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The Wisconsin (Milwaukee) Gas Building - 1930

Wisconsin Gas

Entrance to the Gas Building

Top of the Winsconsin Gas Building

Summit of the Milwaukee Gas Building - both images courtesy of roadarch.com

The Wisconsin Gas Building was designed by Eschweiler & Eschweiler and completed in 1930. A weather beacon shaped like a gas flame was added to the roof in 1956**. The flame is 21 feet tall and continues to be lit according to the weather forecast. Red indicates warmer weather, gold for colder weather, blue for no change, and flickering to indicate snow or rain.

**It's a bit of an abomination and wasn't going to grace this page, but it is unavoidably visible in the image showcasing the beautiful geometric brickword design at the top of the building - no thought was obviously given to this 'gimmick' other than to be a gimmick as it makes no effort to echo aything remotely art deco/moderne!

Image provenance, courtesy and © lizcarverdesign

History

Designed by the local Eschweiler & Eschweiler architectural firm, the Wisconsin Gas Building (also known as the Milwaukee Gas Light Building) opened in 1930. Located at 626 E. Wisconsin Ave., the Art Deco building originally served as headquarters for the Milwaukee Gas Light Company. Rising 20-stories, to a height of 250 feet, the building is a staple of Milwaukee’s skyline. Utilizing an average of 1,000 builders a day, it took only a year to complete. The building’s design is distinguished by its prominent bronze sunburst motif, the graduated setbacks of the upper floors, and the fade in brick color towards the top, which lends the impression of a much larger structure. In the 1950s, the entire building underwent a significant 5-year renovation project. During this time, the lobby sacrificed some of its space, and some of its aesthetic punch, to the data processing department. The lobby’s original twin staircases were also hidden behind walls, though the extensive use of green marble and bronze metalwork inside remains an impressive tribute to the original Art Deco design. During this renovation period, the building gained its most iconic feature—the 21-foot GAS COMPANY FLAME on top. The flame served as a weather forecast to city residents and a navigational light to vessels on Lake Michigan.

Paul Weise purchased the building from Wisconsin Energy Corp. in 2002 and immediately began a restoration project with Eppstein Uhen Architects. Weise was careful to update the building’s accommodations without sacrificing the original Art Deco vision, as evidenced by the preservation of some of the company’s original offices and boardrooms. Indeed, he took many steps to undo some previous remodeling that camouflaged the original style. This effort is even noticeable to passing pedestrians, who may see a reproduction of the original bronze sunburst above the entryway, the original of which was removed in the 1960s.

There is, however, one major loss that will never be regained through restorations. The Prohibition-era speakeasy previously on the site was demolished when the new building was constructed in 1930. Source and full article here

From Urban Milwaukee :

The Wisconsin Gas Building is an historic office building in Downtown Milwaukee. The building is sometimes referred to as the Milwaukee Gas Light Company Building. It is a well-known building for its weather flame on top, which signals the expected change in temperature tomorrow.

A common saying is used to understand what the flame is indicating…

"When the flame is red, it’s warm weather ahead!
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold!
When the flame is blue, there’s no change in view!
When there’s a flickering flame, expect snow or rain!"

From Guides to Historic Milwaukee: Juneautown Walking Tour by Mary Ellen Pagel and Virginia Palmer (1965)…

This is an excellent example of the cubical** architectural forms, ornamented with stylized, geometrical motifs popular in America during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The weather flame atop the Milwaukee Gas Light Company is visible for several miles after dark. For passersby on the street, the company has placed an identical flame in the lobby. A gold flame forecasts cold or cooler weather; read means hot or warmer; blue indicates no change; flashing forecasts precipitation.

** never heard of this type of description before maybe they mean 'cubist' but may have felt that sounded to 'cuban'?

New Ferry Building - Ellis Island 1934

The new Ferry Building was designed by Charles Delano of Delano & Aldrich. It was built in 1934

When we visited New York and took the ferry to Liberty Island, we went via Ellis Island which we didn't know anything about prior to our visit. I was immediately struck at its 'Germanic' appearance and wonder how the refugees and those persecuted by the Nazi regime reacted to this place as they sailed passed 'Lady Liberty' and were decamped here for 'processing'.

Brief history : Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892 and was closed on November 12, 1954. The original architects of the buildings were Edward Lippincott Tilton and William Alciphron Boring. More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. As with all national parks and national monuments, it is automatically placed on the National Register. Interestingly the Supreme Court in 1998 determined that only the original portion of Ellis Island (approximately the Main Building) is in the jurisdiction of New York City and the State of New York. The rest of the island (all landfill) was deemed part of Jersey City and the State of New Jersey.

I was however fascinated by this, by then, derelict building. Soon after we visited, the 'Save Ellis Island' was launched.

Pan Pacific Auditorium - 1935

Even if you haven't heard of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, one look at its 'iconic' (in a par with the old Wembley Stadium) towers, resembling old fashioned power plugs will remind you that you know the 'look'. I have long been fascinated by the quirkiness of the design which is why it merits a place in my 'Interesting Art Deco' section. Considering the love and attention lavished on the frontage (to pull in the crowds I suppose) the inside is decidedly plain (see the Motor show crowds below reminiscent of the interior of Earls Court). Disney, at least, thought its memory was worthy of being preserved and has created a replica in his Californian Theme Park - needless to say, this is yet another example of the relentless and devastating loss of, in particular, streamline moderne architecture!

Pan Pacific Auditorium 1937

Pan Pacific Auditorium 1935

Exterior view of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, located at 7600 Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax district - circa 1937

Pan-Pacific Auditorium - circa 1940

People arriving for an event at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium - circa 1940

Pan-Pacific Auditorium - circa 1940

People head back to their cars as an event lets out at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium - circa 1940

Pan Pacific Exterior 1937

A man reads a newspaper on the bench while people arrive for the silver jubilee auto show, held in October 1937 at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium. A sign on the far right indicates the dealers' entrance.

Interior of Pan Pacific hosting Car Show 1935

Interior view of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium showroom floor at the L.A. Auto Show of 1935

Icecapades at the Pan-Pacific

Showing its versatility - Interior view of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium during the Ice Capades circa 1940

The Water & Power Associates have created an excellent on-line museum where they very knowledgeably showcase art deco and streamline moderne buildings and the site is worth a lengthy visit - I discovered the Programmatic-Style thanks to them and they have contributed the lions' share of historical information on the Pan Pacific.

History

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium opened on May 18, 1935. Its green and white western-facing 228 foot long facade featured four stylized towers and flagpoles meant to represent upswept aircraft fins above the entrance.

Colour image Pan Pacific Auditorium 1940s

It is tricky to source a colour image from the time period and even to work out the hue as in latter years to appears to be more olive green than the almost 'sea green with hints of blue' that it may have started off with - this image is courtesy & © of the Los Angeles Magazine

Orange version of the Pan Pacific Auditorium

Orange version of the Pan Pacific Auditorium exterior

Unusual to see a variation of orange/brown colouring - was this intentional or an undercoat? - Images courtesy of martinostimemachine

The Auditorium which was a major Los Angeles expression of Streamline Moderne architectural style was designed by architects Wurdemann & Becket. The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was constructed by brothers Clifford and Philip Henderson who were convinced that Los Angeles needed a convention or public facility to accommodate the annual automobile show and a wide variety of cultural, recreational and sports events. In 1937, Errett Lobban Cord purchased the Pan-Pacific. He was known for his prominence in the automotive industry who moved to Los Angeles to retire, halting production of his vehicles and shifting his focus to the Pan-Pacific Auditorium and other entertainment and electronics industry endeavors.

With all the many Streamline Moderne houses and structures popping up in the 30s, many say the Pan Pacific Auditorium really was the single most famous Streamline Moderne building in Los Angeles. The exterior of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was a masterpiece in Streamline Moderne design with its four towers reaching skyward that resembled aircraft fins. Behind the glorious facade, however, was a more modest wooden structure that was more of a sprawling gymnasium; there was little remarkable about the design of the interior that was 100,000 square feet and could seat up to 6,000 patrons. The fact that it was wooden (highly flammable) is what eventually made its fiery demise possible.

The first event held at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was the 1935 Home Show. The show was aimed at hyping then-President Roosevelt's signing of the Title I legislative act "which authorized government loans" to aid homeowners with repairs and renovations. For 35 years, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was home to a multitude of events, ranging from auto, boat and home shows to sporting events like hockey games, basketball (Harlem Globetrotters included), concerts, and political events like a dinner for Eisenhower and Nixon, and many more. The Pan-Pacific would host the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, serve as home to the Los Angeles Monarchs of the Pacific Coast Hockey League along with UCLA ice hockey, UCLA men's basketball, USC men's basketball, professional tennis, car shows, political rallies and circuses. During the 1940s it was used for audience-attended national radio broadcasts and in the 1950s for televised professional wrestling shows.

At its height, most major indoor events in Los Angeles were held at the Pan-Pacific. Leopold Stokowski conducted there in 1936, 1950s actress Jeanne Crain was crowned "Miss Pan-Pacific" there in the early 1940s, General Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to a beyond-capacity crowd of 10,000 in 1952 a month before being elected President of the United States, Elvis Presley performed there in 1957 shortly before he was drafted into the Army and Vice President Richard Nixon addressed a national audience from the Pan-Pacific in November 1960.

In 1971, the Los Angeles Convention Center opened and essentially rendered the Pan-Pacific Auditorium utterly useless. By 1972, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium dwindled in use, and, after some small expos in the spring, finally shut its doors for good.

Daytime image of the Disney replica

Daytime view of the Disney replica using a much brighter turqouise green hue.

Today, you can see a re-creation of the Pan-Pacific as the ticket office at Disney's California Adventures. Source : Water & Power.org

Disney Tribute to the Pan Pacific Auditorium

Disney remake of the stylized towers

Image courtesy and © of atomicredhead.com

She writes "As for the changes being made to California Adventure, they are certainly for the better.  The new entrance looks exactly like the old Pan Pacific Auditorium, and is simply stunning, especially when lit up at night… The ideas behind the changes are to make California Adventure feel more like Disneyland and a true theme park, as opposed to an amusement park.  The park is getting an idealized pre-war Los Angeles facelift complete with red car trollies and the Carthy Circle Theater where Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered."

Pan Pacific Remembered

1930s Replica

A 1930s model by Replica Buildings

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was located at 7600 West Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles and was completed in 1935. This building was designed by Wurdeman and Becket Architects. The Pan-Pacific was destroyed by fire in 1989 and the site is now Pan-Pacific Park with a smaller version of the once famous Auditorium. This pewter replica’s base measures 3-3/4 inches long and 1-7/8 inches wide and is finished in new pewter with gold highlights. Source : Replica Buildings and InFocusTech.com

Lego Replica

Up to the minute 21st century Lego replica

The majestic Pan-Pacific Auditorium stood in Los Angeles, California from 1935 until it was destroyed by a fire in 1989. In its heyday its iconic Art-Deco design and spacious interior made it a fantastic location to hold automobile shows, political rallies and sporting events to entertain and wow the local population.Sadly, in 1972 a larger venue opened up in the area forcing the Pan-Pacific Auditorium to close and decay for the rest of its life, but it still lives on as an iconic building in the memories of countless people and to those who enter the various Disney theme parks that use the iconic spires in the design of their entrances.

The most notable event in the building's history came in 1980 when it was featured in the musical-film Xanadu. In the film a muse inspires a struggling artist and a musician turned construction mogul into purchasing the building and renovate into a nightclub roller-disco.  The film while a failure in theaters has gone on to become a cult classic, starring Olivia Newton-John and dance-legend Gene Kelly.  The interior is meant to reflect the roller-disco of Xanadu, with a dance floor with DJ station, as well as a small refreshments bar and a check-in/skate rental station.  The high-bay/roof section is designed to lift off for easy access to the interior, as well the two smaller roofs over the stations.  Optional to the design is a "Xanadu" sign to mount on the roof over the exterior entryway. Source : Lego

Programmatic-Style Buildings - The Coffee Pot

I have to say that 'programmatic-style' buildings is a new one on me - but there is a fabulous web-site run by the Water & Power Associates who feature some of the most bizarre Californian buildings from the 'Art Deco' Period - as I love coffee - here are two coffee-themed buildings.

Coffee Cup programmatic-style building

View of the Coffee Cup Cafe located at 8901 Pico Boulevard. A giant coffee cup and saucer sit on top of the cafe structure.

Coffee Pot programmatic-style building left viewCoffee Pot programmatic-style building right view

Close-up views of the Wilshire Coffee Pot restaurant, located at 8601 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  The building has a coffee pot on the roof with advertisement for: Ben-Hur Delicious Drip Coffee. 

Coffee Pot programmatic-style building panorama

View showing a car in the parking lot of the Wilshire Coffee Pot restaurant. The restaurant and coffee shop was located at 8601 Wilshire Boulevard, on the northwest corner of Stanley Drive and Wilshire Blvd. A giant coffee pot sits on top of the building. Ben-Hur Coffee is featured.
Images courtesy and © of the Water & Power Associates

Background

Los Angeles is known around the world for its programmatic or mimetic type architecture.  The style rose to prominence after the wild success of the Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926.  This giant object spawned at least 75 other roadside structures in the region shaped like animals, food or vehicles.  These specimens were portrayed in popular media as lining LA streets and, along with the booming artist community, health food fads and creative expression of religion, added to Southland’s reputation as a bastion of eccentricity in the early part of the 20th century.  The golden age of programmatic architecture was the interwar years (1918-1941), giving us several of the most bazaar-looking buildings, some of which still stand today.

Programmatic architecture momentarily dotted the Greater Los Angeles landscape as it catered to the area’s expanding car culture and commuters by utilizing a commercial building’s architecture to advertise what products consumers could expect to find inside. The programmatic style of architecture was highly influenced by the exponential rise of the automobile, a trend that grew through the post-war era.

Historical Notes

In the 1920s, as the automobile was becoming the default way to get around Los Angeles, buildings and structures in the area became more unique, often resembling the merchandise or services they hawked.  These “hey-you-can’t miss-me!” buildings (referred to as Novelty or Programmatic architecture) were made to pull automobile drivers right off the road.

Source : Water & Power Associates

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Page updated : 20th March 2017