Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Gettelman Brewery Buildings Saved

At least for now. City HPC grants temporary historic designation.

By - Apr 25th, 2017 10:04 am
Gettelman Brewery Buildings. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

Gettelman Brewery Buildings. Photo from the City of Milwaukee.

Two Gettelman Brewery buildings slated for demolition will stand for at least another 180 days. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission approved a temporary historic designation for two buildings that date back to the late 1850s. MillerCoors, who owns the buildings, is seeking to demolish them to make way for an expanded parking lot.

After a public hearing that lasted well over an hour, the commissioners didn’t need more than two minutes to make a decision. Alderman Robert Bauman, who sits on the commission, noted “for the purposes of interim designation, this is a pretty open and shut case.” Bauman then moved to approve the designation and found unanimous support from his fellow commissioners.

The commissioners’ decision was aided by the city’s historic preservation staff, which, led by Carlen Hatala, presented their findings regarding the two building’s historic qualities.

The smaller of the two buildings served as a long-time home for the Gettelman family dating back to 1856. Fritz Gettelman, who became president of the brewery in 1929, invented a number of innovations in the home, including a steam brush bottle washer, glass lined storage container, ice cutter and farm tillage machine.

The larger of the two buildings served as a malt house for Gettelman and was later used as a warehouse by Miller. It has been vacant for a number of years. A beer cellar, used before modern refrigeration was invented, is located beneath the building.

Much more of the buildings’ history can be found in the 25-page staff report.

MillerCoors Opposition, Options

MillerCoors has applied to raze the buildings as part of their “State Street Yard Reconfiguration” project and opposes the historic designation. Attorney Brian Randall, representing the company, explained how the brewing giant has increased its Milwaukee production and needs the space to increase employee safety and allow for more trailer storage. Randall noted the company is currently storing trailers off-site and having to truck them to the massive brewery.

Following Randall’s testimony, MillerCoors Chief Legal Officer and head of the Milwaukee campus Kelly Grebe told the commission that the brewery has invested millions in historic preservation, including the Miller Caves and Miller Inn. She noted that three other Gettelman buildings would remain after the proposed demolition, including the bottle house, which is now a health and fitness center. In addition, the employee beer sales facility (employees get three free cases of beer a month, plus more for Christmas and their birthday) is housed in a former Gettelman building, as is a company warehouse.

During MillerCoors’ testimony Bauman noted that “everything you’ve told us is essentially irrelevant to the temporary designation.” Calling it a “temporary restraining order,” Bauman noted that economic arguments are not relevant to the commission’s purview regarding temporary historic designations.

MillerCoors has five days to appeal the designation to the full Common Council. Grebe noted in an interview after the hearing that the firm is considering its right to appeal.

Should the buildings be permanently historically designated, the company would be required to file a certificate of appropriateness with the Historic Preservation Commission to demolish the property. Should the commission rule against a certificate, the Common Council has the right to overrule the commission and allow demolition to go forth.

The city’s historic preservation ordinance requires a hearing on permanent historic designation for any temporarily designated properties to be held within 90 days.

Lead and Appeals

MillerCoors might have a tough time finding a sympathetic ear on the Common Council should it appeal the historic designation. Multiple sources indicate that the company is in opposition to a bipartisan bill before the state legislature that would allow the city to replace privately-owned lead laterals. The proposed law would allow the Milwaukee Water Works and other public water utilities to make grants or low-interest loans to help homeowners replace lead water service pipes on their properties.

Grebe declined to comment on the measure following today’s hearing on the historic designation. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is the only group listed by the Wisconsin Ethics Commission as registering in opposition to the proposed legislation.

For more on the legislation see the April 20th Urban Milwaukee column “WMC Opposes Lead Pipes Bill.”

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Gettelman Brewery Buildings Saved”

  1. Pat M says:

    I hope this can be permanently saved. Park of our Milwaukee history.

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