The remnants of Milwaukee’s manufacturing and industrial past have long provided havens for creativity for the city’s musicians, photographers, painters and other artists, to say nothing of folks more suited to deserted factory life than traditional apartment dwelling.
One such place was the Bern Boys building in Walker’s Point. Another was the dearly departed Sausage Factory on the northwest end of the Humboldt Avenue viaduct.
Still another was the former tannery buildings on Virginia Street, where the founders of Colectivo and Fuel Cafe, among others, were housed. Think, too, of Lincoln Warehouse on the western edge of Bay View. Then there was the legendary Sydney Hih.
Chief among a list of these places would have to be what is called “The Fortress,” 100 E. Pleasant St., that complex complex of at least six connected buildings – including the one with the Medieval-looking tower – that were once home to the F. Mayer Boot & Shoe Co.
Over the past few decades, it has been a creative home to musicians like BoDeans, Paul Cebar & the Milwaukeeans, and Pat McCurdy; filmmakers like Frankie Latina, Scott Reeder, Andrew Swant and Bobby Ciraldo; visual artists like Davey Noble, Ray Chi and Faythe Levine, among others.
There have been galleries, theater companies, an art supply shop and even a daycare and Montessori school in the building.
Rick Wiegand (who also owns the former Tower Theater and the Ambassador Hotel) bought the place in 1988 and has been landlord to these folks for all those years. But, now he’s selling the place to a developer that plans to turn this complicated web of buildings erected between 1880 and 1912 into apartments, including one on the giant cube of a space in the tower that has given the building its nickname. Wiegand says closing is set to take place by the end of September.
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This article was originally published in OnMilwaukee by Bobby Tanzilo.