A present-day upholstery shop was once the beating heart of Wisconsin’s political life.
On an afternoon in October, classical music is playing at Iannelli’s Custom Shoppe in Downtown Milwaukee, and Mike Iannelli, a compact, mustachioed man with a Velcro brace on his forearm, is hard at work at upholstery. Around him, workbenches and containers are filled with tacks and nails, cushions and spools of thread, and partially disassembled chairs. The building on Broadway is high and narrow, with a tall first floor, a second level and a dim basement. Iannelli’s father bought the storefront in 1977, when it was “a filthy hole,” he says. “My mother wouldn’t even come in here.”
Its previous incarnation was The Lake View Lounge, a downtrodden bar. But its poor condition belied a rich history, hidden beneath a layer of dirt, as Snyder’s Marble Hall (after founder Fred Snyder), where an opulent white marble bar was a gathering place for the state’s political class, ranging from low-level operatives to governors.
According to a 1933 Wisconsin News story, a Milwaukee mayor once “walked into Marble Hall leading a cab horse,” and one patron, U.S. Sen Matthew Carpenter (d. 1881), was immortalized with an oil portrait above the bar. Upstairs, customers engaged in gambling and bet on political races.
The building was originally four stories, but two were removed after a 1933 fire. Following a fire in 2001, repairs revealed a large skylight at the rear of the first floor, decorated with painted plants and flowers and a large pair of wall paintings that would have flanked the bar. The original checkered slate and marble floor is still in place as well, underneath the current tiles. Iannelli isn’t sure what happened to the original bar, which is now gone.
According to the Wisconsin News, Marble Hall held holiday dinners where the business and political elite rubbed elbows.
“It must have really been something,” Iannelli says. ◆