Grand Opening of Marsupial Bridge Connector
Hurrah! Newly-opened Trestle Stair connects Marsupial Bridge to Commerce Street and better knits neighborhoods.
“It’s a beautiful new addition to the Marsupial Bridge.” — Russ Klisch
“I won’t say, ‘it’s about time!.’” — Julilly Kohler
The Edward D. Holton Marsupial bridge opened in 2006 with a major shortcoming. The pedestrian – bicycle structure, slung beneath the 1925 Holton Viaduct, lacked a stairway connection to N. Commerce St., which runs about 30 feet below the span. The connection was eliminated from the plans for budgetary reasons.
For the last seven years, pedestrians who wanted to access the street, now home to hundreds of people and the site of Lakefront Brewery, one of Milwaukee’s premier tourist destinations, had to walk down over 500 feet of ramp to get there.
Likewise it was hard to convince Lakefront tourists to make that scramble to visit the delights of Brady Street, the neighborhood across the river that was to be connected by the bridge.
Well, that’s about to change.
The Trestle Stair, known for the remnant structure of the Beerline upon which it is built, solves that shortcoming, and provides new opportunities for the continued development of this once-neglected urban space, and the areas in the vicinity, including Brewers Hill, Harambee and Riverwest.
Plans to preserve the trestle and incorporate it into the bridge “existed 10 or 15 years ago,” said Ghassan Korban, Commissioner of the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works to a crowd of over 100 gathered yesterday morning for the bridge’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. Among those in the audience were Paul Krajniak of Discovery World, Steph Salvia of the Brady Street Business Improvement District, Teri Regano and Scott Hicks of Regano’s Roman Coin along with neighbors, city staffers and interested onlookers.
“Before the bridge across the dam, the Marsupial bridge, the Booth and Hubbard stairs, we had plans for the trestle,” he said. These are all parts of the “connections and reconnections” between Milwaukee neighborhoods, he added.
Mayor Tom Barrett mentioned how he had been a congressman for 10 years “in a previous life,” when Julilly Kohler showed up in his office “asking for funding for a ‘Marsupial Bridge.’”
“I had no idea what a Marsupial Bridge was,” the mayor said, but he soon learned. The bridge “is important not only as a mode of transportation, but as a maker of place. I now understand the importance of tying neighborhoods together.” The mayor added that the bridge helped accelerate a “remarkable transformation,” in an “immensely, immensely creative way.” He also said it gave him pleasure as a mayor to put into effect those things that, as a congressman, he could only impact as a budget item.
Russ Klisch, the president of Lakefront Brewery, recollected that his first site, at 808-A E. Chambers St. was just about the same distance from the Beer Line as is his current plant, which is now bursting at the seams. The Beer Line, now defunct, brought the ingredients for beer to the city’s Blatz, Pabst and Schlitz breweries, and then reversed course and shipped their products off to a thirsty world.
[Fifteen years ago, when he was still at the old location, Klisch somewhat presciently brewed a batch of "Beer Line Barley Wine," a powerful brew with a 12 per cent alcohol content that would allow it to lie down awhile. He put two cases of the beer on ice and served it to the crowd after the dedication of the stairs.]
Introduced by Korban as “a force of nature herself,” Julilly Kohler took the stage, calling the stairs a “capstone and a foundation of a dream.” Previous to the bridge and other amenities, “we were broken up, curled up little communities.” The bridge, designed by La Dallman Architects, brought “style, beauty, interest and an attention to details” to what otherwise could have been a mundane project. Kohler also gave props to Rep. Gwen Moore, who was not present at the event. Gwen scored $66 million in transportation funds for her district, Kohler said, including $664,000 that went to the trestle. Kohler ended her remarks saying that we must transition now from the “builders” — those who put the bridge and other amenities in place — to the “growers,” — those who will take the rejoined neighborhoods and the community at large to the next stage.
She cited among that group Keith Hayes, founder of Matireal, who came up with the wildly successful idea to install swings at the other end of the Marupial Bridge, a bottom-up project that, like the bridge itself, has gained worldwide attention.
Grace La, the architect who designed the bridge and the stairs, said the bridge and related projects have had global impact on the “reuse of abandoned industrial areas for civic enhancement.”
The bridge has been featured in architectural expositions in China, Japan, Germany, Spain, New York City and Moscow, she said.
Although the bridge and its stairs do their job, they do present new challenges, such as “what to do with the path that goes south of the bridge?” This is a remnant of the scary old days when the Commerce Street corridor was a junky mess of boxelders and other garbage plants. Ideas discussed at the dedication included a funicular running up the hill, perhaps another ramp, clearing of vegetation, etc. The new connection is not without its shortcomings as well. Quaking Aspen have been planted in deep wells below the surface of the trestle, when they would probably have been more at home on the barren hillside. They are planted in such a fashion that when they quake, (which is what they do) they will rub against bridge supports below. Furthermore, the bridge has no pedestrian-friendly access across Commerce Street to Lakefront Brewery. It could be argued that to legally cross the street, one would have to walk about a half mile to W. Pleasant St. and back. Furthermore, a chain-link fence that was erected to discourage people climbing up a hill to access the bridge is no longer needed, now that stairs exist. Plus, it doesn’t do much good to have an understory of buckthorn, burdock and boxelder growing beneath the trestle. These issues will thankfully be addressed, according to Commissioner Korban.
The bridge was funded 80 percent by the federal government, with the remainder coming from the city. The total budget was $1,025,000. [See Trestle Bridge Fact Sheet.]
Architect La Back to Harvard
At the event, architect Grace La says she and husband James Dallman, both Harvard-trained architects, are planning for some hectic years ahead as she takes on new responsibilities as a professor of architecture at their alma mater. She will make her home in Boston, while her husband and family will do an awful lot of commuting in the coming years. Richard will maintain the architectural practice, which is based here, as is his family. “We have some projects that are four years out,” she said, with the confidence of a woman who knows there is plenty to keep her husband busy. The Harvard architectural program is integrated into other disciplines including landscape architecture and urban planning. La hopes to use her Milwaukee experiences to bring insight to her students who may be unaware of the design accomplishments of flyover country.
Lakefront Offers New Tour Experience
Lakefront Brewery is nearing its functional capacity as a brewery. There is just nowhere to add tanks and other equipment to the landlocked facility, so owner Russ Klisch has taken an option on a 9-1/2 acre site on W. Canal St. for a new brewery.
But he plans to keep the existing facility on N. Commerce St., and will offer tours at both locations. Just like the brewery itself, the tour business at Lakefront is expanding exponentially. “We get weekday tours now that are the size of what we used to get on weekends,” when hundreds flock the place, he said. The large size of the tour groups was beginning to conflict with the productivity on the plant floor. It was one thing, in the old days, for a half-dozen folks to step gingerly over an occasional hose, or walk beside a pallet of malt. Days when beer would be bottled were special occasions then. Now, the facility is running multiple shifts, grain comes in by bulk loader, bottling is a daily affair and the whole place is booming.
Rather than have the tours encounter all of these potential hazards, Klisch has had crews building a mezzanine along the east-west axis of the brewery, with large windows open to the brewery floor below. When open, it should provide a bird’s eye view of the brewery process, but you won’t get your sneakers wet any longer. That’s progress.