An hour is left before the sun sets. The temperature is just warm enough to walk outside with a sweater and cap, but you can still see your breath. The air is crisp. Despite the heavy traffic after work hours, the timing could not be better for witnessing the Legacy Lofts. On the southern elevation is the grand façade. Ornamental textures struck by the sunlight produce bold shadows. While the warehouse structure converted into an apartment-loft building may appear beautiful at all times, it is this time of day that it is "in the spotlight."
"What are you taking a picture of that building?" says a curious pedestrian. "It's just a building. What are you going to do with a picture of a building? Why take a picture?"
I calmly wait until the kind stranger is finished. "At this time of day the sun strikes the building and creates these gorgeous shadows."
"Ah yeah.. I see that." says another pedestrian. Intrigued, she asks, "Are you an Art student?"
"Actually I am an Art teacher! Pictures are my side-gig."
"That is so cool!" expresses the pedestrian.
This dialogue is just a snapshot of the wonderful interactions I experience on the street while documenting architectural terra cotta and faience in the Midwest. While it's often preferrable to take pictures at times when there is little to no traffic, the interactions with other people on the busy streets can make the mission of my work all the more purposeful. The people I met on the sidewalk perhaps had no idea that the building was worthy of a photograph. Maybe they did know, but just wanted to discover what I was up too. This happens to me a lot. And I am always thrilled to present how meaningful these buildings are to our Milwaukee community. (or in any community!)
The Legacy Lofts in the former Bloomer Ice Cream Company warehouse building is just one the latest building projects in Milwaukee. This one, however, is special because there is a new building integrated with the renovation of a historic one. In Milwaukee, we are witnessing this at several sites. The Bader Philanthropies Headquarters at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Fifth Street was also completed in 2018, renovating the old Green Bay Building. Garfield Avenue School on Vel R. Phillips Avenue also was renovated and converted in apartments in 2018. Immediately next to it was also the construction of the Griot Apartments and a new home for America's Black Holocaust Museum. Fatima Laster remodeled the Johnson-Goolsby Funeral Home into the Five Points Art Gallery last year. Furthermore, the P. H. Gaubatz Building on Center Street and Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Drive was renovated in 2015. And the Fortress, a former Mayer Boot Company Building, on West Pleasant Avenue is also currently being renovated.
What is wonderful about all these sites is that the are all on the North Side, many are integrating historic structures with new ones, and they are respecting cultural institutions. The North Side of Milwaukee is filled with architectural gems. Many of these buildings are constructed with gorgeous craftsmanship and artistic details. These trades do not exist in the capacity that they did when these sites were originally built. It is important to recognize these places because they emphasize the value of these neighborhoods and the worthwhile investment in preserving them.
The Legacy Lofts is an excellent example of historic charm and something contemporary. What makes this apartment complex extraordinary is the architectural terra cotta on the façade. The glazed surface is ivory pulsichrome. On the parapet is a handsome cartouche. Inside a former entryway is also a vestibule with faience tile from the Flint Faience Company in Michigan. (Here is a picture from Jeramey Jannene, now visible from sidewalk). The tiles were installed by the Midwest Tile Art Company, located at 1624 W Fond Du Lac Ave. These tiles and exterior façade treatments are all hand-made, ceramic units. Their forms, colors, and patterns give a sense of beauty to the building.
Since it is located deep in the city, away from nature, these decorative features play an important role in offering something to admire. If the Bloomer Ice Cream building would have been demolished, the experience of walking down North Avenue would not be as pleasant. Once you cross the interstate from the East, it is pretty much the only significant building with ornament until you reach Fond Du Lac Avenue (about a mile). After that intersection, it takes over another mile until Thirty-Fifth Street to reach more ornamental buildings. If the clay units on the Bloomer building were removed, they would have not been replaced. It would have been a terrible loss. Fortunately, this is not the case.
The Legacy Lofts re-use of the Bloomer building respects the handmade quality of the 1927 structure. People who experience that area on a regular basis are shaped by the design of this building project. It will inspire their appreciation for history and willingness to be creative. Its quality will also allow people to better enjoy walking on the street. All the while its attractive architecture encourages more, similar development in places nearby.
More reading on the Legacy Lofts:
Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 23 2018
Jeramey Jannene, Urban Milwaukee, July 27 2018
Jeramey Jannene, Urban Milwaukee, Nov. 9 2017
Bobby Tanzilo, OnMilwaukee, Nov. 8 2017
The Milwaukee Journal, Verner H. Esser, June 26, 1927
Adventures and reflections on the ornament and craft of architectural terra cotta in the majestic Midwest!