Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:28 pm
Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward earned a place some years ago on the National Register of Historic Places as the city’s oldest center of commerce and warehousing. It was also the site of a fire that destroyed 16 square blocks of its riverfront commerce area back in 1892, and the site of an impressive rebuilding process that began almost immediately after the devastating fire.
Today, it’s home to more than 400 businesses and is the city’s showcase mixed-use district. It’s becoming a residential area known for its loft living spaces with more than 200 units in the Broadway Condominiums and Historic Riverwalk Plaza Condominiums — and many more scattered throughout the neighborhood.
It’s anticipated that new construction projects will more than double the units in the next few years. The ward also is home to more than 150 students in the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) dormitories.
MIAD can be found here, along with shops, restaurants, art galleries, graphic arts businesses and theater groups. Commission row fruit and vegetable companies that were formed in the late 1800s are still located there.
Walking to work
Bob and Lana Wiese, the Milwaukee couple who have run Studio Gear LLC, at 511 E. Chicago St., for the past 15 years, live one block away in a tastefully furnished condo. It’s in a fourth-floor loft in the old Posner Art Gallery building on the corner of Milwaukee and Chicago streets. The building was also home to MIAD some years ago. The lower three floors house a production company; above them are the condos of several neighbors.
They have four heated parking spaces in their garage but walk to work each day, where Lana has recently assumed the title of co-president.
Studio Gear, which has 15 full- and part-time employees, is a company providing speaker support to its clients, according to Bob Wiese.
"We supply AV equipment-lighting, microphones, podiums and the like for speakers at events or meetings. We also rent equipment, including broadcast quality cameras, and we install sound and video systems, plus screens and projectors for boardrooms and training facilities. We do engineering repair work for the equipment, as well, either on-site or at our facilities," he says.
"We’ve lived in the Third Ward for the last 12 years. Living and working here is awesome," Wiese says. "Before we moved here, we lived in a home in Brookfield but were attracted to the proximity of the lakefront and their business."
There are so many things to do in the area, he says. "We’re so close to the lake that we use our bicycles on the special bicycle path when the weather permits. The bike path goes from Summerfest north for about seven or eight miles. It’s an old railroad path that’s now paved with blacktop."
Sports fans that they are, Wiese and his wife are enthusiastic because they live close to all the sporting events in the city. "We walk to restaurants; within the next five years, we’re told that there may be five more quality restaurants located here. We’re near Summerfest, which we love. We’re near the Marcus Center. Our church is nearby."
During Summerfest, where Lana serves as a member of its board of directors, Wiese walks down there each day and brings food back to their condo and business.
"We try to do much of our shopping nearby," he says. "We patronize National Hardware and the Pick & Save at Juneau Village, but sometimes head out to Grasch Foods in Brookfield. When the public market that is in the works opens up next year, we’ll probably buy a lot of our groceries, meat and produce there."
Another Third Ward couple who are long-time residents of the neighborhood are Randy and Jane Nelson, owners of the popular Third Ward Cafe and the four-story building it’s situated in at 225 E. St. Paul Ave.
"We’ve lived in this building for almost 22 years – we moved in when we opened our restaurant – and have owned the building for about 28 years," says Randy Nelson. "Before our Nelson Development Co. owned the building, it was owned by a produce vendor. We live upstairs and have 13 tenants. The fourth floor, where we live, is residential. There are three other apartments there. And the second and third floors house business offices. Our first floor is retail, including our restaurant and a new restaurant that will open soon."
The Nelson home is a typical, 3,000-square-foot loft, he says. "Nothing spectacular," he says modestly. "We have brick walls, 16-foot-tall ceilings, contemporary furniture and art work, white walls and stainless steel appliances. It’s kind of a work in progress. Now that our children are grown and moving out on their own, we may tear some walls down and open up space. As an architect by education and experience, I’ve been involved in our various remodeling projects over the years."
Despite their proximity to Summerfest, Nelson and his wife aren’t big fans of the event. "Although things have improved in recent years, we’ve been victimized by vandalism and graffiti a number of times by people walking past our location, heading for the lakefront. So much so that now we close the restaurant during Summerfest and vacation at our farm in Door County. All in all, we like living and working in the Third Ward, but it’s nice to have Door County as a getaway place."
The Nelsons enjoy their proximity to the plays at the Off Broadway and Skylight theaters in their neighborhood, as well as the plays held in downtown Milwaukee.
They also like shopping at the Third Ward’s Private Gardener (for gardening tools and flowers), Ecole (for home accessories and bric-a-brac) and clothing stores such as Lela’s on Broadway. "And we shop occasionally The Grand Avenue, but not a lot."
As residents, they do find parking in the Third Ward to be a "hassle" without garage parking. "We get annual parking permits from the city, but that’s complicated by the parking restrictions that require we park on alternate sides of the street. Even with permits, if you park on the wrong side of the street, you get ticketed. And snow routes also complicate things."
Where do they go to dine outω Naturally, the Third Ward Cafe is one of their favorite spots. But they also eat at most of the other restaurants in the area. "And we try every new restaurant that opens here. It’s always good to know what the competition is doing."