Jeramey Jannene
Photo Gallery

Transit Center Tower Demolition

Five-story clock tower knocked down to make way for 44-floor apartment tower.

By - Jan 8th, 2017 08:42 pm
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Downtown Transit Center Demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Downtown Transit Center Demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Crews from Veit and J.H. Findorff & Son braved the freezing temperatures as the sun rose Saturday morning to complete a milestone in redeveloping Milwaukee’s lakefront. A small team worked with blowtorches and excavators to knock off the five-story clock tower at the Downtown Transit Center.

Our photos capture the process, including the tower crashing to the ground and wall of dust rising up. Unlike a recent knockdown on N. Farwell Ave. that was described by some as a “mini earthquake,” the transit center’s obliteration went off without a hitch.

The Downtown Transit Center, located at the eastern end of E. Michigan St. on Milwaukee’s lakefront, had a brief run as a true transit center. When completed in 1992 the facility served as the downtown hub for an express line that connected the northwest side of the city via N. Fond du Lac Ave. to Downtown. That service never caught on and was eventually eliminated. The building lived on as the terminus of a number of routes, serving more as a operator rest stop than as a passenger boarding facility. The facility’s design and location were certainly contributing factors in its lack of use: it had very few windows, felt similar to a cavern on the inside and was located well off the key service corridor of Wisconsin Ave.

The now-demolished clock tower was designed in-part as an homage to the iconic Chicago & North Western Lakefront Railway Depot. That building, a far more attractive and high-usage transit facility, was located roughly a block north. Opened in 1890, it was demolished in 1968. Its demolition helped launch a movement towards historic preservation in Milwaukee.

Construction of the $122 million The Couture, a proposed 44-story, 302-unit apartment tower, is expected to begin as soon as demolition is completed. Developer Barrett Lo Visionary Development acquired the roughly two-acre site from the county in August for $500,000, but as part of the deal is also required to pay the demolition costs as well as incorporating a streetcar and bus rapid transit stop in the base of the building. A significant public access component, which will connect O’Donnell Park and Downtown to the lakefront and a new, yet-to-be-completed park will be incorporated into the building with a series of bridges. Design of the tower and new park are both being led by Milwaukee-firm Rinka Chung Architecture. The city is involved in financing a portion of the development, particularly the streetcar component, with a tax-incremental financing district.

The streetcar’s lakefront line and proposed east-west bus-rapid transit line are expected to begin operating through The Couture in 2019 at the earliest.

For more on the project see our coverage from December 30th “Goodbye Downtown Transit Center” or our August article “The Couture is Finally Happening,” which includes photos of the inside of the transit center.

3 thoughts on “Photo Gallery: Transit Center Tower Demolition”

  1. Rail Fan says:

    Thanks Jeramy for braving the chilly weather to capture the demolition of the transit center clock tower. Can you share with your readers the type of camera and lens you used to take the images? You did an excellent job of photographing the steps involved in the demolition of the clock tower and must have spent a lot of time on site.

    I wish the developer and architect of the apartment high rise and adjacent park will include a clock tower and art installation with photo images of the former Northwestern Railroad Depot in their design to at least in someway preserve the history of the site and educate younger folks about the importance of historic preservation. Perhaps they can partner with a local university art department on this aspect of the development. As the City of Milwaukee reviews plans it should work to insure this happens.

    Years ago when I visited Tokyo, Japan I viewed art installations that included photographs of what the Ginza looked like prior to World War II bombing raids. It really helped to orient me on my afternoon stroll down the Ginza and gave me an appreciation for the loss of historic architecture and human life.

  2. Bob Pietrykowski says:

    Liked the the dramatic photos of the Transit Center and Clock Tower’s demolition.

    Am disappointed, however, that there was no mention or photo of the major donor for the Clock Tower’s construction, the late Harry Franke. Mr. Franke was well known and is remembered still in Milwaukee for his leadership, poetry, and generosity. A quick Web search shows a Greater Milwaukee Foundation photo of Mr. Franke standing next to the Clock Tower twenty-five years ago.

  3. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Rail Fan – A Canon Digital Rebel XTI with a Tamron 18-200 lens. Nothing super fancy.

    @Bob – That’s on a different building, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. Located slightly to the north (and nearer the exact site of the depot).

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