Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Celebrating the Life of Paul Jakubovich

A host of notables gathered to salute Jakubovich and the fabulous historic architecture of Milwaukee he helped protect.

By - Jun 22nd, 2015 01:22 pm
Paul Jakubovich. Photo courtesy of the City of Milwaukee.

Paul Jakubovich. Photo courtesy of the City of Milwaukee.

The gathering last week to honor the life of the late Paul Jakubovich had many memorable anecdotes, but let us begin with Ald. Bob Bauman, who told a story that put Milwaukee’s historic preservation status in context. “Milwaukee had a growth spurt in the late nineteenth century to the 1920’s,” he told an audience at the Great Hall at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery. “We were the Silicon Valley of the era.” Great wealth was created here, and some of it remains in the buildings and mansions of the early entrepreneurs.

The downtown alderman said he is continually amazed by visitors to Milwaukee who are awed by the city’s great old buildings. Many of us remember fine structures now gone due to misguided “renewal” and freeway construction, and don’t realize how much we have left, he noted. We fail to recognize that we are surrounded by more history than residents of far older cities.

That’s why it is in the city’s interest to have a strong historic preservation officer who “would not be an adversary, but here to make your property better and the city more valuable,” by keeping the old buildings alive, Bauman said.  Such an officer would “have the ability to work with the largest developers as well as the most humble homeowners trying to build a garage.”

Bauman’s words were in tribute to the former city preservation officer who died on December 22nd, 2014 of kidney disease at 57. On Tuesday, June 22, a reception to honor Jakubovich, sponsored by the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, was attended by over 100, including colleagues, friends, developers and owners of historic buildings. This included many owners of mansions and historic buildings who had to battle with Jakubovich to see their renovation plans approved — not a group that would ordinarily celebrate the accomplishments of a bureaucrat.

Keynote remarks were made by H. Russell Zimmerman, author of several seminal works on Milwaukee architecture including the Heritage Guidebook (Landmarks and Historic Sites in Southeast Wisconsin [1976], and Magnificent Milwaukee: Architectural Treasures 1850-1920 [1987]. Zimmerman said that a young Jakubovich helped him at a critical time to pull his research together, and that the two remained lifelong friends.

“In the 1960s, we tore down 30 percent of the best buildings in the city,” Zimmerman said. This was a catalyst for the city’s preservation movement and for Jakubovich’s career in preserving whatever could be saved of Milwaukee’s historic fabric.

“I don’t want to use the word fanatical –” Zimmerman said, without finishing the sentence, as the audience laughed approvingly. Yes, Jakubovich was a little bit obsessed with his mission in his own quiet, but firm way.

“He didn’t raise his voice. But he stood his ground,” Zimmerman concluded.

After acknowledging Carlen Hatala, “a remarkable researcher, an excellent writer,” who worked with Jakubovich in the preservation office, Bauman introduced Jim Haertel, the owner of the hall where the event was being held.

The Great Hall, built in 1880, includes the corner office of Fred Pabst. When Haertel bought the building in 2001, the room was a mess, filled with junk, and greatly neglected, seemingly since the day Pabst died in 1904.

The place has now been very sensitively restored to its historic roots. After great anguish, the color “Muted Gold” was chosen for the walls. That was appropriate, said Haertel, since Jakubovich was not a preservationist to gild a lilly. Authenticity ruled with him. A display in the room showed three renderings of period-appropriate garages drawn by Jakubovich, suitable for homes from the early period (say, 1870’s) to the Queen Anne (1880-1900) to the Craftsman era (say to about 1920).

Haertel told of his own experiences dealing with Jakubovich to tweak each little detail in the restoration. Certain details would have to be just so — although there were exceptions. Jakubovich allowed a giant, way-out-of-scale light fixture to illuminate Captain Pabst’s office, since the original was long lost. “It is so large that no architect in the future would think it to be an original item,” Haertel said by way of explanation. Preservationists have humor, too.

“We’re fighting the good fight here,” he said, mentioning an earlier plan called Pabst City that would have created an “entertainment destination” that would have wiped out most of the brewery’s buildings, including his.

“I’m only here because of people like Paul Jakubovich,” Haertel said. “Paul is an example for us all. His passion started as a youth when he saw a church torn down. … He’s not gone. He’s all around us.”

Haertel also mentioned Jakubovich’s devotion to his mother, Anna Jakubovich, an elegant woman who was present in the room and acknowledged the audience’s applause during the tribute to her son.

Also speaking was Mike Mervis, a spokesman for the Zilber Group, developers of Best Place, and a close colleague of company founder Joe Zilber. Mervis attended with his wife, Mary Ellen Mervis.

“Jakubovich wanted to save everything at the old brewery, and Joe Zilber wanted to save what could be saved. It was the right answer,” Mervis said.

“We used lots of Paul’s vision and lots and lots of Joe Zilber’s money,” he added, to the laughter of those in attendance.

“He was a strong advocate, and a formidable adversary. The bar that Paul set has not and will not be lowered.”

Mervis then announced that a new park would be created across the street from the Great Hall.

“It will have two unique features,” he said. “One — a Pabst Brewing Company History, and Two — A yet-unstructured honor to Paul and his life and his work.”

Other presenters included Ald. Nik Kovac and Common Council president Michael Murphy.

A final tribute was made by Jim Owczarski, the City Clerk. Legislation sponsored by Kovac, Bauman, and Tony Zielinski, aldermen with large swaths of historic buildings in their districts, transferred the historic preservation office from the Department of City Development to the city clerk, where it was felt to be more insulated from political pressure.

Owczarski said he had heard rumors that his new charge would be difficult to control. “He yells, he screams!” Owczarski was told.  “I was warned that Jakubovich would be a wild man!” So the clerk made a point to watch his new employee in action.

“I’m watching you!” Owczarski told him.

Of course, Jakubovich didn’t yell, he didn’t scream, and he wasn’t wild. Rather, the preservation officer, always in his suit and tie, would present his case calmly and firmly, and backed by astounding technical knowledge.

If somebody on Lake Drive wanted to put a Renaissance Revival window in an Elizabethan Tudor, Jakubovich would show them the error of their ways, and would withhold a Certificate of Appropriateness until the proper fenestration was arranged. In the long run, it was apparent from the audience’s response, the extra time and extra expense it cost to meet Jakubovich’s specifications, was worth it.

Among the Attendees

The event was arranged by Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, and coordinated by Dawn McCarthy of that group. Local historian and genealogist E. J. Brumder made his way there from his East Side apartment, and sat with friends. Sally Peltz, president-elect of the Historic Water Tower Neighborhood was there as well. Richard Stefanek visited from his St. John’s on the Lake home, while Mitch Hammerman, Yance Marti and Chris Rute of the city were on hand. Beth Weirick was there from Downtown Milwaukee, as was Teri Regano, who owns a historic Pabst tavern on E. Brady St. House Confidential honoree Charlie Fox represented the west side historic neighbors: “Cold Spring, not Concordia,” he said.

Chuck Kahn and Patti Keating Kahn, Urban Milwaukee landlords and owners of the historic Railway Exchange and Colby-Abbot buildings made their way through the crowds. Howard Leu was there representing a new generation of lovers of old buildings and places. Jeff Bentoff and Sandra and Maurice McSweeney also represented the north east portion of the city at the event. Keith Stachowiak of Uihlein-Wilson architects talked a bit about his job — one of the few that includes continual switching between right brain “let’s design something!” and left brain “please itemize quantities of all materials in the HVAC schedule for Phase II of the development plan.” Preservation architecture is not just drawing designs on cocktail napkins and watching them materialize, it appears, and another of my youthful illusions lies shattered.

Gail Fitch attended the event. An oak tree was planted this month in honor of preservationist Donna Schlieman, she said, and is located on “Donna’s Way,’ the new name for the pedestrian walkway that leads east from Brady Street to the lakefront. Fitch had organized a similar tribute to Schlieman at the Charles Allis museum after her death. Beth Higgins was there with her babe-in-arms Cohen, both appropriately name-tagged for the occasion.

Allyson Nemec, the preservation architect who is this week’s House Confidential honoree for her Fred Pabst, Jr. House offices, also paid tribute to Jakubovich.

Articles About Paul Jakubovich

Photos from the Event

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