Years ago, before mechanical refrigeration and warehouse-sized supermarkets, there were thousands of people working to ensure that Paris, or Milwaukee, got fed.  The fresh produce would be delivered to merchants who would put their wares on display, for draymen to purchase (or perhaps they'd work on consignment, or on commission) and sell to greengrocers.

A heavily illustrated post will follow.  Click to enlarge.

This activity took place in a busy, crowded setting, such as Milwaukee's Commission Row.

Looking north-northwest along North Broadway, no date given.

A veteran of the era recalls how it all worked.
Jack Marchese recalls the time not long ago when the Milwaukee wholesale produce business was concentrated in the late 19th century three-story Commission Row building on Broadway, in the city’s historic Third Ward.

“When I was a kid, I would go in the truck with my father to Commission Row, when Milwaukee still had a Commission Row,” says Marchese, vice president of Marchese Inc., Milwaukee. “He would pick up 30 cases of hothouse tomatoes, 20 cases of peaches, 10 cases of lettuce and cases of bananas.”

Marchese, now 54, recalls going with his father in that truck, loaded with produce, to the small local grocers that served the nearby neighborhood.

“He had a route on the south side of Milwaukee, which was mostly small Polish stores,” he says. “He’d go in, ask the owner what he wanted, and go out to the truck, bring it in, get paid and be done.”
It doesn't work that way any more, although the Marchese family and some of the other jobbers are still in the produce business, if at a more industrial scale at facilities generally closer to the interstates for truckload lot deliveries and shipments.

The infrastructure you see in the picture is mostly still there, if repurposed.  The office tower at center left remains at the northwest corner of North Water and Wisconsin, it's a listed building, although from here it would be obscured by a bank building.  The spire of City Hall is at center right, and to its right is a bell tower on a building that is on the southwest corner of Water at Michigan.

That was once home to the Chamber of Commerce, it's now office and medical space.  Michigan Street between Broadway and Water might be the better part of a day's exploring for aficionados of vintage structures.

I think this collection of flats, on the north side of Michigan, is sandstone, it's not Lannon stone or Cream City brick.  That green curtain wall is the early 1960s Marine Plaza, it has a new name account bank consolidations over the past century.

The Hilton Garden Inn, which is an easy walk to or from either the railway station or a number of Milwaukee attractions, e.g. I still have the energy to make Marquette or the Lakefront or Walker's Point or the Milwaukee School of Engineering under my own steam, is a repurposed insurance office.

Inside, a number of the lower-floor guest rooms are carved out of the pre-air-conditioning era offices, and they have higher ceilings and windows, and a few more corners and angles than your built-to-order hotel.  Not only that, the redesign preserved a number of the features of the insurance building.

Restorers went to a lot of trouble to restore the original finish of the safe doors, and polished up the hardware.

Those are hybrid lighting fixtures.  Originally, the upper globe, which is open at the top, was a gas lamp, while the lower shade covered an Edison bulb.  Contemporary building codes preclude the gas lighting, so modern retro-look bulbs do the illuminating.

And look at what's on the grand staircase!

Yes, check out the stone and wood work, and take the time to check out the skylight in this stairwell and the copper newel posts on the stair railings.  But if you're arriving on the train, you get a reminder of when Chicago was 75 comfortable rail minutes away.

Not that I'm complaining about 89 minutes inclusive of three intermediate stops, mind you.

Commencing in the middle 1960s, Received Wisdom was that a series of expressways along the lakefront and around the edges of downtown would be useful for moving commuters.  Thus, in the old picture at top, everything between Clybourn and St. Paul (which was Fowler Street at the beginning of the 20th Century) went.  The area occupied by the northerly commission house, with two awnings, is now home to the Milwaukee Public Market, with an expressway overpass behind it.

On the other hand, the commission houses have potential for reuse, as eateries at street level, with art galleries above.

The Commission House is on the east side of Broadway, and come fall, the streetcar will bend the corner around the Milwaukee Public Market, which is just off the scene to the right rear.

Commission Row remained in its commercial role until 2005, and at the time of this 2007 picture, the adaptive reuse was only beginning.

It turned out, for all the structures in the picture, that it would be yuppification, not the wrecker.  The new-look streetlights (why not the canonical harp-case fixtures, Milwaukee?) are going in; that's the Commission House at right rear, the Jennaro warehouse at right, and most of the awnings you see in the vintage photograph are still there.  Broadway was truly a Broad Way here, to provide room for the wagons and box trucks to back up to the produce displays; these days, that's a lot of space for angle parking for even the most obnoxious of urban tanks.  The warehousemen and jobbers resisted redevelopment and angle parking until the wholesale functions moved off Broadway.

It's still a work in progress, and I'm not sure about the picnic tables in the median, but maybe that's what "pedestrian and user friendly urban space without compromising vehicle access" looks like.

On the west side of the street, the old Gagliano produce market lost its awnings sometime after the War.

Here's the same area as of Saturday.

To its north, the longest stretch of Commission Row awnings covers diners, or, later in the evening, revelers.  The Red Elephant chocolatier is among the vendors.

There might be some fresh produce from the Public Market going home in those cars and vans, and some of them might be headed to Polish households, but stocking the local greengrocer is history.  The tradition lingers.
The Milwaukee Public Market itself sits across the street from historic Commission Row, a site that, at the turn of the twentieth century, served as the focal point for the bustling trade of fresh fruits and vegetables for the growing city. The activity associated with Commission Row stoked further food-related development: by 1915, the predominantly Italian neighborhood featured 29 saloons, 45 groceries, two spaghetti factories, and a myriad of liquor distributors and dry goods businesses. In real ways, the commitment to local businesses on display at the Milwaukee Public Market is just the latest evolutionary stage of the neighborhood’s role as food capital of the city.

The story and setting of the Milwaukee Public Market suggests just how important food has been, and continues to be, to the economic development of the city—a reality often overlooked by historians and laypersons alike. After all, Milwaukee was known as the “Machine Shop of the World” [link added -- ed.] throughout much of its history, as firms such as Allis-Chalmers and Pawling and Harnischfeger turned out large-scale industrial equipment for customers across the globe. And when this era came to a close, city and private-sector leaders alike struggled to embrace a service-oriented economy that would help address the traumas associated with this deindustrialization process.
These days, it appears as if much of the warehousing work takes place in Wisconsin, particularly just north of the Illinois state line, and the office construction in Milwaukee might contribute to keeping housing affordable in Chicago.  Before the motor vehicle, the Third Ward was also home to those residents of Italian extraction, who built a pink Catholic church in the Italian style that had to be sacrificed for an expressway that was never completed.  There's still an Italian cultural center nearby, although that's somehow not the same.

Last weekend, it was selling parking for German Fest: it was ten bucks around noon on the Saturday, and the rates went up to around twenty bucks when I left around six p.m.  Attendance looked pretty good, perhaps that Travel Wisconsin advert featuring the Gem├╝tlichkeit inspired some attendance.  The Freistadt Alte Kameraden Band raised something like $3000 for Honor Flight with their table-top performances of Gloria.

The band like to use this picture, which I took at a September 2016 event north of Milwaukee, and I'm fine with that, but you saw it here first, and I'm going to reuse it.  Follow the links for pictures of the food.

It's the adaptive reuse of Wisconsin that I'll highlight.  Consider, first, the view of the skyline from the festival grounds.

Sixty years ago, the Cudahy Tower apartments, now overshadowed by all the other construction, was THE place to watch the lakefront fireworks, if you were well enough connected to know somebody with a lake-facing apartment, and didn't mind the noise from the trains calling at the lakefront North Western Depot.  The U.S. Bank tower used to be the First Wisconsin Center, another bank consolidation.  Northwestern Mutual just completed the office tower, and they vacated a smaller office tower occupying the space where Eugene's seafood restaurant once was.  That office tower will be for Foxconn employees.

It's not surprising that the Haribo Gummi Bear folks would be present at a German festival wherever it might be, if the marketing opportunity presents itself.

Domestic Gummi Bears, however, come from a factory in Kenosha.  Chicago's ABC affiliate picked up that story from CNN, and ran it without seeking comment from Illinois officials.

Perhaps, Chicago, there's more work for you to do.

Not once on this trip, whether at the Milwaukee intermodal station, or leaving the German Fest grounds, did I encounter a panhandler.  You'd think that at closing time for an event that's not at all shy about lubricating the Gem├╝tlichkeit with proper German beers (yes, there are lights and stale pale ales if you insist, but, wirklich?) hitting up the inebriated would be easy.

I don't know what the situation is outside Wrigleyville, or Lollapalooza, or Taste.  I do know that getting in or out of any of the downtown rail stations is running the gauntlet of panhandlers, and the weekend lot are more obnoxious than the weekday regulars, and one cannot sit down for more than ten minutes without somebody cadging change or a ride home or what have you.  Amtrak, Metra, Mayor Emanuel, is that really the impression you want to give tourists?

Keep it up, though, and the jobs, and the office towers, and the gummi bears, await the exiles, in Wisconsin.

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