As I walked along a quiet stretch of Vliet Street on a recent afternoon, this building caught my eye. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. I stopped and spent some time, and this is what I saw.
Vanessa Plant sits on a yellow, vintage sofa in the living room of her first-floor Riverwest apartment. Plant, whose multi-colored hair and bright, flowered chest tattoo give a bold first impression, has lived around the world but eventually came back to her childhood neighborhood to put down roots. “I was born on Pierce Street, in a home,” she says. “Homeschool and church, those were my things. I mean, I was 6 so I don’t remember a ton — mostly just from old home videos.”
Peter Jest grew up on the northwest side of Milwaukee in what he calls “just an average middle-class family.” When it comes to music, though, Jest, who owns Lower East Side staple Shank Hall and has been a promoter for more than 30 years, has been anything but average. The way Jest tells it, it’s simple — he just grew up on music. “I guess you would call it classic rock now but it was contemporary rock back then.”
Preston Jones smokes a cigarette outside the Milwaukee Rescue Mission on W. Wells Street in the Marquette neighborhood. Expelling the smoke seems like a sacred ritual for Jones — he opens his mouth in a long “o” shape, exposing his slender, yellow-stained teeth, before breathing out. Jones was “born and raised right here in Milwaukee” and, for the most part, hasn’t left. “I done been to Chicago before, I done been to Holly Springs, Mississippi, before — only one time to each one of them,” he says, though you wouldn’t know from hearing him talk — his voice is loud with a hint of southern drawl.
This story is part of a series focusing on the 30th Street Industrial & Economic Corridor. Todd Kubera stands outside his shop, Schram Auto Body, at 3001 West Lisbon. Kubera, who grew up right in the area on 30th and Vliet, says the neighborhood has its pluses and minuses. “It was up and down; it had its ups and downs, though, like crime, then it’d be good, then it’d be bad. It was just goin’ up and down. I mean, I learned to just deal with a lot of the stuff and, you know…talk to your neighbor and stuff, work something out to where you can get the neighborhood back to the way it’s supposed to be.”
Stewart Dempsey stands atop at painter’s ladder on a Tuesday afternoon touching up the trim of his historic home in Walnut Hill. A 26-year denizen of the home that sits on North 32nd Street, Dempsey says the house was one of the first two built in that area. “It was one of the first in the neighborhood; the very first one is two blocks away, Villa Uhrig, built in 1853. And the Koenigs, who built this house for German immigrants, they bought land from the Uhrig’s widow and in 1883 they built the house here. But it sat in the middle of what’s now 32nd Street, faced Lisbon. And, when the city came through this far…cause this was actually the Township of Wauwatosa, this was the country – the Koenigs owned four acres they had bought from the Uhrigs – and, when 32nd Street was cut through, they basically told Mr. (Frederick) Koenig, ‘Take your house down or move it or we’re gonna do it for you.’ And he decided to, since he owned all …
Art Guenther stands behind the bar at Just Art’s Saloon on South Second Street in Walker’s Point. Guenther, who grew up on 15th and Clarke, has owned the establishment for 34 years. He came back to Milwaukee in 1975 after spending four years in the Armed Forces and attending college in California – he’s been here ever since. “My mother died at 48, my brother, Ronnie, who’d served in ‘Nam in the Army, comes back, gets married – I was his best man – I went back out to California and he drowned in Lake Michigan,” says Guenther. “So, there were reasons to come back, family reasons.”