A peek inside the Nine Below space, plus a bit of Beans & Barley history

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On this episode of Urban Spelunking, we’ve got a two-fer. We’re looking at a connected space on the East Side of Milwaukee that’s home to two businesses, one above ground and one below.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Beans & Barley and Nine Below share a building at 1901 E. North Ave., erected in 1994.

The upstairs cafe and grocery store has been occupied by Beans & Barley the whole time, but the underground space where the Nine Below is now has been a string of popular nightlife spots, including Library Club, Decibel and Mantra. Now with a focus on mini golf at Nine Below, you can design your own putt-putt courses using their bizarre collection of props, in a sprawling underground space that recently reopened.

Why not add a carousel horse to your mini golf hole? Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

On this episode inspired by Bobby’s story at OnMilwaukee, we talk about the rich neighborhood history of Beans & Barley, the businesses that occupied the basement space, and the massive East Side fire of 1993 that wiped out the original building. Plus we talk about the exotic restaurant that used to be there in the 1950s and ’60s that offered African Lion on menu. (Yikes.)

Listen below.

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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Why exactly are there toilets underneath these Milwaukee boulevards?

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On this episode of Urban Spelunking we begin, simply, by reading a photo caption from Bobby’s Tanzilo’s recent story published on OnMilwaukee. The cutline reads: “Sure enough, there’s a toilet down there.”

From those first beautiful words, I was intrigued.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

The inspiration for this week’s story came from OnMilwaukee reader Chris Dwyer, Bobby says, who wrote in with a tip.

He and his daughter reported seeing a strange metal hatch on Washington Boulevard, between 53rd and 54th Streets, appearing to lead to an underground shelter. Upon closer inspection, they peeked inside and saw, to their surprise, a staircase leading down to a toilet (with toilet paper!) in the corner of a large, concrete room.

Bobby had to see it for himself and, here comes the quote, “Sure enough, there’s a toilet down there.”

But why? On this podcast episode, we explain why there are bunkers underneath Washington Boulevard and Wisconsin Avenue, and who was using these underground spaces as part of their daily life. Read Bobby’s story for more photos and history.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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This incredible mahogany bar brings classy charm, history to Tosa’s Vendetta Coffee

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For about three months one summer between semesters in college, I worked as a server at The Chancery in Wauwatosa. The eatery was known for its fried chicken, fish frys, mac and cheese and, at the Tosa location, plentiful popcorn, delivered warm to each table. (I remember because it was my job to sweep up all the popcorn that landed on the floor.)

Look at that craftsmanship! | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo via OnMilwaukee.

Perhaps it was the neverending sweeping and the dread of cleaning the popcorn machine every night, but I didn’t last long at The Chancery. Which brings us to this week’s episode of Urban Spelunking. This week we’re at Tosa’s Vedetta Coffee, which is located inside the former Chancery’s Del Monte bar, a gorgeous location I didn’t even recognize at first even though I worked there. (Must have been too focused on the sweeping.)

The star of the space is the bar itself. Crafted of mahogany, birch and oak, the bar dates back to 1906 when it was originally installed in Chicago. It was disassembled, restored and relocated to Milwaukee, and still looks as incredible as it did a century ago.

Photo of the original design via OnMilwaukee.

Now it serves as the main service counter for Vendetta Coffee, a coffee house offering traditional Italian espresso and coffee drinks. Listen to the episode below, and visit OnMilwaukee.com for this week’s complete written by Bobby Tanzilo.

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This downtown building, home to a silversmith for decades, is for sale

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If you’ve walked by this building and didn’t notice it, you’d be forgiven. This week’s Urban Spelunking destination is a rather unassuming two-story storefront in downtown Milwaukee, home to A. Werner Silversmith since the 1950s.

A view of A. Werner Silversmith from the street level at 1241 N. Water St. | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Sitting next door to AJ Bombers, 1241 N. Water St., A. Werner Silversmith represents the “old Water Street” era when the thoroughfare was bursting with niche, family-owned businesses. Offering a prime location with 3,520 square feet inside and a large surface parking lot, the site is listed for sale for just under $1 million.

The A. Werner Silversmith company itself is even older, founded in Milwaukee in 1888, known for its custom metalsmithing and design work. It was headquartered in a few other nearby locations before settling in its current spot on Water Street.

A small display case still offers custom wares | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee
Owner Mike Wied in the silversmith sho | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

This week on the podcast, we discuss the decades of history at the Milwaukee silversmith, plus we learn more about the immigrant family that founded the company. Listen below, and visit OnMilwaukee for more pictures and history.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

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Who was Beulah Brinton? And why was she so well loved in Bay View?

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This week on Urban Spelunking, we’re learning about an important figure in Bay View history, and we’re going inside the public building that still bears her name today: The Beulah Brinton Community Center.

If you have taken a class through Milwaukee Recreation, chances are you’ve set foot in the building on Bay Street, just north of Russell Avenue. It has been in Bay View for decades, and has always been a community resource for learning and connecting neighbors. In addition to community classroom space, it also offers a gymnasium and a well-used outdoor playground.

So, what’s the connection to Beulah Brinton?

Brinton was a prominent community leader who invited early Bay View residents to her own home, and eventually to a standalone center inside a disused neighborhood firehouse in 1924, writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo, before it was demolished for the new center in the late 1970s.

The old center before it was demolished. Photo via OnMilwaukee.com and courtesy of Milwaukee Historical Society.

She offered some of the same services as the present day center, but on a smaller scale, including language and cooking classes. Her original home is still standing today, not too far from current location, as the permanent home to the Bay View Historical Society.

Listen to this week’s podcast to learn more about Brinton’s legacy and the happenings at the community center. And be sure to read OnMilwaukee’s complete story, written by Tanzilo.

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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This 118-year-old school has been converted to senior apartments

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Just last year, the former 37th Street School was vacant and blighted with its future uncertain. The former public school, 1715 N. 37th St., had ceased operations in 2005 and had been sitting empty since, becoming a magnet for vandalism and theft.

37th Street School Apartments. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

The maintenance needs became so extensive — including buckling, water-damaged floors — that the building was on the brink of demolition.

But look inside today, and you’ll see no sign of that unfortunate chapter of the building’s history. Now, thanks to a $9 million investment, the school has been converted to 49 seniors apartments, with the vast majority of them listed as affordable.

Rents will range from $394 to $900, writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo, with “bike storage, storage lockers for residents, an elevator, garbage and recycling room, and laundry facilities” among the amenities.

A look inside one of the 49 senior apartments. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.
Hints of the school’s history, like these coat hooks above, remain. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

The project was “developed by Heartland Housing Alliance and Community First, with Greenfire doing the construction work and Landon Bone Baker serving as architects,” writes Tanzilo. “It is being funded, in part, with Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Historic Tax Credits, too. The latter requires a number of historical features to be retained.” 

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about the development, plus more about on the original pieces of the building preserved and integrated into the new design. (Hint: it involves a lot of hardwood.)

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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Checking in on renovations at Schlitz Park offices

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On this week’s Urban Spelunking podcast, we’re in downtown Milwaukee at the Schlitz Park office complex, inside the former Schlitz Brewery.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

It has been in a nearly constant state of updating since the brewery left in the 1980s, most recently undergoing a $6 million renovation. The nearly completed project incorporates new and reclaimed artwork across the 32-acre campus, including a vibrant new mural that has already become a popular photo op.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Crestlight Capital and TPG Real Estate acquired the campus in 2019, months before the pandemic, when the campus had 100% capacity, according to OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo.

The owners continued to renovate through the pandemic and now, as workers are returning to offices in greater numbers, they’ll be greeted with interesting bits of history from the brewery’s history integrated into the office design.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Listen to this week’s podcast below, and visit OnMilwaukee.com for Bobby’s complete story.

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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History and craftsmanship abound inside this East Side mansion

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On this week’s podcast, OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo and I are talking about an East Side mansion worthy of its $1.625 million price tag. At the time we recorded this episode, it is listed for sale at 2569 N Wahl Ave.

Photo credit: Shorewest Realtors, via OnMilwaukee

The mansion was built in 1899 for John Kern, a wealthy business owner. His family made its fortune in the milling business, and exported flour from its home base in Milwaukee.

The mansion features 5 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms, spread across 5,686 square feet. Craftsmanship abounds with handsome built-ins, crown moulding and coffered ceilings. The exterior is constructed with eye-catching, burnt orange sandstone and boats a window-encased turret. And, let’s not forget, a view of Lake Park and Lake Michigan.

Listen to this episode to follow along with Bobby’s research, including a few of the notable residents. Listen below, and visit OnMilwaukee.com to read the complete story.

Photo credit: Shorewest Realtors, via OnMilwaukee
Photo credit: Shorewest Realtors, via OnMilwaukee

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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Former Tosa post office will remain recording studio, keep ‘Wire & Vice’ name after sale

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If you know, you know. In heart of the Wauwatosa Village, inside an old post office, sits a world class recording studio that has turned out hits like Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink To That)” and “California King Bed.” A discrete exterior keeps it somewhat hidden to the casual observer, but step inside and you feel like you’re walking into creative and cosmopolitan oasis.

Wire & Vice studios, 1442 Underwood Ave., opened in 2001, originally as Burst HQ, under the creative direction of owner Daniel Holter. In that time Holter has created music with countless artists from Milwaukee and around the world, and has also published an ever-growing, boutique production music library via his other business, The License Lab.

A view of the main control room. Photo credit: Daniel Holter.

Now, the studio is changing hands, but it will remain a recording space.

“Holter, who moved to Seattle a year and a half ago and who broke into the business creating music libraries available by license for film, television and other uses, is selling Wire & Vice to Dave and Amy Cotteleer and their son Luke,” writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo at OnMilwaukee.com.

“We had the good fortune to have our kids enrolled in the same school, and our sons grew up together as friends,” says Holter, quoted in OnMilwaukee. “Before Luke graduated from Columbia, my company The License Lab brought him on as an intern, and after graduation we ended up hiring him.”

Under the new ownership, the studio will keep its name and brand, and will continue to serve local and national artists, in the heart of Wauwatosa.

Holter will be back in Milwaukee this week Wednesday, Sept. 22, for a garage sale at the studio from noon to dusk. He’ll be selling a variety of gear and will accept electronic payments. You can find details here.

Listen to this week’s podcast below for an extended interview with Holter as he reflects back on his time in the space.

New owner Dave Cotteleer (L) with Daniel Holter. Photo credit: Daniel Holter.
A view of the post office from 1955. Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

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Look inside this ‘forgotten’ Frank Lloyd Wright home in Shorewood

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In a live follow up to last week’s Urban Spelunking episode about Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Bogk House and its Milwaukee lookalikes, Bobby and I head to Shorewood to visit another genuine Frank Lloyd Wright home that was recently “rediscovered.”

Not only does the home represent a tense chapter of Wright’s career, but also, in a juicy twist, it stands across the street from a home designed by his protege-turned rival.

The Elizabeth Murphy house, 2106 E. Newton Ave. in Shorewood. Photo credit: Nick Hayes.

Current owner Nick Hayes takes us inside the home on a personal tour, plus he shares how Wright’s design forced he and his wife to downsize considerably as they moved in. Hayes is also a writer and has documented his journey to buying and rehabbing the Wright home in his recent book “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House.”

Completed in 1918, it was built as part of the American System Built program, a program Wright distanced himself from later in his career. The notoriously controlling Wright was uncomfortable with so many parties involved in the construction of each house in the program, from the builders to the eventual residents, says Hayes.

And as Wright moved on, so did history. Because he so rarely talked about his involvement in the project, the later System Built homes faded from prominence, nearly forgotten, says Hayes.

Photo credit: Nick Hayes

The prairie-style home features Wright’s signature straight, clean roof and window lines, casting interesting shadows that change shape as the sun moves through the sky. Inside, the living space is compact but intentional, with built-in bookshelves and cabinets, and surrounded with slim windows on all sides.

Listen to this special edition Urban Spelunking below as Hayes takes us on an in-depth tour of the home, plus Bobby and I share more about Wright’s conflict with his right hand man, Russell Barr Williamson.

Photo credit: Nick Hayes

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Get your local fix with our Radio Milwaukee podcasts. Feast your ears with our food podcast, This Bites. Explore Milwaukee with our history podcast, Urban Spelunking. Follow the Milwaukee music scene with Tap’d In. And delve into the latest movies with our film podcast, Cinebuds. Plus listen to the latest season of our new podcast Diverse Disruptors. Subscribe to them anywhere you listen to your pocasts.

Support from members makes stories like the one you just read possible! Your gift today keeps Radio Milwaukee independent, allowing us to keep sharing the music and stories you enjoy.

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