Why I Love Milwaukee: An Appreciation of the Bygone

Adam Levin, 46, is the curator of Old Milwaukee – not the historic beer but the Facebook group with some 40,000 members. Up next, Levin plans to publish a book, Fading Ads of Milwaukee, this spring.

I actually know the moment I fell in love with Milwaukee. About 20 years ago, I found this photo of the Lake Front Depot, a train station that was torn down four years before I was born. The Milwaukee Art Museum now stands in its place.

Looking at that photo, I immediately became fascinated. I was like, “Wow, it looked like that back then? Why isn’t that still there?”

It’s also how I retroactively fell in love with the neon sign from the East Side’s old Oriental Drugs. Mid-century signs like it are becoming extinct from landscapes all over the country.

Last year, I posted on Facebook to see if anyone knew what had become of the sign. To my surprise, I heard back. Somebody had it tucked away in storage in West Allis, having snatched it from a dumpster over a decade ago.

Adam Levin finally finds the Oriental Drugs sign, sharing the moment in the Old Milwaukee Facebook he runs.

I got to share pictures of it, resurrecting this monument from the grave of memory, even for a brief social media moment.

I get a little annoyed whenever someone tells me I’m living in the past. I’m not. I have an iPhone, I don’t dress like it’s the 1960s. It’s just an appreciation – an appreciation shared by thousands of Milwaukeeans.

For archivists like me, we don’t want to be constantly reminded of how things aren’t the same. There are places that aren’t around anymore, and there’s no place to remember them other than through photos.

— Adam Levin, as told to Adam Rogan

Did you like this story? Check out our previous Why I Love Milwaukee stories.



Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan