Demolitions on North Avenue leave behind decades of East Side memories

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

On this episode of Urban Spelunking, we say farewell to two East Side institutions on North Avenue, as their demolition is well underway.

The first building is RC’s bar, 1530 E. North Ave., a place we previously visited on the podcast in 2018 when it announced its closing. Established in 1974, RC’s became an East Side institution and was the first business Robert “RC” Schmidt opened in a line of successful future ventures. He later established The Harp, Water Street Brewery, Trinity Irish Pubs and Vagabond. 

A last look at RC’s. (Courtesy: OnMilwaukee)
A look inside RC’s. (Courtesy: OnMilwaukee)

The other building, at 1504 E. North Ave., is the original home of OnMilwaukee.com. Most recently it was known as Buddha Lounge, but many businesses came before, including Clutch, La Piazza, Glass Nickel Pizza, Buddha Lounge and Node Coffee Shop.

1504 E. North Ave., the former home of Buddha Lounge and many other businesses. (Courtesy: OnMilwaukee)

But the end is near. Both buildings, among others, are in various stages of deconstruction, making way for a new development. The four story, mixed-use building designed by Engberg Anderson Architects will include 56 apartments and a UW Credit Union, and will be constructed by Greenfire Management Services. A few weeks ago, Bobby got a chance to explore the two buildings before they came down.

The new development on North Avenue. (Courtesy: Engberg Anderson Architects)

Listen to the podcast below for memories about RC’s, Node, the original home of OnMilwaukee and more from the deep history of both Milwaukee buildings. Then head over to Bobby’s full story at OnMilwaukee for more history and photos, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes of Urban Spelunking every Tuesday.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

A peek inside Buddha Lounge. (Courtesy: OnMilwaukee)
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

New Gurda documentary illuminates five distinct chapters of Jones Island history

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

It was an island unto itself, totally independent from the city of Milwaukee but situated along its lakeshore, less than a mile away from its downtown. And for centuries, Jones Island was home to many distinct ethnic groups, predating even the city itself. 

Now, its residents are long gone and salt piles have taken their place, but Jones Island’s history is not fading away. Instead, it’s the subject of a new half-hour documentary from Milwaukee historian John Gurda and director Claudia Looze airing on Milwaukee PBS this week.

People of the Port: A Jones Island Documentary, which debuts on Milwaukee PBS channel 10.1 at 7 p.m. Nov. 17, explores five distinct chapters of the island’s history and its transformation into the infrastructure hub it is today.

The film begins by acknowledging the island’s original residents: Native American inhabitants who were forcefully removed. It then goes on to explore the arrival of French-Canadian fur traders and its history as a Kaszube settlement for Polish immigrants. 

(Postcard courtesy: Milwaukee Public Library)

The Kaszubes came to Milwaukee from the Baltic Sea and settled on Jones Island due to its remarkable topographic resemblance to their homeland. From the 1870s to the 1940s, the Kaszubes called the island home and built a once-in-history fishing village there until they, too, were evicted.

Through artwork and photographs brought to life with animation by Anthony Wood, the documentary offers a rare glimpse into the day-to-day life of Milwaukee’s Kaszubes, from their arrival to their removal.

This week’s Urban Spelunking episode is a special one because we invited Gurda and Looze to the podcast to discuss making the film, building the visual identity of the documentary and Gurda’s perspective as a Kaszube himself. We close out with the official toast of Jones Island, raising a glass to the island’s past. Listen below and visit OnMilwaukee for more photos and history.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Now home to Lake Park Bistro, this 1903 pavilion is packed with Milwaukee memories

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

Since 1995, it has been home to Lake Park Bistro, Milwaukee’s premiere French restaurant. But its history goes much further back, to the early 1900s. In this episode, we visit the 1903 Lake Park pavilion, the central building in Frederick Law Olmsted’s celebrated Milwaukee park.

An exterior photo of the Lake Park Pavilion shows a one-story building with white columns and white exterior, and a blue sky overhead.
An exterior view of the 1903 Lake Park Pavilion. (Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

While Olmsted did not design the pavilion himself, he designed the park and its landscape. This year marks the 200th year since his death.

“Lake Park is famously the work of pioneer landscape architect Olmsted, who drew plans for it, plus Riverside Park, Newberry Boulevard and Washington Park in the early 1890s, when park construction began,” Bobby wrote in his story at OnMilwaukee.

The pavilion was designed by another well-known architect, Alfred C. Clas of Ferry and Clas. That firm drew the plans for the Pabst Mansion, Milwaukee’s Central Library and dozens of other structures still standing today.

For all of its life, the pavilion has been a gathering spot for Milwaukeeans. Offering live outdoor music (we’ll always show up for that in Milwaukee), refreshments and a sprawling green setting, the Neoclassical building was once accompanied by a small gazebo and stage that drew scores of locals in their Sunday best. In Tanzilo’s research, he found postcards and advertisements offering a glimpse of what Lake Park looked like in the early 1900s.

A postcard of Lake Park shows people from the early 1900s dressed in period-appropriate clothing enjoying an outdoor concert.
(Courtesy: Jeff Bentoff)

Listen below for more about the pavilion’s history, and be sure to listen to the whole episode to learn about Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro — how and why the brothers opened it, and a décor Easter egg still visible today. 

A sun-lit dining room has warm wood flooring and tables with white tablecloths and full place settings.
An inside view of the sunny dining room. (Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Fiserv move to former Boston Store is latest in Westown development surge

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

Fiserv, the global financial tech company headquartered in Brookfield, last week announced it will relocate its corporate headquarters to the former downtown Boston Store inside of Grand Avenue, now called Hub 640.

(Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

That news got us thinking about a past Urban Spelunking where we visited the then-vacant, 160,000-square-foot space that was home to the world’s first Boston Store. At that time, Bobby and I pondered its next chapter. Now that we know Fiserv’s plans, we returned to the building to discuss the move and what it means for the Westown neighborhood of Milwaukee.

“The campus will feature a world-class client meeting and conference center, social and collaboration spaces, and culinary programming to create a superior workplace experience,” the company said in a press release. “The location will include a dedicated associate welcome entrance and covered parking. Fiserv will invest in enhancements, and pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the building.”

In this episode, Bobby and I talk about where the story falls in the overall narrative of the Westown neighborhood, and point out a few other exciting developments coming in 2023 to that part of Milwaukee. Listen below, then read Bobby’s full story at OnMilwaukee.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Mitchell Street State Bank’s past life and new chapter as First Federal

640 548

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

While the demographics have changed over the last 100-plus years, the mission has stayed the same for the Mitchell Street State Bank, now First Federal Bank. Since 1907, it has always been a financial hub for Milwaukee’s South Side families, many of whom are immigrants.

The building was constructed in 1916 (the bank itself predates the building) in the neoclassical style. Imposing white columns, and a heavily ornamented roof and doors reinforce a theme of security and strength. Inside, the bank has typical features, including a service counter set behind glass, with the original vault still visible.

An photo shot upward shows a stately bank structure with columns on either side of the front door.
First Federal Bank, formerly Mitchell Street State Bank. (Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

The interior recently underwent extensive remodeling under the new ownership of First Federal but still includes ample evidence of the bank building’s history. During Bobby’s visit, he spotted a strange “half floor” with a lookout window, presumably where an armed guard kept an eye on the banking operations.

An old black-and-white photo shows the interior of a bank, with tiled flooring and a caged security system for the tellers.
An early interior view. (Courtesy: First Federal Bank)
An octagonal opening looks down on a drop ceiling.
The “Tommy gun” window. (Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

On this episode, we discuss the next chapter of the building, how it will continue to serve the community’s needs beyond banking and more about the history of this architectural gem. Listen to the episode below, and visit OnMilwaukee for more photos and history.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

A black-and-white photo shows the Mitchell Street State Bank during winter.
An undated external view. (Courtesy: First Federal Bank)
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

How did Milwaukee build the massive pier home to Harbor House?

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

On this week’s episode, we visit Pier Wisconsin along Milwaukee’s Lakefront and step inside one of its permanent residents: Harbor House.

The roots of the pier itself date back to the mid-1800s and an original structure composed of wood. But after too many Wisconsin winters and the constant motion of water crashing, it had to be replaced with a modern concrete pier, which was completed in 1960.

Today, Pier Wisconsin is also home to Discovery World and welcomes tons of foot traffic via the Oak Leaf trail. But Harbor House is a big draw thanks to its fine dining, along with a stunning view of the city skyline and Lake Michigan.

Windows line the dining room, offering full views of the city. (Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

Harbor House opened in 2010 and has built a solid reputation for New England-style seafood, complete with an oyster bar, fresh fish and steaks. The restaurant recently transitioned to full ownership under the Bartolotta Restaurant Group after Michael Cudahy, a previous co-owner, passed away. 

(Courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

On this episode, Bobby and I share even more info about Harbor House and the restaurant that preceded it, Pieces of Eight. Plus, we discuss the engineering feat involved with building out Pier Wisconsin and the “straight cut” underneath the Hoan Bridge. Listen below, then hop over to OnMilwaukee for even more photos and history.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

A 1986 aerial view. (Courtesy: John Aschon, Adam Levin via OnMilwaukee)
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

21 years later, Calatrava returns to Milwaukee to reflect on iconic Art Museum design

640 480

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

In its relatively short history, it has become a defining landmark in Milwaukee. And it’s a case where the architect’s name has informally become synonymous with the building itself — Santiago Calatrava and his 2001 addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. 

The Milwaukee Art Museum's Burke Brise Soleil is shown in the open position, mimicking a pelican's wings against a bright blue sky.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is marking the 20th anniversary of “The Calatrava” this year after COVID pushed back the celebration by 12 months. The expansion is known for its mechanized louvers that rise and fall throughout the day — the iconic “Burke Brise Soleil” — mimicking a pelican’s wings when open or ship’s mast when closed. 

To celebrate the anniversary, the Milwaukee Art Museum recently invited Calatrava back to Milwaukee to reflect on his work, receive an official proclamation from the mayor’s office and speak with reporters. Bobby was one of those reporters and got to speak one on one with Calatrava. 

Architect Santiago Calatrava and Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, both wearing suits and ties, hold up an official proclamation recognizing Calatrava's contribution to the city.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson with Santiago Calatrava. (Photo courtesy: OnMilwaukee)

In this week’s Urban Spelunking episode, Bobby shares highlights from his interview, plus more about the process that brought this defining structure to Milwaukee. Listen to this week’s episode, and visit OnMilwaukee for more photos and history.  


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

We take Spelunking to the streets and come up short

640 440

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

This week’s episode is a bit different. Normally we “spelunk” buildings or places, but this week we talk all about streets. Not the oldest or the longest. The shortest. More specifically, where are the shortest streets in Milwaukee?

Bobby had been quietly working a solo mission to answer this question definitively. But when he decided to move ahead and publish a story, he turned to a certified expert: City of Milwaukee Central Drafting and Records Manager Yance Marti.

In this episode, Bobby tells me about his collaborative research with Marti, the assumptions that proved to be untrue, the specific criteria they used and what exactly constitutes a street (hint: alleys don’t count, and it needs a sign).

The shortest one on the list measures only 48 feet, with No. 10 coming in at a whopping 212 feet by comparison. Learn a little about them by listening to the podcast below. Then, when you’re ready for a longer (ha) read, visit OnMilwaukee for more pictures and history.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

We dig into the archives to get to the bottom of basement toilets

640 440

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

With Bobby taking a very well-deserved break this week, we decided to unearth one of our favorite episodes involving a different kind of break: toilets.

We all have them. We all use them. But maybe you’re one of the lucky(?) few to have one randomly sitting out in the open in your basement. As it turns out, it might not be as random as it seems. Milwaukee homes built pre-WWII sometimes had this rather odd amenity — and that’s it. No doors. No walls. No sink.

A standalone toilet in the basement of one of Bobby’s OnMilwaukee colleagues. (Photo courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

Were these supposed to be “dad” toilets — vestiges of the city’s industrial past? Was it just easier to install them there? Earlier this year, Bobby decided to get to the bottom of this basement-toilet mystery and flushed out some answers.

Listen to the episode below to hear what he discovered, and make sure to like, share and subscribe to Urban Spelunking wherever you get your podcasts. Then head over to OnMilwaukee for his full article on this plumbing puzzle … this bathroom brainteaser … this crapper conundrum. OK, I’m done.


Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Here’s our ‘Urban Spelunking’ preview of Doors Open 2022

640 440

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

Historic Milwaukee’s premier community event — Doors Open — returns this weekend, and it will once again be back to its full scale after a reduced lineup in 2021.

Attendees can go behind-the-scenes at 100+ buildings and spaces normally closed to the public during the two-day event, and they can design a schedule that suits their interests. The majority of the tours are free, but there is also a selection of ticketed experiences for a deeper historical dive.

The National Block, a primarily brick building with many windows on the corner of National Avenue and Fifth Street in Milwaukee.
The National Block / The George is one of the options during Doors Open 2022. (Photo courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

And if you’re looking for some inspiration for your Doors Open weekend, you’re in luck! On this week’s Urban Spelunking podcast, Bobby and I run though his list of curated Doors Open destinations and wrap up the episode with a cool baker’s dozen, including Radio Milwaukee’s very own Walker’s Point headquarters.

Old North Milwaukee village hall and firehouse, a red and cream city brick building on North 35th Street.
Old North Milwaukee village hall and firehouse dates back to 1900. (Photo courtesy: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee)

Listen to the podcast to learn about the following spots — and plenty more:

  • David Barnett Gallery / Henry H. Button House
  • Best Place
  • Survive Alive House
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s System-Built houses
  • 20 Ton Studios in a former TMER&L electrical substation
  • Arts @ Large
  • National Block / The George
  • Old North Milwaukee village hall and firehouse
  • Model Railroad Club / Allis Station
  • Story Hill Firehouse
  • Wisconsin Black Historical Society

Every day, our mission drives us to share more great music and stories. But it’s our members who fuel that mission. If you aren’t one yet, what are you waiting for? Become a member today!

88Nine Radio Milwaukee