Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

MillerCoors Razes Historic Gettelman Building

Brewery's demolition part of compromise to add parking, preserve Gettleman house.

By - Aug 16th, 2018 05:59 pm
Gettelman Brewery malt house demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Gettelman Brewery malt house demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

MillerCoors is demolishing the former Gettelman Brewery malt house to create room for more parking.

A September 2017 compromise measure was passed by the Milwaukee Common Council that allows the brewing giant to demolish the three-story malt house, while preserving and relocating the Gettelman house. The house, which was later used as an office building by the brewery, was used as a lab for numerous brewery industry inventions according to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission staff.

Both buildings date back to the 1850’s, with the malt house sitting atop a beer cellar tunnel. The cellar was used before modern refrigeration was invented, but because it is in the interior of the building it’s not eligible for protection by the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

The buildings, located at 4400 W. State St., became a source of controversy last year as the company applied to demolish the entire complex as part of its “State Street Yard Reconfiguration Project.” Among other efficiency improvements in the project, the brewing giant intends to turn land occupied by the historic structures into 70 employee parking spaces. Prior to their demolition, the buildings were surrounded by parking for employees and semi-truck trailers.

After the Historic Preservation Commission granted permanent historic designation to the buildings, the company appealed to the council on the basis of economic hardship. The historic commission is unable to consider economic arguments based on the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

The council ultimately voted — unanimously — to approve the compromise, but not before Ald. Nik Kovac criticized the deal. “I don’t think I’ve seen a worse case made for economic hardship. The hardship is employee convenience,” Kovac told members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

The company has hired Viet & Co. to demolish the malt house and a 1940’s-era addition to the house. A permit on file with the city lists the job cost as exactly $169,648.

The brewery has adaptively reused three other former Gettelman buildings as a fitness center, company store and warehouse. Miller Brewing acquired the neighboring Gettelman in 1961 and fully merged the brewery into their operations in 1970. The Gettelman complex was immediately west of Miller’s brewery in what is today the city’s Miller Valley neighborhood.

The old Gettelman house will be relocated across W. State St. to the south side of the street. That will place the structure, a house-turned-office dating back to 1856, near the brewery’s visitor center. A future use for the facility has yet to be identified. MillerCoors will need to apply to the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness to move the building.

An open “filing or grading permit” with the city, labeled “Gettelman House Moving,” was applied for on February 21st. Historic Preservation Commission staffer Tim Askin says that the measure is “in progress” before his office.

While all but that house has now been demolished, MillerCoors ironically continues to print thousands of images of the former Gettelman complex. A drawing of the buildings is the centerpiece of the branding that appears on a bottle or can of Icehouse beer.

Demolition Photos

Historic Designation Study Photos

The Buildings

According to a historic designation study by city staffer Carlen HatalaFritz Gettelman, who became president of the brewery in 1929, invented and patented a number of innovations in the home, including a steam brush bottle washer, steel beer keg, 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.

Both buildings are believed to date to the 1850’s formation of the Schweickhart Brewery. Adam Gettelman married into the family-run brewery in 1870 and eventually assumed control of the brewery, renaming it after his family.

The original nomination for the complex’s designation came from preservation advocate and Amaranth Bakery owner Dave Boucher after MillerCoors applied to demolish the structures.

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

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