Monthly Archives: August 2011

Loyalty Building, Part 2: Slideshow

More images from the Loyalty Building. Since my office was the last to empty out, there haven’t been many people around to populate the photos. It seems wrong to photograph a building without people using it, but I guess that gives us an opportunity to focus on details. I think I’ll revisit the Loyalty after it is a hotel and see how many of these lovely curlicues and colors and patterns remain intact. Stay tuned.

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(p.s. My apologies to all the professional photographers I know who would have done this space more justice.)

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Last day at the Loyalty

125 years: a place where people went to work. Soon to be: a place for people to go on vacation.

Today is my last day working at The Loyalty Building, a.k.a. the 611 Building, a hulking, huggable mass of granite on the corner of Broadway and Michigan in downtown Milwaukee. It is 125 years old, and it was built at the behest of some hulking, I’m guessing not-so-huggable scions who founded the Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co. It is destined to become a boutique(ish) hotel.

I don’t know. It just depresses me that a place where men wearing bowlers, bow ties and well-shined shoes once smoked pipes and stored big piles of cash in private safes will soon become a place for Harley-riding, Summerfest-going tourists wearing unseemly shorts. But I tend to overdramatize things.

Let me tell you what it is like to work in a building conceived before there was e-mail, drywall, halogen lighting and air conditioning. Let me tell you before we all forget the sensation of eight hours a day in a functional building constructed when craftsmanship was a living breathing necessary solution to everyday life.

First of all: light. When you first walk into this heavy, brooding structure it’s easy to expect a dark place. But no! Behold the atrium:

In the atrium, looking up.

Look at that thing! Back in the day, it was a sensible solution because it captured a natural resource — sunlight — which was very helpful before electricity was a common option. I love that wherever you wander, even if you turn a secretive little corner tucked under the eaves, there are windows built into the interior to capture and extend the reach of the light.

A view from my office space, looking out into the atrium.

The offices I have worked in, on the fourth floor, wrap around two sides of the atrium. If you aren’t lucky enough to sit in a cubicle with an exterior window, you can easily find a cubicle with an interior window. Sometimes, I think the interior windows are better — less glare, and no dramatic shifts of light as the sun moves. You can tell that every piece of glass was originally designed to swing on hinges, and I can only imagine what kind of cross ventilation this place could get on a hot summer day, especially so close to the river and the lake.

The windows, by the way, are massive. I first started working here in the grayness of January, and my colleagues had to suffer through my exclamations about the light that poured like glitter through those tall stretches of glass. I kept pulling up the Venetian blinds to within an inch of their lives, probably blinding everyone in the process. Sorry, guys. But what a luxury after all the shoeboxes I’ve worked in.

You can peek out one of the office windows and see who might be on their way to visit.

And the staircase! I don’t know how I’ll ever get used to a stairwell again. The Loyalty’s grand marble steps got me ready for my day. Some were worn down in spots — a quiet message from working stiffs who had gone before me. I could take in the scope of the day as I looked up, around and into the other offices. I could feel part of a community of office-dom. I always liked that stair walk.

Sitting in my cubicle, I had a kick-ass view of the Grain Exchange (Mackie Building) across the street. Sometimes when one of us wanted to know where David or Cris or Tim was, we’d just stand up, look through the atrium, and see them in a meeting room across the way. Very handy — and a nice metaphor about transparency in the workplace.

I liked the way the Loyalty’s designers used curves to offset the squareness, and set the patterned floors askew. Speaking of floors — I never tired of those incredible tiles. The window sills were deep and perfect for plants. Wacky copper newel posts that looked like harlequin hats marked my way as I climbed the staircase. A mail chute ran like a ribbon down all five floors and was still in service. The doors were heavy and substantial when you entered a room, and left.

In a building like this, moment, purpose, and thought are implicit in every space. Nothing about it is a toss-off. It makes a person think: I am not a toss-off, either.

You can read some things about the building’s history here and here. But you may be disappointed. I spent much too much time looking around the internet for information, and ultimately didn’t find the kind of history I wanted — who used to work here? What was it like to be a woman here when the place was new? Who got fired, who screwed up, who got famous, who laid the foundation for things we now take for granted? What’s the story behind that amazing tile? Whose hands made the stair railings so smooth and the brass doorknobs so shiny?

I never, ever wondered any of those things working inside a cinder-block office building.

How can you think boring thoughts when you walk on floors like this every day? Goodbye, Loyalty Building. I hope your new owners take good care of you!



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Gardening notes: The difficult adolescent phase

Just home from the garden center, freshly potted. The cute and cuddly phase.

I fuss like a new mamma over my newly potted plants each spring. I cannot leave the house without watering and feeding them, fretting over any sign of trouble. If I could check in by phone during the day, I would. Plants are no different than pets. When you first bring them home they are cute little things — tender new shoots with the promise of young buds, staying picturesquely tucked into their clay plots. They are the equivalent of large-eyed kittens or tumbling puppies. Without the poop.

As the weeks wear on, of course you learn they won’t stay that way forever, and no matter what your hopes and dreams are for them they will go their own ways. For one thing, the world is a dangerous place. This year’s long and wet and cold spring was too much for the lobelia and begonia — two of my last hopes for flowering plants on a balcony that is increasingly shady (I am not an impatiens fan). I had to say goodbye. It was a simple ceremony by the dumpsters.  I find my own way to come to terms with these things.

Others go wild or disappoint in a variety of ways. Case in point: the cherry tomato plants. They were growing like crazy, giving off fabulous showy foliage, but where were the blossoms?  My experiment with Dusty Miller failed miserably. I gave myself over to coleus and vines to replace the drama that the flowers could not deliver. My herbs were true as ever, they never fail me.

The cherry tomato plant has gone all out of control on me.

By now, it is no longer cute-puppy time. My litter has become sensitive, brooding and demanding. They pout when, God forbid, I miss a morning watering. They’re messy, leaving stray leaves and dead blossoms all over the place. They’re still beautiful, some in a kind of sprawling, geeky way, and I still love them. But they require more patience. I must have faith that it will all be worth it. The cherry tomato plants are the worst, refusing to go where they’re told and instead wandering off to awkward places where I’ll never be able to reach their fruit — which, yes, has finally started coming forth (raging hormones — you know).

We’ll see how it works out. Soon, the tomatoes will ripen and sweet potato vine will mature lushly. Already, the basil is starting to look a little weary. Everyone’s roots are outgrowing their pots. I suppose there is a metaphor about going off to college somewhere about now. I’ll refrain. It’s just that — I saw a pile of leaves in the gutter on my walk today. Summer is on the wane. I’m getting wistful.

You know, it’s really OK that I have to sweep up after them now and then. It’ll seem so quiet and dull when they’re gone.

View through the screen door this morning.

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Am I now a Midwesterner?

Evidence to suggest yes: Shameless lack of judgment while attending Wisconsin State Fair.

I was at a social/business event last night with people who had gathered from all around the country. I am always intrigued about first impressions of a place, so I got to talking about first impressions of Milwaukee (short answer: the conference rooms are about the same so far). All this where-ya-from talk led to a moment of shock for me.

“So how long have you lived in Wisconsin?”

“Um …” (doing the math in my head) “… OH MY GOD.”

“What, what? Did you forget something?”

“Twenty years!”


“I have. Lived in Wisconsin. For 20 years.”

It just kinda crept up on me, I guess.

I tossed and turned last night thinking about this. I always considered myself someone raised in New Jersey who moved around a bit and then decided to live in the midwest. But when you live in a place for 20 years, maybe it’s time to grow out of that.

How long does it take? Am I now a Midwesterner?


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