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City Hall: 1900

Circa 1900. "City Hall, Milwaukee, Wisconsin." Overhead, a tracery of streetcar wires. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

Circa 1900. "City Hall, Milwaukee, Wisconsin." Overhead, a tracery of streetcar wires. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


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Below is the identical view from November of 2004 (as well as my first attempt at scanning one of the many slides I took before switching to digital).

Standard bearer

The flagpole hat is apparently a "liberty cap" or "Phrygian cap," originally worn by freed slaves in ancient Rome.

It was a very common symbol in the American and (especially) the French revolutions, and was often depicted at the top of a pole or flag staff.

Rather less common by the time this beautiful building went up, unusual to see it at the turn of the 20th century.

City Hall Circa 2010

Here's a shot from today (Feb 12, 2010). I should have been standing 10 feet back from where I took this shot in order to have been in the same spot as the original. But, traffic lights and such would have obstructed the view.

You can tell by how my shot is lit that behind me are very tall buildings that are shading most of the shot. Obviously those were not there in 1900, so that shot is better lit.

Most of the buildings to the left of City Hall are still intact. The bank building to the right has replaced the buildings in the 1900 picture.

It was kinda cool to be standing in nearly the same spot shooting the exact same scene 110 years later with most of the subject matter still around after all that time.

Finally, it just happened to be 10 minutes after 4 pm when I took the shot today. And I didn't plan it that way either.

[There's only one thing missing! - Dave]

Winding back the clock

Street clocks were all over the city up until about 1908 when the mayor ordered them removed because they were a nuisance to the fire department. There was a great uproar regarding this removal and several lawsuits were filed against the city.

There is still one clock left, restored and placed in the front of the Milwaukee Public Museum. The original timing has been replaced several times, but in 2000 it was determined that it would be too difficult and expensive to do it again. The clock is now fully electric.

Mysterious flagpole hats

What are those strange objects over the flagpoles on the building at the right? At first they appear to be floating in air but I think I see a very thin rod holding them up- but whatever for?

Recent renovations

Flickr has dozens of recent and vintage photos; here's one with all the restoration scaffolding:

It's a cool building. Other photos show the interior (which I've never seen) as well.

Yay for Milwaukee!

Thanks for finding a picture of my beautiful hometown, Dave! I didn't really expect to see Milwaukee on here, but it's a beautiful city with some magnificent architecture. When they were recently renovating City Hall, they found notes from the original workmen tucked within the bricks, etc. They must have been proud to lend a hand in building such a tall and unique building. Panoramic views from the turn of the century show City Hall towering over everything around it, just as it does in this great picture. Thanks!

Laverne & Shirley

City Hall was featured in the opening credits of "Laverne and Shirley."
A $70 million renovation was completed in 2008.

Welcome Milwaukee Visitors

I recognized this building immediately from the opening credits of "Laverne & Shirley." I wonder if the Pizza Bowl is nearby?


This building is a rare gem today. I love the woodwork inside and the atrium that opens up almost the entire inside of the building to sunlight.

Where are piles of snow?

I can see a man shoveling a pile of sand, no? Most likely masonry sand. I agree that it seems like slush or very dirty snow in street. But if it is snow, how come no snow on any of those ledges and balconies of those buildings that have northeastern fronts and haven't had sunshine in months?

[It melted. Melting is what makes slush. - Dave]

Track Questions

It looks like the street surface is mostly mud. Did the mud have to be cleaned off the rails periodically? Wouldn't the tracks become useless after a certain amount of mud built up on top of them?

[That's slush. See the piles of snow? - Dave]

Ah, I see the snow now. In B/W, it looked liked piles of mud to me. Quick, someone colorize this one!


Cream city.

She's Still There!

City Hall is still standing and is one of the best features of downtown Milwaukee. When finished in 1895, it was the tallest building in the U.S. Built in essentially swamp land, City Hall "stands" on 2500 wood pilings that are about 25 feet long and about 14" in diameter that connect to bedrock below.

I've walked and driven past this structure too many times to count and it is wonderful to view in person. Extensive restoration work has been done to preserve it. I'll do my best to take a current shot of the building and post. Thanks Dave for a wonderful shot!!

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