No Stopping Milwaukee

Hidden in Lake Michigan

When we consider the best wreck-diving hotspots in the Great Lakes, we often think of vacation Meccas like Lake Michigan’s Door County, Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay and Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. But Milwaukee? What kind of diving can you really do off the shoreline of a major Midwestern city?

As it turns out: A lot. More than 20 wrecks lie within easy reach of Milwaukee’s shores, and their dive sites range from novice to technical.

According to Cris Kohl’s “The Great Lakes Diving Guide,” Prins Willem V is the most popular dive site in the Milwaukee area — and one of the most popular in Lake Michigan. “The Willy,” as she’s affectionately known, was an oceangoing freighter that collided with the tug Sinclair’s tow and sank on October 14, 1954. All hands were saved, but the freighter took her cargo of automotive parts, animal hides and jukeboxes with her to the bottom of the lake.

Today, The Willy lies on her side three miles east of the city at a depth of 48 to 90 feet. She’s considered an advanced-level dive due to her depth and the fact that she’s a large, multilevel shipwreck. Highlights include her pilothouse and galley, but recreational divers must remember that wreck penetration requires special training, certification, experience and preparation.

Novice divers will enjoy the wreck of the 204-foot schooner-barge Sumatra, which lies at 35 feet just off the downtown Milwaukee shore. Built in 1874 at Black River, Ohio, she was lost in a September 1896 gale; four sailors lost their lives.

Another great beginner dive is Appomattox, a 320-foot wooden steamer that stranded in November 1905. Pieces of her — including her boiler — lie scattered at depths of 15 to 23 feet about 450 feet from shore, just south of the first north pier at Whitefish Bay’s Atwater Beach.

Three piers to the north of Appomattox, about 70 feet offshore, is the wreck of Josephine, a wooden steam barge that sank after hitting a rock in April 1888. She, too, lies broken on the sandy lake floor at an easily accessible depth of just 10 feet.

To learn more about novice, intermediate, advanced and technical dives in the Milwaukee area and throughout the Great Lakes, “The Great Lakes Diving Guide” by celebrated diver and prolific author Cris Kohl is an invaluable resource. To purchase a copy of the book, visit www.seawolfcommunications.com— H.S.

City of Festivals

While some may still think of it as the Brew City, Milwaukee has developed an international reputation as the City of Festivals. Throughout the summer, residents and visitors revel in a series of countless ethnic, cultural, artistic and musical celebrations that erupt from Henry W. Maier Festival Park and the Milwaukee Art Museum on the lakefront, to the Historic Third Ward just south of downtown, to the eclectic Brady Street neighborhood on the uber-cool East Side. We’re not kidding — there are literally countless festivals, celebrations and special events going on in Milwaukee. We’ve opted to list a few of them here, both the mainstream and the slightly offbeat, but we guarantee there are more. Way more.

June: PrideFest, IndyFest at the Milwaukee Mile, Polish Fest, Lakefront Festival of the Arts, Lebowski Fest, Greek Fest, Summerfest

July: Summerfest, Bastille Days, Chinese Cultural Festival, Festa Italiana, Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival, German Fest, Brady Street Festival

August: Wisconsin State Fair, Summer Sizzle Jazz Festival: Historic Third Ward, African World Festival, War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration, Milwaukee Air & Water Show, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta

September: Indian Summer Festival, Rock the Green: Near-Zero-Waste Music Festival, Milwaukee Film Festival, Holiday Folk Fair International

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No Stopping Milwaukee

By Heather Steinberger
Those ’70s sitcoms were a long time ago... Now, think world-class museums, great restaurants, waterfront fun and some truly epic parties. (Don’t worry: The beer and motorcycles are still there.)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three or four decades, the opening lines of the “Laverne & Shirley” theme song and the sight of two young brewery workers hopping and running along a city sidewalk have become synonymous with Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose real-life city hall also was prominently featured in the show’s opening credits. In fact, for many people, Milwaukee remains a repository for imagined, sepia-toned scenes of roaring Harley-Davidson motorcycles, inexpensive cans of macro-brewed beer, bratwurst-and-polka-music supper clubs and Henry Winkler’s “ehhhh-ing” Fonz.

While we weren’t looking, however, Milwaukee quietly evolved into much more than that. With a tenacity that Laverne DiFazio and Shirley Feeney would envy, this hard-working, down-to-earth city of nearly 600,000 people has become a world-class cultural center, a vibrant summertime hotspot and a true celebration of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Best of all? It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The Gathering Place

Native Algonquian peoples originally called the Milwaukee area  Millioke, often translated as “the gathering place by the waters.” The shoe certainly fit, as three rivers — the Menominee, the Milwaukee and the Kinnickinnic — converge here before flowing into Lake Michigan. 

Famous explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, whose ship Le Griffon< became Lake Michigan’s first ghost ship in 1679, was one of the first Europeans to visit the area, as were fellow explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette. They quickly ascertained that the three rivers would serve as superb highways for fur traders. Millioke became a French outpost, but after the 1760 fall of Montreal, the British took over.

The community’s first permanent resident was Jacques Vieau, a French Canadian who traded with local natives until the 1830s, when all native land was ceded to the fledgling United States. Fellow French-Canadian Solomon Juneau, who arrived in 1818, married Vieau’s daughter and turned Vieau’s trading post into a town — appropriately, Juneautown. 

Soon after, Byron Kilbourn settled on the west side of the Milwaukee River and, to compete with Juneau, founded Kilbourntown. A third man, George H. Walker, claimed the land south of the Milwaukee River in 1834 and built a log house there. As the settlement grew, it became known as Walker’s Point.

Despite intense rivalry and occasional violence between these three communities, their leaders soon realized they needed to join forces. In 1846, they incorporated as the City of Milwaukee, with Juneau as the first mayor. 

That decade saw an enormous influx of German immigrants. In fact, by 1880, nearly 30 percent of the city was German — the largest concentration of a single immigrant group in any U.S. city. In the late 19th century, Milwaukee was actually known as the “Deutsches Athens,” offering beer gardens and traditional German restaurants as well as German music and newspapers. 

By then, the city also was known throughout the Midwest as the Cream City due to the large number of cream-colored bricks that came out of the Menomonee River Valley. Many downtown buildings feature Cream City brick, and weathered relics still wash up on shore from time to time.

The Cream City also was the Brew City. In the late 1800s, Milwaukee boasted more than 20 breweries, most of them German-owned and -operated. The biggest were Pabst, Miller, Schlitz and Blatz, and together they helped the city lead U.S. beer production by the turn of the 20th century.

As Milwaukee moved from the grain trade to steel and iron manufacturing, meat-packing, tanning and flour-milling, demand for workers brought in new waves of immigrants: Polish, British, Irish, Scandinavians, Serbians, Russian Jews and African Americans. They took jobs in the factories and mills, in the breweries and at the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, which set up shop in 1903.

These workers unionized, and German-American socialism took root in the city. Not only did Milwaukeeans elect the country’s first Socialist mayor in 1910, the hardscrabble Great Depression years actually were considered to be a sort of golden age, with dramatic public works projects that included parks, libraries, social centers and recreational programs.

The legacy of that era lives on.

Milwaukee by Water

The city that always depended on its rivers and on Lake Michigan as lifelines remains attuned to the water, as you’ll quickly see as you cruise toward its downtown harbor. To say that Milwaukeeans love boating is a remarkable understatement. On a summer day, offshore waters teem with fishing and diving charters, sailboats, day-trippers and visiting cruisers, all of which carefully give way when lake freighters approach.

To starboard, you’ll see the 1926 Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse, and as it falls away, the city opens its arms. The modest skyline is both cosmopolitan and welcoming, and the sprawling waterfront bustles with activity — from the sunbathers, swimmers and beach-volleyball players at Bradford Beach, to the rollerbladers and joggers along Lincoln Memorial Drive, to the kite-flyers and picnickers at Veterans Park. Stately homes peer from a magnificent wooded bluff, as they have for generations.

Visiting boaters have several options for transient dockage. On the Lake Michigan waterfront, you can choose between McKinley Marina downtown and the South Shore Yacht Club, located just south of the Hoan Bridge.

You’ll also find an excellent option in the inner harbor, just west of Jones Island. This now-industrial island once supported a fishing community of Kashubian and German immigrants; today it’s home to the Port of Milwaukee and serves as a critical element in the city’s inner harbor design.

CenterPointe Yacht Services, formerly Harborside Yacht Center, lies west of the Hoan Bridge and the river mouth, just past Henry W. Maier Festival Park. CenterPointe, which also owns marinas in Kenosha and Door County, has earned a “Best in Class” designation for its Milwaukee facility, with state-of-the-art floating docks, water, electric, restrooms, showers and security services. The marina is within walking distance to the Summerfest grounds, the Historic Third Ward and local restaurants.

While you’re there, consider motoring up the Kinnickinnic River to South Hilbert Street, where you can tie up at a favorite watering hole, Barnacle Bud’s, at the site of SkipperBud’s Milwaukee Yacht Center. Barnacle Bud’s is the place to go for Bloody Marys, crab cakes and Milwaukee’s only outdoor oyster bar. The SkipperBud’s Yacht Center offers full service and parts departments, fiberglass repair, rack storage and capacity for boats to 65 feet. The other SkipperBud’s facility in the Milwaukee area is the Pewaukee SuperCenter, where you can shop for new and used boats and get parts and service including mobile tech service. The Pewaukee store also has brokerage services, accessories and water sports gear, as well as piers and hoists. For more information, visit skipperbuds.com or call 262-544-1200.

Although you’ll be able to tie up at several Milwaukee hotspots, you may not have access to the heart of the city; unfortunately, most cruising boats will be limited by bridge heights. If you want to do some exploring by water, the best way is to visit RiverWalk Boat Rentals at Pere Marquette Park. You also might want to join one of RiverWalk Boat Rentals’ famous tours.

If you’re looking for something a bit more genteel, you can enjoy brunch, dinner or cocktails on the Edelweiss or Edelweiss II, both of which depart from the Third Street Pier restaurant. Cruise options range from casual to elegant fine dining.

Real boat nerds won’t want to miss the S/V Denis Sullivan, Wisconsin’s flagship, at the lakefront’s Pier Wisconsin. Launched in 2000, this 138-foot, three-masted schooner serves as a floating classroom and goodwill ambassador. Guests may experience daysails and overnight expeditions, and when not at sea, they can study maritime history and freshwater ecology at the shoreside learning center.

Again, Milwaukee is very much geared to the water. If you’re interested in exploring by land rather than by sea, however, the good news is that much of this compact city is walkable. Plus, bus lines are always within easy reach and taxis are plentiful.


A City of Neighborhoods

Despite the city’s size — more than half a million within city limits and more than seven million in the seven-county metro area — Milwaukee is essentially a collection of tightly knit neighborhoods. On the East Side, you’ll find Old World architecture, a collection of unique cafés, restaurants and boutiques, and lush, peaceful Lake Park. Don’t miss the 1923 Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, with its dramatic Scaletta d’Aqua fountain and authentic Italian Renaissance gardens.

From there, check out the youthful, eclectic Brady Street neighborhood. Lined with century-old buildings, its streets overflow with a funky mixture of contemporary artists, musicians, students and out-of-the-box entrepreneurs.

In contrast, the three-block landmark district of Old World Third Street celebrates Milwaukee’s immigrant roots, with cobblestone intersections and much-loved establishments that include Usinger’s sausage factory, the Old German Beer Hall and Mader’s restaurant. Choose from ethnic cuisine of every imaginable variety, and visit specialty shops for spices, gourmet chocolates and artisan cheeses.

From there, hop onto the RiverWalk, a $16 million cobblestone pathway that connects downtown restaurants, brewpubs, cafés and shops from Old World Third in the north to the Historic Third Ward in the south. And you won’t want to miss the Third Ward. Once an Irish enclave and then an Italian neighborhood, the area features a restored warehouse district overflowing with art galleries, restaurants and antique shops. Check out the Broadway Theater Center, the Milwaukee Public Market and the district’s popular “Gallery Night and Day” events.

While you’re on the near south side, visit the new Clock Shadow Creamery in historic Walker’s Point. Milwaukee’s first cheese factory is located on the first floor of the $7.2 million FIX building. For a refreshing treat, don’t miss the new Purple Door ice cream shop here. Owners Steve and Lauren Schultz produce hand-crafted, super-premium ice cream in standard and specialty flavors. And it is true... ice cream makes people happy!

Not too far away is the long-awaited Braise Restaurant & Culinary School, which also recently opened to rave reviews. Take your time on the RiverWalk, though. It’s an ideal Milwaukee experience, and it’s home to the Bronze Fonz. He stands on the river’s eastern bank, complete with leather jacket and signature double thumbs-up. 

During the warm, often humid summer months, throngs of residents and visitors stroll the length of the walk, stopping at cafés and pubs, enjoying a leisurely meal on a restaurant patio and waving greetings to occupants in the myriad runabouts pulling up alongside. Things really get jumping when the sun goes down.

You’ll also want to take time to walk along Lincoln Memorial Drive. Start with a coffee at Alterra at the Lake, located in the 1888 Milwaukee River Flushing Station and host to the Florentine Opera and Musica del Lago outdoor music series. Pick up some sandwiches, salads and bakery items to take with you. Stop at one of the lakefront parks for a picnic and some unforgettable people-watching.


A City of Culture… and Serious Parties

Be prepared: In terms of cultural attractions and activities, you’re going to have more on your Milwaukee bucket list than time will allow. Start with the Milwaukee Art Museum, which includes the iconic Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named “Best Design of 2001” by Time magazine. The $100 million expansion includes gallery space, lakeview restaurant, auditorium, store and public gardens.

The Calatrava’s ethereal wings — with a span equal to that of a Boeing 747 — open at 10 a.m., “flap” at noon and close at the end of the day.

The museum’s holdings include more than 30,000 works from antiquity to the present day, including 19th and 20th century American and European art, contemporary art, German Expressionist art, American decorative arts and European and American folk art. The museum also boasts a Haitian art collection and one of the largest Georgia O’Keefe collections in the world.

Also on the waterfront is the 120,000-square-foot Discovery World museum, which features exhibitions, live shows, aquariums and interactive activities focusing on science, technology, exploration and the environment. Not only is this home to the S/V Denis Sullivan and her 200-foot dock, the grounds also include a park, promenade and café.

The Milwaukee Public Museum on West Wells Street provides a re-created Costa Rican rainforest, the Streets of Old Milwaukee, a year-round live butterfly garden and such curiosities as Egyptian mummies and the world’s largest dinosaur skull. Don’t miss the IMAX theater and the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium, Wisconsin’s largest and most modern dome theater.

Children will love the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, the Milwaukee County Zoo, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (three beehive-shaped glass structures known locally as The Domes) and free-skate time at the Petit National Ice Center, while their parents may enjoy a visit to Potawatomi Bingo Casino, with its brand-new Dream Dance Steak restaurant, and a tour of the Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion, a luxurious Flemish Renaissance home built for the Pabst Brewery founder in 1892. 

Although Pabst no longer produces beer in Milwaukee, you can sample brews from the last of the Big Four: Miller, which is now MillerCoors. Take a free tour of the brewery, spend a little time in the tasting room, and then — if you’re a beer aficionado — visit acclaimed local microbreweries Lakefront and Sprecher to see how they’re putting the brew back in Brew City. 

If you’re into harder spirits, check out Great Lakes Distillery. This small-batch distillery is Wisconsin’s first since Prohibition, and through Old World methods, it produces hand-crafted, award-winning distilled spirits in limited quantities. It features a new tasting room, and a large outdoor patio will be opening soon.

While you’re in a touring frame of mind, you definitely don’t want to miss the free one-hour tours at Harley-Davidson, located on the Menomonee River just minutes from downtown. Here, you’ll find more than 450 legendary motorcycles, including the 1956 model owned by Elvis Presley and the famous Serial No. 1 from 1903.

From June 11 to August 21, the museum will showcase “Collection X: Weird, Wild Wonders of the Harley-Davidson Museum.” This exhibit comprises a collection of treasures from the archives that span 108 years of history, from motorcycles and prototypes to leathers and accessories. Hundreds of artifacts will be on display in the 10,000-square-foot Garage exhibition space.

No matter how busy you get, don’t forget to check your calendar. Because more than Cream City, more than Brew City, Milwaukee is the City of Festivals.

Milwaukee’s festival season runs from June to November, and king on that calendar is Summerfest. Billed as the world’s largest music festival and celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2012, Summerfest will include a new $13 million stage at the park’s south end and the 2nd annual Rock n’ Sole Marathon foot race.

Other highlights include Irish Fest, the world’s largest Irish music and culture festival (yes, including those in Ireland), German Fest and Festa Italiana. It’s clear that the city continues to take tremendous pride in its diverse ethnic heritage.

But that’s not all. Milwaukeeans ensure that everyone will have ample opportunity for merrymaking through weekly events such as Jazz on the Park in Cathedral Square and River Rhythms at Pere Marquette Park. Then, of course, there are offbeat, delightfully weird annual events such as the Race for the Bacon. Only in Milwaukee… which, by the way, also hosts Lebowski Fest.

The list goes on and on, including an air-and-water show and, in early August, the Malibu Open, which features world championship waterskiing. Fortunately, unlike the Fonz, no one will have to jump the shark out there.

The museums, the art galleries, the restaurants, the parks, the architecture… in a way, maybe those old “Laverne & Shirley” lyrics had this intrepid, magical city figured out after all: “There’s nothing we won’t try… never heard the world impossible.”

It’s true. There’s no stopping Milwaukee.