton and Kima Hamilton (who is also an 88Nine DJ), The Retreat was created as a “space for ideas to plan and play, and a place for people to gather and grow.”

Boasting an event space, meeting rooms, and a podcast studio, The Retreat can be utilized in a variety of ways – from a way to break out of your normal workspace to gain clarity on a project, to a place to grab bottomless cups of coffee (my dream come true), to a spot to meet fellow writers, you’ll find a little bit of everything for your creative soul.

Along with rentable meeting spaces, The Retreat hosts a variety of spoken word events, author talks, poetry slams and real-talk conversations inspired by both creative works and practical skill building. They even have a podcast studio designed specifically for podcast beginners, offering how-to instruction ranging from audio editing to uploading tips.

In a recent interview with Dasha, she stressed the “why” behind the space. “[The Retreat] is encouraging the energetic space to talk, to figure it out… to not be afraid. And sometimes it’s not being afraid about being afraid, about being uncertain, about needing to let these really ugly or undefined or uncomfortable thoughts run around for a little bit and then find a community to help sort it out.” And that community can be literally anyone, even a perfect stranger.

The mission and vision of The Retreat can seem overwhelming – to be a space for literally almost anything – but Dasha sees this as a good thing. It offers a chance to listen and be flexible to the changing needs of the community and the people that live here. This commitment to community is a part of Dasha’s DNA.

Her grandmother, Glorious Malone, and now her mother, Daphne Jones, have had their roots planted along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for many years with their business Glorious Malone’s Fine Sausage, Inc. The Malone’s company grew from a small neighborhood corner store to a 12,000 square foot plant on the corner of Walnut and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, solidifying the family’s dedication to the growth and revitalization of the neighborhood.

Dasha Kelly Hamilton

The Retreat embodies the legacy that Glorious and Daphne have created along this historic street, but it is not the only legacy that Dasha and Kima are trying to carry forward. Gee’s Clippers, an iconic Milwaukee barbershop, used to inhabit the space that is now The Retreat (Gee’s has relocated right across the street, so it hasn’t gone far). While Dasha and Kima were renovating their space, they found little gatherings of hair clippings, that Dasha views as stories – stories of first haircuts, haircuts before a big job interview, haircuts for home-going ceremonies.

Gee’s Clippers is a place that is “committed to that sanctity of a barbershop… and all that does for men, and particularly black men, in the community. So to be in that space, we really wanted to honor that,” says Dasha. Thus, it is with the combined legacies of Dasha’s immediate family and Gaulien “Gee” Smith that The Retreat and the Hamilton’s find their blueprint for leadership – leading with love and recognizing the value in each individual person.

Each part of The Retreat is purposeful. The walls and the branding of the space are a particular shade of orange, meant to stimulate. The coffee mug tree has a variety of different mugs, all with shades of orange, so that bottomless coffee drinkers can pick the mug that speaks to them or that they feel connected to for one reason or another. The podcast studio has a vision board where anyone can post their ideas so podcasters can visually see that they are not alone, that there is a community around them. Their catering partners are local business people who can host food demos or educational sessions about healthy eating for community members.

When it comes down to it, The Retreat is a space by the community for the community.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee