Op Ed

Save the Gettelman Brewery Buildings

Miller would trash history: last underground arched-brick lagering cellar.

By - Apr 20th, 2017 03:55 pm

The Gettelman Brewery buildings are setback from the street and are visible to the left of the drive.

A major site of Milwaukee’s brewing history could soon be reduced to rubble. In a city that was and still is known as the “Brewing Capitol of the World”, two adjoining former Adam Gettelman Brewery structures, dating to the earliest beginning of that brewery in 1856, stand vacant and almost forgotten on the western fringe of the Miller Brewery complex in Milwaukee. It has recently been revealed, thanks to the enterprising reporting of the Journal Sentinel newspaper, that those structures and their connecting beer cellars below are slated for demolition. Miller Brewing Company, known today as MillerCoors, has been using the expansive vacant property around those two historic brewery structures as a staging area and parking lot for semi-trailers, which now accommodates more than 150 semi-trailers. Miller is seeking a permit to demolish those two historic Cream City brick Gettelman Brewery structures along with their underground beer cellars. Miller intends to use that relatively small footprint on which those builings stand to accommodate additional truck parking. It should be noted that Miller has several large parking lots and other vacant land on their grounds in close proximity to the Gettelman property.

Sanborn Map of the Gettelman Brewery.

Sanborn Map of the Gettelman Brewery.

A nomination for Temporary Historic Designation of the Gettelman structures has been filed with the City of Milwaukee. It requires that the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission evaluate the historic significance of those Gettelman buildings no later than April 23rd. If the Commission approves this petition, a subsequent permanent designation is possible. With the pending inevitable demolition of the last standing former Falk Brewery building in Milwaukee and their beer cellars, the Gettelman buildings will be the only remaining location in the City of Milwaukee with underground arched-brick brewery lagering cellars. A brewing concept and feature brought here by German settlers, known as “lagering cellars”, provided a cool temperature in which to store and ferment beer, prior to the introduction of mechanical refrigeration in 1880. In contrast to the Miller Brewery, which had their beer cellars, know today as the “Miller Caves”, excavated into a hillside, the Gettelman cellars were excavated below ground and located beneath those two surviving Gettelman structures. Underground beer cellars were common in most all of Milwaukee’s earliest breweries more than a century ago.

Miller Brewing Company, which also traces its roots in Milwaukee to the 1850’s, purchased the Gettelman Brewery and property in 1961. The cellars below were home to the Gettelman Rathskeller after prohibition and one of the structures, later used as a reception area, was once home to the Gettelman family After the purchase, Miller shut down all brewing operations at the Gettelman facility several years later and over the following years, demolished several Gettelman structures. These two remaining now vacant Gettelman structures, which date back to 1856, were at one time used by Miller as office space and later as storage. These two historic Gettelman Brewery structures are located directly across the street from the MillerCoors Visitor Center, which attracts thousands of tourists year round, many of whom are not only interested in Miller, but are interested in all Milwaukee breweries, both past and present.

Miller Brewing Company has promoted and prided itself as an icon of the City of Milwaukee. And its corporate parent, MillerCoors, has been an excellent corporate citizen of Milwaukee and has done much to support and promote the city. As a company that often reflects on its past in its promotion, it may be in their best interest to set aside the need to park a few more semi-trailers and instead preserve a vital part of Milwaukee’s brewing heritage. The former Gettelman buildings with their cellars below, have the potential to emerge as a tourist facility or other historic brewery-related attraction that could promote and enhance both Miller and Milwaukee. They should be preserved. Miller/Coors now has a wonderful opportunity to once again reinforce it self as a good corporate citizen of Milwaukee and cancel their plans to demolish the former Gettelman structures, the cellars below, and the last trace of any underground lagering cellars in the City of Milwaukee.

Leonard P. Jurgensen, is a Milwaukee brewery historian and the author of “Milwaukee Beer Barons, Brewers, Bottlers and other buried at Forest Home Cemetery.”

Categories: History, Op-Ed, Real Estate

14 thoughts on “Op Ed: Save the Gettelman Brewery Buildings”

  1. david says:

    I agree! My gf works in the building right across the parking lot from this piece of Milwaukee History! I love looking at that old building!!! I was bummed to hear it was being torn down, and even commented that As soon as someone hears about this, it will be stopped!!!l I say open it up for a quick addition to an already great brewery tour!!!

  2. Pete Mingle says:

    Enough already of willy-nilly knocking down historic buildings and reminders of what MAKES Milwaukee famous.

    Those of us so inclined to show up and speak out have an opportunity on April 24, at 3 p.m. in Milwaukee’s City Hall. The Historic Preservation Commision will be debating whether to allow seeking a preservation solution to save the Gettelman Brewery from an ignominious fate of being reduced to a parking lot. The meeting is in ROOM 301B. Oral and written comment from citizens will be welcome there and before the meeting to the HPC.

    Hallelujah! It’s time for the city to “get it” and recognize the contribution of the Getttelman Brewery to our local history–and keep ONE brewing cellar for posterity.

    Call Ald. Michael Murphy, 414-286-2221, to urge seeking a preservation solution (which could also benefit MillerCoors!). He needs to hear us loud and clear.

  3. Milwaukee Native says:

    Wow, demolishing this key aspect of Milwaukee’s beer heritage would really add insult to injury!

    And just to add to marginally increase an already huge parking lot?

    It sounds like the MillerCoors/Molson behemoth (based in Chicago and Denver) can’t be bothered to worry about little ol’ Milwaukee or its brewing history.

    Miller bought up Gettelman long ago and still sells its “Milwaukee’s Best” beer. But maybe bigwigs would prefer to just erase the longtime family brewery’s 19th-century buildings.

    And will a short-sighted Common Council just go along to get-get-get along?

  4. Bonnie says:

    I totally agree with prior comments!! We need to preserve this great Milwaukee beer brewing history!

  5. Paul Bachowski says:

    The City of Milwaukee itself chose to demolish a former brewery building, probably Gettleman, at the Northeast corner of 5th and Cherry with these beautiful arched basement ceilings about ten years ago. It had been the bottling building section of the brewery complex that had an underground tunnel system allowing the beer to be moved throughout the complex year round.

  6. KenMilw says:

    As one who regularly picked up loads of case beer and half-barrels at Gettelman Brewery in the late 1940s and early 1950s, I remember fondly the ‘driver’s room’ where they served beer for us drivers while we waited for our loading. At 7 and 8 a.m., no less! Obviously, not a recommended practice if one believed in safety. Things were much looser then.

    Nonetheless, I agree with all of the above. Save at least a part of this icon of Milwaukee’s brewing past. The Gettelman name was all over town in those days. And the beer was darned good, especially their $1000 beer.

  7. Rail Fan says:

    Who can forget, at least those of us old enough to remember, the advertisement jingle: “for the fun of it.” “Get . . . Get GETTELMAN!” It rings in my head today.

    I agree with all of the reader comments.

    The idea of making a historic Milwaukee beer trail for tourists is intriguing. It would preserve Milwaukee’s brewing heritage and bring in tourist dollars. I hope it is not too late to save this gem.

  8. Rail Fan says:

    Not sure my comment posted?

    I agree with all of the reader comments.

    Who can forget the jingle, at least those of us old enough to remember: “for the fun of it.” “Get . . . Get GETTELMAN!”

    I hope it is not too late to save this important piece of Milwaukee brewing heritage. I am intrigued by the idea of developing a historic Milwaukee brewing trail that would preserve an important piece of the City’s heritage, draw in tourist dollars and fill up hotel rooms. Look at the success of the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

  9. Marie says:

    Paul, I think you were referring to the Obermann Brewery.


    Here’s more info about Gettelman. The cellars, which are still in good shape according to recent reports, were later used as a Rathskeller including for the longtime “Five O’Clock Club.”



    Gettelman did innovative and fun advertising…

  10. Justin says:

    We need to save these structures. The destruction of the Schlitz brewhouse really woke me up to how precious brewing architecture is to this city. This would be another major tragedy.

  11. Tierney says:

    Save history and park a semi somewhere else. Bulldozing for more concrete lots is the last thing ANY city needs. Put the money of the concrete into preserving Milwaukee’s brewery heritage. Common sense.

  12. MKE Kid says:

    This is the first I’ve heard about these buildings. I fully agree with all the comments. It would be such a shame to destroy them. As they are on the MillerCoors property, I don’t see why they could not be incorporated as part of the Miller brewery tours. Thank you, JS and UM, for getting this information out. I hope it’s not too late.

  13. Pat M says:

    I would like to see these buildings remain as part of our future history. Don’t take them down just to park several semi trailers. Find a new home for the trailers. These buildings are sound and deserve to stay.

  14. Milwaukee Native says:

    Hey, what better way to celebrate “Milwaukee Beer Week” next week than to attend the Historic Preservation Commission hearing about Gettelman on Monday, 4/24 at 3 PM at City Hall!


    Or let Ald. Murphy know your views. Or send MillerCoors execs (if you can find them) ideas about how they could use these historic buildings to enhance their bottom line and goodwill in Milwaukee. They could win-win one for Brew City and their brand.

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