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For Milwaukee's Latino Community, There Are No Historically Designated Landmarks

Vacant land along National Ave.
Angelina Mosher Salazar
/
WUWM
A vacant lot on National Ave., a main street that runs through the heart of Milwaukee's near south side.

This story originally aired on April 2, 2021.

Milwaukee is brimming with historical landmarks. The opulent victorian mansion of Pabst Brewery's Frederick Pabst is just one example. Even the Wisconsin Historical Society’s building is, you guessed it, historic. Originally built as the the Second Ward Savings Bank, the 1913 building is outfitted with a mezzanine, atrium and scagliola columns, which make marble columns look pedestrian.

With the first Latinos arriving over a hundred years ago and the community making up almost 20% of Milwaukee residents, Bubbler Talk inquirer Eloisa Gomez wanted to know: "In the Latino community, what and where are the historic landmarks that people can go to to get a better sense of the local Latino history?"

In the Latino community, what and where are the historic landmarks that people can go to to get a better sense of the local Latino history?
Eloisa Gomez, Bubbler Talk Question Asker

After coming up empty on Tripadvisor, and any Google search for “Milwaukee Historic Landmarks." Finally, I mined the official repository of historic landmarks, but came up empty there as well. So finally I consulted the experts.

But, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society the answer to Gomez’s question is: There are none. Kara R. O’Keeffe, director of communications for the foundation, says, “We don’t have any designated sites specifically identified for their Latino history.”

As a reporter who covers the Latino community, I have to admit I was surprised to learn that there are no historical landmarks to reflect the history and impact of Milwaukee’s Latino community. But, Marquette University assistant professor Sergio González, Ph.D., was not.

Latinos aren’t largely considered part of Wisconsin's history, he says. “The way in which we recognize specific places as being historically relevant in many ways dictates what we think is important about who we are as a people. And the fact that Latinos don't have any recognized place in the National Register speaks to that larger forgetting of a century-long history of our people in the state,” says González.

"And the fact that Latinos don't have any recognized place in the National Register speaks to that larger forgetting of a century-long history of our people in the state."
Sergio González, Assistant Professor of Latinx Studies at Marquette University

González, who specializes in the history of the development of Latino communities in the U.S. Midwest, says the process of actually making something a historic landmark is one reason Milwaukee Latino’s don’t have one to claim as their own. “It's a lot of paperwork, it requires a certain amount of expertise. Oftentimes, the process of actually placing a building or a location on the National Register is done through a company that has to be hired out that does the research and fills out the paperwork,” he explains.

Another barrier to get a place designated as historic is the requirement that the nominations have to come organically from the community.

Jeremy Ebersole is executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, which works to help people overcome the convoluted process of historic preservation. “This is not meant to be a top-down system. It is not meant to be a system where a certain population is able to enforce their idea of significance on to a different population," he says.

The idea is that historical sites represent places that are important to the public, Ebersole says. “Worthy preservation is not about preserving only certain types of significances, only certain populations, stories — anyone in this city can and should be willing to submit a nomination for a building, if that place is important to your community," he says.

Bubbler Talk asker Eloisa Gomez is a history buff, she served on the Latino Historical Society of Milwaukee Board (which no longer exists). But as a Mexican Milwaukeean whose family was part of many early community gatherings, the question she asked is personal.

“I think we all do want those roots. And so if we don't do things like that, we lose something of personal value to us — individually, as a family and as a larger community,” Gomez says.

It’s true there are no historically designated landmarks for the Milwaukee Latino community but there are efforts underway locally to change that. Here are just two:

  • Milwaukee Preservation Alliance has teamed up with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee criminal justice graduate students and are working on a historic designation process. “We're mapping the designated historic sites in the city as they relate to a number of factors, including race, so we can see exactly which communities do not have historic sites within them and focus our outreach in that way," says Jeremy Ebersole. The final product is due in May.
  • The Historic Preservation Office in Madison has partnered with Marquette University for the Hispanic Milwaukee Preservation Project. “We are giving this work over to our undergraduates to start laying the groundwork to bring preservation approval to the table,” says Sergio González. The idea is that the students will talk to community members to figure out what places are important to Latino history and need to be recognized on the register.

Anybody can nominate a site for historic recognition in Milwaukee.

  1. Submit a nomination form. It costs $25. The alderperson for the district in which the building or district is located may have the fee waived.
  2. Nomination then goes before the Historic Preservation Commission generally at their next meeting, which happens every month.
  3. If they recommend designation, it goes to the Zoning Neighborhoods and Development Committee at their next meeting.
  4. And then it would go to the Common Council at their next meeting.
  5. It’s generally a two to five month process.

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Corrected: April 5, 2021 at 1:53 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Milwaukee Preservation Alliance has teamed up with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping students. The alliance has teamed up with UWM criminal justice students.
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