Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Things change

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design
Like a river, a great city is constantly flowing, changing its course at will, never standing still. When you live in a city, change becomes a routine part of life, a new business opens, another one closes, neighborhoods slowly crumble while others gradually revive. Sometimes, when an important building is threatened as is with the case of the former Prentice Hospital in Chicago, change becomes a hot button issue on both sides. But that's the exception not the rule, generally we accept change and move on; like our children, most changes take place right under our nose and we barely notice them.

Of course if you don't see a child every day, those changes become profound. It's our kids' grandparents custom to tell them how much they've grown since the last time they saw them, even if it was only a week ago.

A reminder of the now distant past in the Third Ward
We just took our annual birthday trip up to Milwaukee and overall I'd say the city looks like it's doing just fine. Admittedly, we tend to visit the same old haunts so I can't report on the city as a whole. "The "Historic Third Ward" just south of Downtown seems to be booming. Centered around MIAD (the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design), the old warehouse and manufacturing district is flush with art galleries, boutiques and upscale restaurants. The lack of available parking spaces attest to its success.

Here I'll give a shout out to my friends Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, collaborative artists who have a wonderful show of their new work, a project called Natural History, which is currently on view at the Portrait Society Gallery in the Third Ward.

Recent riverfront construction in the Third Ward
Downtown Milwaukee, the main drag anyway, Wisconsin Avenue, had its life sapped away with the construction of the Grand Avenue, an indoor shopping mall which was built back in the eighties. I haven't been inside that mall in probably twenty years so I can't comment on it, but the outside is as dead as ever. Which is a shame, the death of the once vibrant street life in the heart of town is an enduring testimony of the fallacy of building such places. We here in Chicago can thank our lucky stars that our lame attempt to build a downtown mall back in the day was easily reversible, and is now but a distant memory.

A couple of years ago I wrote a small post about Milwaukee and listed several of my favorite this and thats in the world found in that city. Sadly, one of them is gone. There was a little restaurant on the East Side, catty corner from the Oriental Theater called Palermo Villa. They served what I and my family considered to be the best pizza we'd ever had and was the traditional final stop on our visits up there. Our heart sank as we walked by the empty storefront last Saturday, it had been closed since July.

Another of my wife's longtime favorite restaurants, a little hole in the wall Middle Eastern place called Abu's was gone, as was another longtime haunt in the Third Ward.

On a brighter note, another of our favorite stops, Boswell Book Company on Downer Street (yes it's really called Downer Street but it doesn't live up to its name), is alive and well, testimony that the independent book store is not quite dead yet. As you may recall from this earlier post, the shop used to be part of a small chain of Milwaukee book shops that went out of business. This one was kept alive by former employees of the old Harry Schwartz chain and retains its depth of selection and charm.

Another business in Milwaukee that's bucking the trend of the national chains is Alterra Coffee. They now have several shops in Milwuakee, the most beautiful of which is in an abandoned water pumping station on the lake shore. In all honesty, this company in every way blows the competition out of the water; unlike most other cities, you are hard pressed to find a Starbucks or other big name coffee chain in Milwaukee, there's no point.

Simply put, Milwaukee in so many ways is unlike every other city. Could there be any better reason to love the place?

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