A Scrap of History Blows in on the March Wind
Wauwatosa was big in the news back in 1966, just as today, but some of the news we wouldn't cover, and some – such as outrage over a major economic development – probably wouldn't happen.
Last Sunday, our family did something we wouldn't normally have done for about another month and a half: We cleaned out the flower beds, and broke a little sweat doing it.
It was my son's job to first collect the trash that lodged with us over the season. He soon presented us with a scrap that caught his eye. It was a yellowed fragment of the front page of The Milwaukee Journal, dated Feb. 16, 1966.
My first thought was, "How did this get loose from wherever it had been moored for the past 46 years?" That has to be a slightly interesting story – but it would be pure speculation.
Then I started to read, and I realized that, wherever it had come from, I had been given some kind of gift from the time machine of the wind.
Black and blue on the thin blue line
On the front page that day was part of a picture of law officers gathered somewhere along State Street around a slightly damaged Harley-Davidson trike belonging to the Milwaukee Police Department.
There was enough of the caption included to gather that a Williams Bay man would have to make an appearance in court on a charge of failing to yield the right of way for making a left turn in front of the motorcycle officer, who suffered minor cuts and bruises.
This amused me because by the time I started at the Journal in 1991, it would have been an exceptionally slow news day for that to have made the front page.
The home of the Braves
Next to that was a partial story that said Atty. Gen. Bronson LaFollette had been ordered by a circuit court judge to submit to a subpoena for questioning and to produce documents in the state's antitrust suit against the Milwaukee Braves and the National Baseball League.
If you know your local baseball lore, you know that it was in the sorrowful year of 1966 that the beloved Milwaukee Braves departed for Atlanta – despite an injunction that kept them here the previous year, and despite this lawsuit.
This was amusing to me on two counts – one, that deeper in the story it was pointed out that the sports editor of The Journal had been called to testify in the case; and two, that The Journal used to spell subpoena as "subpena." It was not a mistake. We used to do things like that to save space.
You've come a long way... baby?
Below the lead picture, things started to get eerily interesting. Missing its first column was a story headlined"... Backs Birth Control." From what remains, it's clear that the missing first word is "Judge."
From the relic, one Judge Pruss – a Catholic, the paper pointed out – was advocating for the county to provide information on birth control to poor, unmarried women.
"... would reduce the relief rolls, Judge Pruss said." Those are the first words remaining on my fragment. It goes on:
"State law now prevents the furnishing of birth control information to unmarried women. Judge Pruss said the county welfare department should take a stand on the issue."
"'There may be some criticism, but from a dollar and cent standpoint, there won't be any,' the judge said. 'We should be practical in these matters.'"
The story went on to say that county welfare referred inquiries about birth control to the county general hospital, and that the hospital would counsel women on relief about birth control only if they were married and only if they asked for the assistance.
This was interesting on opposite counts: One, just 46 years ago, an unmarried woman could get no advice, information or assistance on birth control, even from progressive Milwaukee County. Two, all of 46 years later, we are still embroiled in controversy over providing women assistance with birth control – although now over questions of religious freedom.
Front page purse-snatchings a thing of the past
The last item from what was left of the front page was only a headline and a bit of the lead sentence: "Woman Is Robbed and Knocked Down," followed by "A 64-year-old woman was robbed of her purse...."
Again, the chances of that making the front page these days is nil, unless, say, the victim is the mayor of Milwaukee.
This was all very interesting to me as a journalist and former member of the news staff of The Milwaukee Journal.
But it was only when I flipped the fragment over that I realized I ought to write something about this as the editor of the Wauwatosa Patch.
My little three-column, half-page-long scrap had two Tosa stories on Page 2 of Mother Journal, as we used to call it.
Even then, Wauwatosa was a news machine.
My D-I-V-O-R-C-E became final 46 years ago
At the top of the page is an article headlined, "Executive and Wife Trade Divorce Suit Accusations." There are pictures. There are salacious details.
Even though it has been a matter of public record these 46 years, I have decided to redact the clipping and withhold the names.
Basically, Mrs. (Blank) accused Mr. (Blank), both of Wauwatosa, not only of philandering but also of bragging to her about his conquests.
In turn, Mr. (Blank) said that Mrs. had picked up another man at a Milwaukee hotel – and he had followed her, forced her car to the curb and ordered the man out.
She denied anything of the sort had happened.
He was allowed to introduce evidence from an earlier denied divorce proceeding she had sought, in which the judge ruled that both parties had been guilty of misconduct.
She "was indiscreet in her actions in public, in her drinking habits and in her associations with other men," a Waukesha judge wrote.
The two must have eventually gotten divorced. I can't imagine them reconciling all that indiscretion.
They would both be 72 years old now and probably wouldn't much care to have this dredged up again after nearly half a century. And the name is associated with a still-thriving family business that does not need to be saddled with any irrelevent negative publicity.
The point in bringing it up at all is to highlight a positive change in media. Even though we in the press are often accused of scandal-mongering – and the acts especially of certain British tabloids prove that far too often, it is too true – the mainstream media is much less apt than it once was to dig into private lives.
Say 'NO!' to new economic development
The final item is the one most interesting to me, because it highlights a notable change in Wauwatosa rather than in journalism.
The story – played below the divorce, mind you – is headlined, "Tosa Delays Apartment Vote."
Keep in mind that West Tosa was still very new at the time. This was only a few years after Wauwatosa West High School was built, and the "Annexation Wars" were still fresh in memory of those who lived in the area. The metropolis was expanding rapidly in the post-World War II and 1950s explosion of suburbia.
The Wauwatosa Common Council, the story said, had "deferred action on a controversial apartment project until March 1 after a public hearing that drew a crowd of 500 to the civic center auditorium Tuesday night.
"The decision was postponed to allow City Atty. Milton F. Burmaster to determine the validity of a protest petition by 12 of 13 property owners who claim their land abuts the developers'," it went on.
"Opponents of the 3.5 million dollar project, east of N. 124th st. between W. North ave. and W. Center st., presented the council with petitions signed by about 8,100 persons demanding a referendum. The number of signatures represents nearly a third of the total votes cast for governor in Wauwatosa in 1964."
Burmaster told the council the petitions couldn't force the council to put the question on a referendum.
Not in our big back yard
Some of the story is missing, including any part about why anybody, much less so many, opposed this project.
Was it that it was rental property, moderate-income property, in an area that was just then filling in with single-family homes on large lots?
Was it that neighbors assumed that a large, modestly priced apartment complex would draw undesirable elements?
Probably. But 8,100 petitioners? There can't have been but a fraction of that many people living in the immediate area of the site. A good deal of Wauwatosa must have gotten its dander up.
I wrote several times, just over a year ago, that the crowd of about 400 or so that turned out at City Hall on the second vote on the ratification of city union contracts was the largest "in living memory" – because that's what I was told by the oldest hands.
But surely there are those alive who would remember the battle of North 124th Street.
Imagine, 500 people showing up to protest a private development that would have brought a significant increase in property tax revenue to the city.
Imagine the anger, the fear, the frustration of more than 8,000 people told that their right to petition was void in the face of, presumably, zoning laws that allowed development of the property as apartments.
The development in question was not then named, but it had to be what is now Normandy Village Apartments, opened in 1968, according to the city propety search website. Normandy comprises four buildings, totaling 275 rental units on 13 acres at 2540 N. 124th St.
Wauwatosa is now open for business
During the past decade, now-landlocked Wauwatosa, losing population, has hungrily redeveloped any large parcel that became available as multi-unit housing, including rental housing and reasonably priced condos.
Mount Tosa, The Enclave, The Reserve – the list goes on. These are projects Wauwatosa has chased after. In the case of Mt. Tosa, there was even anger at the developer when he asked to switch his first units from apartments marketed to young renters to assisted living apartments for seniors.
Wauwatosa is a very different place than it was 46 years ago. People are still concerned about the quality of development in their neighborhoods. There were localized protests against the Locker Square condo redevelopment, the proposed Hyde Park condo redevelopment (now welcomed as an Alterra cafe), and most recently, the O'Reilly Auto Parts store on North Avenue in East Tosa.
But, again – 500 people at City Hall? More than 8,000 signatures on petitions? To demand an undemandable referendum on a major tax-base development?
We won't see that anymore.