Urban caving: “Honest John” from Schlosser fittings


Artist Reginald Baylor recently opened his new studio at 211 W. Florida St. in Walker’s Point in a low-rise two-story building that actually has three addresses: 211, 215, and 219. But more importantly, this two-story building. rather modest appearance, also carries many years and a really interesting history. (Note: The art studio is no longer located in this building.)

For many years, more recently, the building – with its two commercial spaces downstairs and two apartments upstairs – has served, apparently intermittently, and without much appeal, as a store for tropical fish.

In recent years, according to co-owner Dieter Wegner – who owns a number of buildings at Walker’s Point, including those housing Movida and the new Walker’s Point Music Hall – the building has been “passively neglected and actively ruined”.


Before. (PHOTO: Ryan Pattee)

When Wegner saw the place less than a year ago, he was his friend and fellow developer Ryan Pattee, who said, “I’ve always wanted to do a project at Walker’s Point.”

“I said, ‘you have to do something with the place,'” Wegner adds. When Pattee calls out, “I said, ‘let’s do it together’,” Wegner retorts, “I said no.

“It took him two weeks to convince me.


Before. (PHOTO: Ryan Pattee)

Part of the appeal of the place, which was built in 1865 for the new owners, was the building’s long and rather unique history as a ship’s fittings – a store that supplied ships calling in Milwaukee. – led by John H. Schlosser, pictured below on the front steps, for decades.

Honest John Schlosser

“Honest John” Schlosser was born in Prussia around 1846 and arrived in Milwaukee with his family around 1850, where he attended school. When Schlosser was 14, his father “hired him” at a merchant on the corner of 3rd and Florida streets.

Honest John in front of his shop (upstairs) and behind the counter (downstairs),
with his son Frank, second from right.

Schlosser would later recall that his clerk work earned him $ 48 the first year and double the next. He told a newspaper in 1932 that he used the money he earned during his five years as a clerk to buy 10 acres of land and build a log cabin there for his parents.

At the age of 20, Schlosser wanted – but not the money he had earned (see above) – to go out on his own. So he teamed up with a guy from Burlington to open a grocery store in a space rented from his former employer.

After about a year Schlosser will remember that in 1932 the landlord wanted his place back, so “I took this place. It was an old warehouse, owned by Fifth Ward Bank. My partner (from Burlington) was meanwhile sold to me.I have been here for – 65 years.

Schlosser appears to have entered the shipbuilding business rather by accident, but also quite quickly, according to a 1923 newspaper article about his company titled “The Sea-Going Grocery Wagon:”

“This ocean delivery has been going on for 57 years,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Magazine. “In 1866, John H. Schlosser … was selling groceries to the families of the lake sailors who lived on the south side. What could be more natural than the captains asking the grocer to deliver supplies to the schooners and the bricks that put in Milwaukee harbor with cedar poles cluttering up their bridges.

“Years have passed, the captains have moved to the south side; the family grocery business declined, while the maritime business increased. John Schlisser supplied flour to a steam-driven ship … the timber fleets of yesteryear, and the iron fleets that ply the lakes today, both are on the books of the old grocery store. In the small office where John J. Schlosser is working on a ledger, pictures of famous sailboats. the good sailors who took them out.

“When a storm pushes the passing ships into the port of refuge, Schlosser’s launch runs out of supplies. Around Christmas time, when shipping is finally closed, the Florida Street grocery store takes on character. from a comfortable harbor. The captains of the lake come to visit their old friend, John H. Schlosser. The cooks come because the captains are there. Many ships set their cook for next season in the same place they are. When spring arrives, the 30 or 40 ships that have wintered in Milwaukee, equip themselves, then the launch removes everything from olive oil blankets and beeswax pillow cases. ”

Business must have been pretty good from the start because in 1867 Schlosser added an expansion to his Florida Street building, Pattee and Wegner speculate that, based on the construction evidence they found during the renovation, the addition was vertical, adding a second story, rather than horizontal.

Two views of the Schlosser launch on the water.

Schlosser also became well known in the community over the years and was a shareholder of German-American Bank located on 2nd and National.

Pattee’s research for a historic sign on the building helps add more detail to Schlosser’s story …

“His first contract was to provide a government revenue cutter (revenue cutters were the forerunners of today’s US Coast Guard). Dennis Sullivan, who was the master of the schooner Moonlight, sent him several captains of ships to trade with. It marked the beginning. Schlosser’s long career in supplying schooners and steamboats.

Schlosser invested in a property in Thompson, Upper Michigan. The land was periodically cut down and the trees sold. In November 1912, the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons, also known as the “Tree Ship Christmas, “made its final stop at Schlosser’s Land in Thompson to collect Christmas trees for Chicago families. It sank in a storm off Two Rivers, never reaching its destination.

(PHOTOS: Magazine section of the Milwaukee Journal, December 9, 1923)

It appears that Schlosser may have started working in the shipping industry when he was in his first job.

“It was either in ’64 or in ’65, ‘he told a reporter in 1932,’ that I crossed to deliver groceries to a schooner at Goodley’s wharf on the southwest side of Michigan. This schooner was carrying returnable lumber to a Milwaukee. The merchant, RB Fitzgerald, I remember, had a fleet of schooners and David Vance did too, but that was much later. Back then 1,000 tonnes of coal was a big cargo – today 15,000 tonnes , it is not at all.

“We had a lot of time to store the wild boars back then – they would come and moor for several days. They were unloaded by horses. It wasn’t like today. Why, sometimes now we only have a few hours to store a boat. ”

“In the beginning, we didn’t sell milk to ships at all. Corned beef, salt pork, hardtack, that was what the crews had to eat – and the stewards (they were then called “cooks”) baked the bread. Today we sell they are everything – whole cases of oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, bunch bananas, fresh vegetables, fresh bread, even ice cream! Sometimes we get a call for coal – the flight attendants use it for cooking. We don’t stock that, of course, in the grocery business, but we have a rowboat and bring it to the boat. ”

“Often boats are outside (the harbor), lying there, waiting to come in. They have to be provisioned and for this job we keep a high powered speedboat. A captain came to see me last summer – m. ‘recalled the time I waited two hours in the drizzle until he could dock to get two gallons of milk and six loaves of bread. He was captain of the city of Berlin and when he got me called, he asked if I could get things down to him for supper – he was on his way to Commerce Street to unload some coal. Everyone had come home. I was alone. I took it. the streetcar. When I got there, no boat. I waited an hour. When it whistled for the Holton Street Viaduct, it took an hour for it to get enough steam to pass. waited, however, for him to land and take his milk and his bread!

This is the sort of thing that got Schlosser nicknamed “Honest John”.

After Schlosser

Alas, no one lives forever, although it looked like Honest John could get by and he passed away, aged 88, still working, in 1934. His son Frank took over until his death in 1940 and 1943 the family sold on a land contract with Jacob “Jack” Gronik, who continued in the food business until the late 1950s, when the Jack Gronik company moved to 1361 W. North Ave. , at one point becoming an “edible nut business”.

Tragically, Gronik and his wife Ada died in a fire at their Fox Point home in 1965, with faulty wiring blamed as the culprit. Gronik had paid off the Florida Street land contract a few years earlier.

After the grocery store on Florida Street closed, a number of businesses came and went, including Mik-Wood Specialty and Wachter Leather cabinetmaking in the 1960s and 1970s, Jonathan Voss’s stained glass studio in the early days. from the 80s.

The building today

In 1982, Tom Wagner bought the place and turned it into his tropical fish store, which brings us to today, as Wagner sold the building to Pattee and Wegner.

Upstairs, should I add, have remained apartments for all these decades and were inhabited, but not so much “habitable” when the current owners took over.

The second floor, like the first, has been completely rehabilitated and one unit is rented, while the other, a larger space (pictured above) – with exposed rafters and original hardwood floors from the years 1860 (peek out the window for a glimpse of the wood on the staircase at the top!) – is rented via Air BnB.


Floor upstairs.

If you stop to see Baylor’s studio – and you should; he’s one of the best artists in town – you’ll see how Pattee and Wegner transformed the retail space, which had been cut out with a series of interior walls.

Two views inside the gallery.

One of the main challenges was dealing with the fact that the settlement had caused a step from one corner diagonally across the gap to the opposite corner of what Pattee estimates to be at least two feet. This was solved by raising the floor.

(PHOTO: Ryan Pattee)

Then the owners plan to occupy the space behind the building to create a more attractive and useful patio. As always, Pattee says he remains committed to making “period sensitive renovations,” and you can tell this quiet building with a long Great Lakes maritime history is still more than a few years old.

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