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

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.

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/

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

Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee