Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

The Holton Bridge Swings

Kinetic sculptures enliven the gathering place below the Holton Bridge. And Weird Al holds court in MKE.

By - Oct 15th, 2012 07:21 pm
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Last month a group of urban activists led by Keith Hayes decided to hang some swings from the Holton Viaduct, figuring it would further animate the “Media Garden” there.

[If you have trouble viewing the video of Pop Up Park installation you can see it here.]

Keith Hayes (left) explains his project goals to Julilly Kohler as his Pop Up Park Swings at the Marsupial Bridge Media Garden beneath the Holton Viaduct

Keith Hayes (left) explains his project goals to Julilly Kohler (center), Willie Fields (left foreground) and Jeff Haneline (right) as his Pop Up Park Swings at the Marsupial Bridge Media Garden beneath the Holton Viaduct. Photo by Michael Horne

Hayes is the founder of a group called BeInTween, which he subtitles “Improv(is)ing Spaces” (Hayes has a thing for wordplay). He calls his group a “social + spatial network of opportunistic sites and creative minds who favor collaboration and improvisation in diverse urban settings.”

They also get things done, including recycling dozens of used tires into the swings now under the bridge.

The Edward D. Holton Viaduct is a working monument to the city’s Socialist legacy. This muscular structure, built in 1926, was designed by city engineers during the administration of Daniel Webster Hoan. It has outlasted many younger spans.

Eighty years after the Holton opened to traffic (which at the time included a streetcar), the Marsupial Bridge was dedicated. This 650 foot pedestrian span was suspended beneath the viaduct and connected the Beer Line “B” neighborhood with the vibrant Brady Street neighborhood. In so doing, it revitalized an urban “remnant” that had been unsightly and vagrant, suggesting it might be a dangerous place.

Julilly Kohler Testing the Swing

Julilly Kohler testing out the new swing. Photo by Michael Horne

The Marsupial bridge was the idea of Julilly Kohler who conceived of it one day in 1993 while kayaking down the Milwaukee River. She saw its potential to mitigate the blight beneath the bridge as well as to “connect and reconnect our city’s neighborhoods,” as she put it.

After years of efforts, including trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby Senator Herb Kohl and then-congressman Tom Barrett, Kohler was successful in securing federal funding for the project through earmarked Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds.

Part of the plan, developed by La Dallman Architects, was the construction of a “Media Garden” on the east side of the span. The space was envisioned as a gathering place for planned and unplanned activities.

According to a report on the bridge by the Rudy Bruner Foundation, which awarded it the $10,000 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence Silver Medal prize in 2007, “Julilly Kohler states that it was their intention to ‘build it and get out of the way,’ allowing for uses of the space that would be spontaneous and largely unanticipated.”

Fast forward to 2012, and the place is crawling with spontaneous and unanticipated things.

“I love it,” Kohler said, on her visit to the swings one day while Hayes and his crew were putting finishing touches on the project. This spontaneous art project is exactly what she envisioned for the media garden, which has had a growing list of activities since it opened, including such planned events as the Milwaukee Bike-In Movie Series hosted by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin education program manager Jake Newborn, its prominence as the only East Side checkpoint on the Riverwest 24 Hour Bicycle Race and such unplanned happenings as being a gathering place before, after (and sometimes during) the Milwaukee Underwear Bike Rides organized by Steve Roche.

Hayes, of the swing set, sees the installation as a catalyst for yet another of his cleverly titled causes, the artery, “a linear park that seeks to embrace and enhance community by reclaiming a former 2.4 mile RxR corridor with interactive art and edible landscapes.”

The artery is the only anomaly in the otherwise perfect grid of Riverwest, and has been nicely finished in the area around Cafe Corazon, 3129 N Bremen St.

But the plan is to continue the path northwest of the Keefe/Richards intersection, where today it has the same sort of desolate feeling that the Holton Bridge had before it became today’s swinging place. This is clearly evident from an aerial photograph seen here.

The artery will incorporate “matireal” (there he goes again!), which is a clever way to recycle used tires into a paving / planting medium.

Hayes and his collaborators plan to explain all this and more at a free fundraising event Friday, October 19th from 6p.m. to 1a.m. at the Media Garden of the Holton Viaduct.

The event will coincide with the Bicycle Federation Bike-In movie presentation of The Lost Boys at 8 pm, and will be a stop on the Art Milwaukee Art Bus, as is Urban Milwaukee headquarters and store (it is Fall Gallery Night and Urban Milwaukee’s Sydney HiH Retrospective  as well that evening.)

Musical entertainment will be provided by Chicago’s Blah Blah Blah, marking the group’s first appearance in Milwaukee.

Interactive Map of Marsupial Bridge and environs.

Photo Gallery

Weird Al Does Milwaukee

At the beginning of his concert Saturday, October 13th 2012 at the Northern Lights Theater, Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic had some advice for the young and musically inclined of his audience: “After 30 years, if you work hard, you can headline the Potawatomi Bingo Casino!”

Indeed. It is doubtful that any entertainer’s fame to capacity ratio exceeds Yankovic’s, a point that was made abundantly clear during the two hour set that included numerous video excerpts of Weird Al mentions from the entire spectrum of American popular culture.

This included Homer Simpson’s observation that “he who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.” There were no tired people at the theater, which although smaller than Yankovic would like it to have been (he has bills to pay, after all), was filled to its 500 seat capacity for a rollicking set distinguished by Yankovic trademarks like turn-on-a-dime musicianship and a haberdasher’s fantasy of costume changes. Even the band members were costumed-to-order for the wide range of songs performed. You get the feeling that at least one of Weird Al’s tour buses is a rolling closet.

Weird Al’s claim to fame — and this reviewer encountered nobody from 13 to 80 who had not heard of him — is his wicked parodies of songs from virtually every popular artist of the era. He takes his targets dead (Kurt Cobain) or alive (Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga) and slices them, dices them, and lays them out for the audience’s delectation.

But it is wrong to consider Weird Al as a mere parodist — one who puts his own lyrics on others’ tunes. It is better to say that Yankovic is a bright and highly original thinker who uses parody as his means of expression.

As a Billboard review of “Alpocalypse,” his 13th album, which is the focus of his current tour, says, Yankovic creates “listenable musical statements that endure long after the subject they lampoon is forgotten.”

Yankovic delves into the pop culture fetishes of the day, whether they be TMZ, which celebrates celebrity stalking, or the over-the-top Lady Gaga, in “Perform this Way,” in which Yankovic boasts, “I’ll wrap my small intestines around my neck and set fire to myself on stage.” Charles Nelson Reilly, a minor cultural figure who may indeed be already forgotten, gets a posthumous reincarnation as a blood-crazed avenger.

Although Weird Al can be arch and ascerbic, there is a sweetness to his bite that enables his persona to remain quite lovable. This is in contrast to Frank Zappa, one of his inspirations, who was basically a jerk. Like Zappa, Al is a conscientious worker with a fine sense of double-entry bookkeeping. In this sense of being the master of his career, Yankovic also brings to mind the Grateful Dead, another group that achieved iconic status by playing the fame game on its own terms. Zappa, the Dead and Yankovic have a fame that will likely endure despite a lack of support from the Music Establishment, a lack of airplay on the radio, and in Weird Al’s case, playing a stadium-sized show in an “up close and personal theater.”

Categories: Plenty of Horne

7 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: The Holton Bridge Swings”

  1. Chris says:

    The swings are a really fun addition to the space. Very quirky, yet well-planned and well-built. If you haven’t tried them out, they’re a blast. More of this creativity in the City, please.

    Side note: I certainly hope the Brady Street BID can find a way to maintain the bridge and associated urban spaces. While it was designed to withstand a good amount of abuse, it’s already in need of some care: light bulb replacement, straightening of bike racks, and surface repair to the concrete.

  2. Jim says:

    Weird AL rules!!!!!!!

  3. Keith Prochnow says:

    I was one of many at the dedication of the marsupial bridge, we all heard the Mayor declare that there had already been budgeted the money to build a staircase DOWN from the marsupial on the Lakefront Brewery side. It was a sweet surprise!
    Nothing has been done, the money no doubt spent elsewhere long ago. It’s a beautiful thing, that walkway, and to the extent that it is responsible for the existence of the Media Garden, it’s even more than that. But its functionality is diminished by the fact that getting DOWN from its northern/western end is harder than many of people want to bother with. No big deal on a bike, or for an inspired walker (the longer the walk the better!), but I am certain the marsupial bridge would got lots more use had the City held up its (only) end of the deal. Mr. Mayor, are you with us?

  4. Chris says:

    Keith – that area has been designed by La Dallman Architects: http://ladallman.com/prj_trestle_stair.html

    I believe this went out for bid not long ago, with construction slated for this Spring.

  5. Chris, you are on top of things. Unfortunately, the Marsupial Bridge is not within the Brady Street BID district boundaries, but plans are underway for some kind of funding; perhaps a non-profit. But Keith, you are right that the stairs took forever. They were removed from the plans due to budget constraints. I would have compromised elsewhere. As I wrote in 2006, Patton could have got a stairs up there in a couple of shifts. You could order them off the rack from Badger Railing. The process seems unbearably slow, especially since the connection leads to Lakefront Brewery, the area’s draw.

  6. Jeffrey Schrab says:

    As much as I love the marsupial bridge, I have to say, it could stand for a bit of maintenance. Many of the foot lamps along the sides are unlit. Some of the deck boards could stand re-bolting down and many more need re-staining. An annual pressured water wash is called for to clean bird droppings and graffiti off. From what I read here, it’s unclear the where the money will come from for that, which is very unfortunate.

  7. Keith Hayes says:

    Given the amazing weather this past weekend, the park was packed! Many people (including myself) were there until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday night, swinging away. I am a huge fan of the Marsupial, which inspired the foundation of beintween.org, and ultimately our pop up park.

    Many ask, what is it for? Why did you do this? How did you think of this? The simple answer is for fun, mostly. The way complete strangers stop and interact with one another here is fascinating, and is certainly something every city needs more of. We had been experimenting with the tire for months with the R & D of ‘matireal,’ and were inspired by the fundamental tire swing. Beyond this, it seemed an obvious choice to make use of the bridge’s structure, just like the Marsupial. The translation of this idea into a reality was only made this possible by the members of beintween and several in kind donations from Home Depot.

    The park, in many ways, is an underlying example of beintween’s initiative to ‘make [art] do [work],’ as we are attempting to do with our current initiative, the artery, which would extend the Beerline Trail into the community of Harambee. For more on this project, please visit our Kickstarter @ http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keith-hayes/matireal-a-creational-trail?ref=live or have a look at our 2:1 scaled prototype now embedded in the gravel below the NW most swing.

    Despite a late night on Saturday, a half dozen of us spent a full day at the park Sunday shoring up all the swings, including the replacement of two that had been since taken down. This included tying new knots, installing chained connections at the beams (rated for 3,800 lbs per swing), and inspection of the ropes and cables. We elevated each swing due to the stretching of the rope over time, and made them all parallel to the ground with a better knot system. We’ve added a horizontal brace to the bench swing to prevent some of the twisting that we’ve noted when visiting the park, as well as mesh drapery to animate the wind. The trash receptacle (made by stacking tires’ sidewalls) has been emptied and new bags installed. We also picked up a good amount of trash as well. We also installed a new swing in the northeast corner of the park for a total of 10!

    beintween is happy to create so much with so little, and to repurpose illegally dumped tires in a positive way. We look forward to it gifting our pop up park to the City of Milwaukee as a permanent element in what will soon become the Marsupial Matireal Garden. We are hopeful that our installation and upkeep of this pop up park over the last two months will inspire the City to support our ‘creational trail blazing @ the artery!

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