Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses
An enjoyable journey through many of Milwaukee's most attractive public school buildings.
Public schools are cornerstones of their communities. They’re landmarks that help form an identity, they’re a key public gathering place, and for approximately 180 days a year they’re bustling centers of activity. Unfortunately these buildings are increasingly treated as disposable, with no ornamentation and bland materials. Thankfully, Milwaukee is blessed with many beautiful buildings from an era long-passed. Robert Tanzilo was inspired to study those buildings in his latest book, Historic Milwaukee Public Schoolhouses.
While one might guess that a book about historic Milwaukee schoolhouses would be authored by a Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) graduate, Tanzilo’s roots are firmly in Brooklyn. Today he serves as the Managing Editor at OnMilwaukee.com and has children that helped inspire the book. His outsider credentials actually end up as an asset, because it feels like you’re discovering the buildings right along with him.
Weighing in at just under 150 pages, the well-edited book is an easy read. Photos of all the discussed buildings give you an easy focal point at all times, although the fact that the photo captions are taken verbatim from the narrative can be disorienting.
Tanzilo has constructed the book in such a way that it provides something for everyone. MPS graduates can jump directly to chapters about the particular school buildings they attended. Architecture buffs will enjoy the exploration inside some of the buildings, including the Maryland Avenue School (which I’ve now learned is actually a building that was added onto numerous times). Lovers of history and Milwaukee will enjoy the opening historical background on Milwaukee Public Schools and Tanzilo’s exploration into famous Milwaukee architects (Edward Townsend-Mix, Henry Koch) that performed work for school system.
The back of the book lacks an index, which limits its viability as a reference, but does come with some intriguing lists. Tanzilo offers up his ten must-see schoolhouses, and a reason why for each. In addition, he’s compiled a list of all the active MPS schools, as well as a list of all vacant buildings. For those that plan to impress their friends with facts, there is a listing of the schools by name, and where that name is derived from. In addition there is a lengthy chart to help you track the naming history of schools.
Tanzilo has compiled an interesting and enjoyable catalogue. I read the book in two sittings, finding it an engaging way to learn about an under-covered portion of Milwaukee’s history. The school-by-school structure should help the book stand the test of time, at least for as long as the buildings themselves do.