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Taken Aback by Pabst
A day at the Pabst site, cameras and pens in hand.

Photos by Mark Wahl

I’ve found the most buried-from-mind buildings while cursing my GPS and praying I didn't turn up another one-way street.

A few years ago, that happened with the Pabst brewery. Finding it was an accident. And once I did, I stood there gawking over this city of bricks, wanting learn more about this piece of Milwaukee history. 

With the recent talk about  bringing back Pabst, I wanted even more to get inside these old buildings. Although the restoration efforts at the site are impressive, I wanted to see the dustiness that once was Pabst—the areas that are closed off because of safety and uncertainty. Those that leave you thinking “I could probably use a hard hat right about now.”

Below are some things we ran across. 

From the outside looking in. Those searching for work at Pabst would line up at this window, filling out and handing in job applications. Through the window you can see the human resources offices. It wasn’t uncommon to be hired on the spot. After applying and being accepted, applicants would continue past this doorway to the infirmary for a physical.  
The building is a former Milwaukee Public School, Jefferson Elementary, built in 1858. 

We are standing in the nurses' quarters of the 1880 Pabst Corporate Office Building. If you  look through the door on the right, you see directly into the doctor’s office. A few weeks ago, the room filled with stretchers, old lamps and medical equipment. It’s since been cleaned out.

This looks more like one of Marshal Dillon’s cells in Gunsmoke, but it’s not. Medicine and medical equipment were housed in these parts. 

Employee lockers have been left untouched inside the Pabst Corporate Office Building, built in 1880.  

Behind this doorway, you can see a boarded-up gate. This was the carriage landing for Captain Fredrick Pabst. As his carriage would arrive, the doorman would let down the gate to allow entry. 

Best Place owner, Jim Haertel, left a pack of beer in a downstairs fridge. He came back to find the beer missing. He lurked around the building to find a homeless man sleeping in this room, beer cans strew around him. After a heart-to-heart, the man told him he needed a place to stay just for two weeks (and that he 'd already been residing there for two months anyways). Haertel said sure, but he had to keep the place safe and the riff raff out. Haertel also learned the room, with its several windows flowing with natural light, was much warmer. He took note and started working out of the warmer office location. 
“I learned it from the homeless guy.”

What a view from The Grain Silos. We're about 150 feet up in the air. You can see for miles. Our chariot to this landing was a seemingly-ancient freight elevator. 

You might recognize this building. The Laverne and Shirley intro made this 1890's Bottling Building famous. Some may wonder about the name "Pabst Blue Ribbon." Back in the day, Pabst workers attached silk, blue ribbons by hand to every bottle of Pabst Select beer that was produced. By 1892, the brewery was buying over 300,000 yards of silk every day.

The First German Methodist Church was built in 1872. We walked through the dark building, flashlights in hand. It's breathtaking. After Pabst bought the building, the lower level housed the Forst Keller Restaurant. The top was used as an employee assembly space.  

 I ventured to Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub on a Friday night and walked  upstairs to the  Brewhouse copper kettles. There was a man admiring the once-were machinery, and he was holding a photo album. He had worked this kettle in the 1990’s. We flipped through the old album (he rocked some pretty sweet facial hair with his Pabst duds back then). He laughed and reminisced on the good ol’ days. His eyes darted around the now-elaborate, former Pabst factory floor as he said “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry." 

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