From 1895 until 1899, the tallest inhabited structure in the world was Milwaukee’s City Hall, a building noted for its Flemish design and landmark qualities. Towering more than 300 feet, it was a pioneering building in an era as elevators finally were becoming practical. The building’s design has been heralded and it still stands as a trademark of Wisconsin’s largest city.
While much has been said of its architecture, little has been said of the workers who braved unheard of heights to build the building; also little has been told of its derivation, and the fact that it was constructed through the resolve of Milwaukee working people and their early unions and progressive citizens.
It has been for Chuck Baumbach, of Mill Valley, California, to remind us of these facts and the dramatic history involved in the making of the City Hall. His grandfather, Charles Baumbach, was one of the masons who worked on the building; the grandfather was also a strong unionist. To honor his grandfather, Chuck spent numerous hours researching the efforts that went into building City Hall, and the historic events that led up to its construction.
On Nov. 2, 2009, the Milwaukee County Historical Society held a reception to herald the opening of exhibit that shows the history of the construction of the City Hall and it’s major remodeling that was completed earlier in the year. Baumbach presented a replica of a typical icon (or gargoyle) as a way to honor the workers who constructed this historic building. He noted the courage and skill of such workers who toiled on the towering structure in the days re modern construction methods.