Tag Archives: retro

Supper club-themed concession stand opens at Kohl Center

Cheese curds, fish fry and open-faced prime rib sandwiches are now available at a stand at the Kohl Center modeled after a vintage Wisconsin supper club.

The unique concession stand includes a reclaimed red oak counter top with a red vinyl upholstered front, a cedar shake shingle roof and mood lighting.

There’s also a mounted fish and deer rack for decorations, along with a neon “Travel Wisconsin Supper Club” sign.

State Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett said “Where else on the planet will you find a supper club inside a sports arena?”

On the Web…

Travel Wisconsin news on the Kohl Center supper club.

Movies bring back the ‘50s with lessons for today

Fear of unexpected strikes from overseas. Battles over First Amendment rights. Simmering tensions of inequality.

It’s no wonder the 1950s are all over movie screens.

Whether by fortune or fate, movie theaters are alive with stories — from the communist witch hunt of Trumbo to the lesbian injustice of Carol — that plunge audiences back into the paranoia of the Cold War and the social suffocations of the decade synonymous with Eisenhower, the suburbs and the ever-present threat of the bomb. By returning to the ‘50s, filmmakers are finding stories that illuminate the politics of today.

First came Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a thriller that, at its heart, is about the justice America affords captured enemy combatants and the strength of a morally strong individual (Tom Hanks, who else?) to stand up against a national tide of overzealous patriotism.

After the 1957 capture of Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), James B. Donovan (Hanks) struggles to give Abel a legitimate legal defense, a right that few agree he deserves. The film’s second half, when American pilot Gary Powers is downed in the Soviet Union, serves as a reminder — with clear echoes for the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay — of the value of treating prisoners of war the way a nation would want its own POWs treated.

For Spielberg, who vividly recalls crouching under his desk at school during duck-and-cover drills, the time of his youth is linked to the present.

“There’s so much relevance between the late ‘50s and today,” Spielberg says. “I lived through the Cold War and I was very aware of the possibility of walking down the street and seeing a white flash and being atomized. I was very, very aware of what a tentative and insecure time it was, especially for young people.”

In Trumbo, director Jay Roach resurrects Hollywood’s darkest chapter, when Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston) and other screenwriters and directors — the Hollywood Ten — were blacklisted by the studios after refusing to answer questions about their involvement with the Communist Party posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Suspected of “un-American” political beliefs, hundreds of other artists were refused work for years. HUAC presaged U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade.

“There are periods of time when fear takes over, the last time being these last 14 years,” said Cranston, drawing a parallel to post-9/11 surveillance.

While the ‘50s climate of Trumbo was more feverish than it is today, recent rhetoric on Syrian refugees and the rights of Muslims in the United States has, for some, recalled the era’s pitched politics.

“In our political environment these days, the use of fear and outrage and victimization is very common,” Roach said. “I feel like it’s just as much a film about today as it is about what it was back then.”

Boycotts are also again being called for some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Police groups have said they will boycott Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight after the director protested police brutality. Tarantino has defended himself by citing his First Amendment rights.

“It’s still happening in different forms,” says Nikola Trumbo, daughter of Dalton Trumbo. “I mean African-American kids being shot by the police on a regular basis. This country building a wall to keep out our Latino neighbors is shocking and appalling. And then there’s Edward Snowden.”

Carol is director Todd Haynes’ second trip to the ‘50s following his Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven (2002), a story in the style of a Douglas Sirk melodrama about a Connecticut housewife (Julianne Moore) who discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay and begins an affair with a black man (Dennis Haysbert).

In Carol, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel first published under a pseudonym and titled The Price of Salt, Haynes again mines the tragedies of the decade’s social constrictions. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star as two women drawn together — a romance later cited in a “morality clause” when Blanchett’s husband seeks custody of their child.

“We probably are at our own peril underestimating how much was really brewing in the ‘50s that became evident in the ‘60s,” Haynes says. “There were a lot of questions being asked as well as a lot of anxieties and conformity being expressed.”

Those underlying strains are also at play in Brooklyn, the Colm Toibin adaptation about an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) who lands in a New York not so different from the midtown of Carol — one where both freedom and restriction surround women trying to go their own way.

That these films have arrived all in the space of a few weeks owes much to coincidence. (The script for Carol was first penned 18 years ago.) But after the stylish ‘50s resurrections of Mad Men and Tom Ford’s A Single Man, it’s apparent that no decade offers the same mysterious blend of convention and nonconformity, in quiet collision, as the ‘50s.

Polka making a comeback? It was never gone.

Website Urban Dictionary calls it the “new dance craze that’s sweeping the underground nation. So old school it’s cool.” So it must be true, right?

Come on, admit it. You love to polka.

And why not? “Anyone can get out on the floor and, as long as you don’t bump into anybody else, you’re fine,” says Rick March, folk art specialist for 26 years at the Wisconsin Arts Board. “The remarkable thing about it, as a music and dance tradition, is that literally millions of people, to some degree, participate in it — if only dancing once in a while at a wedding.”

Now retired, he and Dick Blau have co-authored Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka. It’s filled with myriad photos by Blau, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he co-founded the film department. 

The polka can be defined as the Wisconsin pop craze that never went away. Grandpa and grandma’s dance is now a favorite of hipsters in Madison and Milwaukee. Just look at Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall on the brewing capital’s south side, 1920 S. 37th St. 

“A lot of hipsters go there,” says March. “Some nights they’ll have surf rock, but they regularly feature polka, and it’s considered cool.” 

Primarily identified with German-Americans, polka’s also a big favorite among people of Mexican heritage. “This is where the big action is,” he says. “Of course, they modernize the music in certain ways. As immigrant music, it’s not surprising that the biggest group of immigrants have polka. I think what people don’t realize is that the polka came from Europe to all of North America,” including Mexico.

The history is sometimes bewildering. Believe it or not, at one time polka was downright naughty, the dirty dancing of its day.

That day was in the 1830s, as another dance fad was starting to fade. When introduced, the waltz was decried as licentious. England’s Blackwood’s Magazine observed that no father could “rejoice in seeing his daughter’s waist spanned by the arm of some deboshed (sic) dragoon.” By contrast, the earlier, courtly minuet offered only the thrill of touching hands — briefly.

“After a few decades, the waltz was no longer shocking,” says March. “It was accepted. So, as generations tend to do with pop culture, they had to up the ante in terms of outraging the sensibilities of their elders. The nice sliding 3/4-time in the waltz went to a rollicking 2/4-time with people jumping up and down in the polka.”

The polka exploded across Europe and soon spread to America. It wasn’t owned by any nationality and was considered mainstream. So popular was it that its name was taken up by all sorts of entrepreneurs who wanted their products to sound modern. Most are now forgotten — polka gauze, polka hat — except for the iconic polka dot pattern, of course.

There are two ways of looking at the polka. It’s both a dance and a rather ill-defined kind of music. You can do the movements to just about any quick song written in what musicians call “duple meter.” For example, you can easily dance a polka to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty Four” and even “On, Wisconsin!”

In fact, “On, Wisconsin!” was first published in 1909 as a march song and two-step, and the two-step is polka’s near-identical twin. “Basically, the two-step is the same rhythm,” notes March. “The only difference is that the dance involves two steps in a certain direction and two steps back. In polka it’s one step in the direction and one step back. It can be done as a very basic dance.”

Which is not to say that there hasn’t been an awful lot of music written especially for the polka dance. These days most of us may think of it sounding German. Or Czech, or Dutch, or Polish. It was only after the Civil War that Americans began to associate the polka with various ethnic groups.

As March writes in Polka Heartland, “When these immigrants left Europe, the polka was all the rage in their homelands.” They held onto it over time as a cherished tradition, while the rest of the United States let go. “It would be as if a group of Americans migrated to a distant country in 1960, when the twist was the latest dance fad, and they preserved twisting as an important part of their American cultural legacy for years to come.”

And polka’s still widespread. “There’s a polka scene in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas,” notes March. “The interesting thing about the western polka dancing is that the heads don’t bob up and down. You’ll see these guys with their cowboy hats, very smooth, with no bobbing up and down.”

Cream City comeback: Milwaukee developers reveal old brick

It’s in swanky new condos and historic old buildings, and it’s a focal point in new construction and renovation: Milwaukee’s once-forgotten signature, Cream City brick, has made a comeback.

“Oh, yeah, it’s everywhere,” Tony Torre said, pointing out downtown buildings made of the clean, golden-yellow bricks that stand out from common reds nearby.

“It’s a cool look to it, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Torre has worked in Milwaukee for decades and remembers when its Cream City brick buildings were largely neglected, blackened by pollution or torn down with little regard. Today, prompted by developers inclined to work with old materials, Cream City brick is a prized find.

“There’s been a crescendo of interest in urban living,” historian John Gurda said. It’s led to a “rebirth of interest in older parts of town. The rebirth of interest in Cream City brick goes along with that hand in glove.”

Rows and rows of beat-up, yellowish bricks sit on pallets near downtown in a gutted, old brewery. They’ll be spiffed up and featured prominently in a massive renovation that will turn the old Pabst bottling plant into dorms.

The bricks have been recovered from crumbling hulks too rundown to save. They’ll be used for interior accents and highlights and exterior patches in the building, which Zilber Ltd. plans to restore to look much like it did in its heyday about 100 years ago.

Developers who want to use cream bricks turn to salvaged materials, in part, because “nobody in their right mind would make Cream City bricks for use today,” Zilber spokesman Mike Mervis said.

University Wisconsin-Milwaukee architecture professor Matt Jarosz agreed. “You can make a beige brick, but it won’t be a true Cream City brick,” he said.

“The industry has moved on from the process,” he added, explaining the history of what he calls “the specific building material of Milwaukee.”

In the early to mid-1800s, it was too expensive to import brick, so people made it themselves in small factories. These brickworks used clay soil from the Milwaukee River, and discovered it produced light-colored bricks, Jarosz said.

The soil was high in dolomite, a form of limestone, and magnesium, which gives the bricks their signature hue, Gurda said. It initially was a source of embarrassment, but it quickly turned to a point of pride.

By the late 1800s, the brick was all over Milwaukee — “the whole city, the whole fabric was this” cream brick, Jarosz said — giving rise to the nickname “Cream City.”

“Everybody thinks ‘Cream City’ refers to America’s dairyland,” Gurda said, referring to Wisconsin’s status as “The Dairy State.” “No, it’s the brick.”

He also mentioned Milwaukee’s reputation as the “Beer Capital of the World,” saying the city’s first brickyard went up in 1836, four years before the first brewery.

But as quickly as Milwaukee gained a reputation for beautifully constructed cream buildings, it was gone. Industrial coal burning left the city in a constant haze of black soot. The bricks, which turned out to be very porous, absorbed the pollution, leaving them filthy.  

“In the shortest amount of time, Milwaukee went from this beautiful beige city to this black polluted place,” Jarosz said.

It would take decades for the preservation movement to gain traction, and Jarosz says the overwhelming majority of Cream City bricks have been lost through demolition.

Remaining old bricks are increasingly on display as developers seek to use old materials to reduce waste and tie new projects in with the past.

Firms such as Continuum Architects and Planners have been working on building projects that include cleaning dingy old bricks with a chemical process that’s less corrosive than sandblasting.

“As old buildings get renovated,” Ursula Twombly, of Continnum, said, “what used to be a black brick is revealed as a Cream City.”