They used to fix cars in there. Today the bay doors decorate the sitting area of Sherman Perk , still functional, a prime example of urban adaptive reuse of real estate. Sitting on the base of the triangle formed by Roosevelt, Keefe Avenue, and 51st Street if there was a Gold Coast within any neighborhood, you might not expect it to be in Sherman Park.
From Sections to Intersections
The Western end of Sherman Park much like Washington Heights, historically provided a destination for economically mobile immigrant and emigrant classes, first Europeans and later African-Americans, a neighborhood providing an intersection for both racial and economic class experiences in Milwaukee like none other in the city. Fittingly, Sherman Perk played host to ExFabula‘s most recent installment of the Terminal Milwaukee series confronting the theme Intersections.
Setting the stage for stories told by Milwaukeeans with a connection to the neighborhood, John Gurda painted a rhetorical backdrop with historical vignettes. Of several told, Gurda recounted the story of East European Jews and other European immigrants settling during the 1920’s and 30’s in what was known as Haymarket Square, the area just west of the 6th and Walnut street locus of old Bronzeville, before gradually moving to Sherman Park.
Migrating further into the city, the entrepreneurial spirit of Jewish immigrant settlers left Jake’s Kosher Delicatessen on 17th and North Avenue. Jake’s, famous for its corned beef, still stands today (although under new management). Mid 20th century Milwaukeeans also left the Settler’s Cookbook. Interestingly enough, the compilation of homemaker secrets found in the Settler’s Cookbook, not limited to just food recipes, but also medical remedies and home troubleshooting tips, made it a national best seller more popular than early Betty Crocker and Good Housekeeping publications.
Haymarket Square, during the close of the first quarter of the 20th century was also know as Rabbi Row on account of having more Synagogs than any other area in the city. The pillars of immigrant Jewish communities’ migration to Sherman Park still stand as well kept bungalows and revival architecture properties, uniformly lining the streets between Roosevelt and Keefe at 51 street, giving foundation to the oldest Orthodox Jewish community in Milwaukee.
Legacy of Public Education
Washington High School sits on a tough corner of Wright Street and Sherman Boulevard. Up to the rise of the suburbs in the 1960’s and reactionary de facto segregation that ushered gradual divestment in the Milwaukee Public School system, after Brown versus the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Washington High School anchored Milwaukee Public Schools as the premier secondary school in the City. MPS also received nationally recognition. During ExFabula’s event John Gurda revealed some of the MPS’ famous graduates including Sen. Herb Kohl, Major League Baseball Commissioner and Former Brewer’s owner Bud Selig, Gene Wilder, and Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus.
Although not shared at the Terminal Milwaukee event, the last known, famous graduate of Washington High is former National Basketball Association (NBA) great Latrell Sprewell, who helped the New York Knicks to get the NBA finals in 1999, among other dubious distinctions chronicled on wiki-whatever. Urban legend also has it that over-sized chrome spinning automobile rims, know as “Sprewells” were also invented in Milwaukee after being commissioned by their namesake [Latrell Sprewell].
Duh, Don’t Forget the Stories
The Terminal Milwaukee crowd enjoyed a bunch of great stories about people and places fondly occupying memories of Sherman Park. A man named Russ grew up in the neighborhood and worked for a laundry mat in the area as a kid. The story became interesting as he recounted how he learned not to test blind people.
Well, the owner of the laundry mat was blind and as the story goes, Russ could never figure out how the guy was getting around cleaning up, folding clothes and generally keeping up the shop. On one particular shift it was just he, and the owner. Tending to his laundry Russ accidentally knocked over a cap full of detergent. Russ took the moment to test whether the owner was really blind.
Instead of wiping up the spill, Russ decided to just stand there quiet. The owner didn’t say anything, and by the moment the store got quieter and quieter. The owner stood even more still yet. Finally, Russ ended the stalemate and began cleaning up his mess. From across the room the owner speaks loudly saying “Hello, who is there?” Russ replied that it was just him. Hearing the owner vaguely proclaim his knowledge of Russ’ presence disaffirmed Russ’ intuition. He decided never to test the blind owner again.
What Bus do you Ride?
At Terminal Milwaukee’s Sherman Perk edition, there were just too many great stories to recount. From central character Tom Crawford reconciling his demonic childhood tendencies to Rabbi Borsuk’s, a longtime journalist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, description of nearly missing a news story but for overcoming his dislike of coffee, ExFabula amplified the pulse of Milwaukee. The video above produced by ExFabula recounts portions of many of the stories but I will add the preface to one of my favorite stories told that night to enhance the clip.
The father of kindergartner Joe Lang was responsible for dropping Joe off at school in the morning before heading to work at A.O. Smith. As a factory worker, he would be docked pay for arriving even a minute after starting time. On this morning he was running late. To make up time, he decides to take Joe through a short cut that required jaunting up a hill and few non-routine twists and turns.
Mid-route Joe stops his dad and asks him, “Dad do you know why were are not Chinese?” Dad says no, pauses and figures Joe has something to share and inquires “Do you?” Dad calmly recalls Joe explaining that God puts everyone on a bus before they are born and allows them to choose where they want to get off. So Dad says to his son, so you wanted to be born Joe Lang in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The son replies yes, but next time I’m not making the same mistake.
ExFabula‘s next stop is Kochanski’s Concertina Bar in Burnham Park, this Saturday, January 28th at 8pm with stories around the topic of “Generation Gap”.