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Vibrant new downtown trumps nostalgia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 September 2015 23:25

It’s fitting that Port Washington gives Harry’s Restaurant a celebratory farewell, but it has no need to look to the past for inspiration in a new era

Newspaper feature stories don’t get much more appealing than the one that appeared last week on the front page of Ozaukee Press under the headline, “Cooking their way into Port’s heart.” In it, Press staff writer Kristyn Halbig-Ziehm traced the history of Harry’s Restaurant, which will close this month after 79 years as a downtown Port Washington eatery.

    The story of how a tiny enterprise started on a proverbial shoestring by a high school dropout grew into a family business and then into a Port Washington institution so beloved that it will be the object of a community celebration on Sept. 20 surely warmed the hearts of readers.

    No doubt it fascinated many of them too, with the glimpses it gave of the mid-20th century life and culture in the city. Prices in the Harry’s Restaurant menu of 1943 (the International Photoengravers Union label on the back attests that it was printed by Ozaukee Press) reproduced with the story provided a graphic measure of changing times. Younger readers may have had difficulty believing there actually was a time when, as at Harry’s, hamburgers cost a dime and the most expensive item on the menu was a T-bone steak for 45 cents.

    Someone who is handy with inflation tables might calculate that a McDonald’s burger in 2015 costs less in inflation-adjusted money than a 10-cent Harry’s hamburger in 1943, but other societal changes evident in the story are not so easily explained away. It is hard to find many parallels today, for example, to what restaurant founder Harry Burton accomplished in the humblest of circumstances. The man who left high school after two years to go to work in a diner not only started his own business, but with his wife Mabel raised four children in a small flat above the restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Main and sent them off to colleges and successful careers.

    A photo taken in the 1950s showing the restaurant with the factory buildings of the Wisconsin Chair Co. looming behind it added more context to the Harry’s story and sparked memories among those old enough to have them of a downtown that in three blocks boasted four grocery stores, pairs of drug stores, bakeries, meat markets and hardware stores, a fish market and a “five and dime” Ben Franklin store, not to mention eight taverns.

    Gilded by nostalgia, those times are pleasant to contemplate, but they belong to history. A few of the bars remain, but everything else is gone, including the grim chair factory buildings that walled the downtown off from the adjacent lakefront. It is a new era and the downtown that comes with it is a vibrant, exciting heart of the city.

    Harry’s will be missed, of course, and the send-off at the “Hurrah for Harry’s celebration in honor of the founders and those who carried on the business after them is well deserved. Yet the condominium and commercial building that will replace the restaurant should be welcomed with equal fervor. The sleek new building will replace a deteriorating structure of little character and an abandoned drive-in banking facility and spur economic activity with a new resident downtown population, all of which trumps nostalgia.

    Regardless of the era, it seems every community needs a coffee shop type of gathering place, the role that Harry’s filled nearly every morning for eight decades. Perhaps one of the existing downtown coffee and food purveyors will fill the void or maybe it will be a new restaurant in the building on the Harry’s site.

    If the latter is the case, please, don’t let it be called Harry’s Restaurant. Like the jersey number of a legendary athlete, that name should be retired to posterity.

Don’t pierce the dike PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 03 September 2015 21:37

Letting Waukesha get around the rules and take Lake Michigan water would be a precedent that could threaten our precious freshwater resource

There is more water in Lake Michigan this summer than it has had in years, but that is no reason for the signers of the Great Lakes Compact to lower their guard and let Waukesha take some of it.     

    High lake levels really don’t have any bearing on the decision about whether to let Waukesha pump water out of the Great Lakes watershed, but they surely get the attention of regions of the country that are affected by drought-depleted water supplies.

    The fear that the Great Lakes freshwater resource would be raided by states going dry from climate change and reckless development was a factor in the signing of the Great Lakes Compact by the eight states touching the lakes and its enactment as a federal law in 2008.

    The compact forbids taking lake water out of the Great Lakes basin unless it is approved by the governors of all eight states. In the first request to divert lake water since the compact was signed, Waukesha is asking for that approval. It should be denied.

    Waukesha does have a water problem, one that is largely self-inflicted. Rampant development drew down the aquifers serving its municipal water wells and some are now contaminated with radon gas. Advanced water treatment technology used successfully by a number of Wisconsin communities reportedly would relieve the problem, but Waukesha officials prefer the Lake Michigan option and are proposing to pump 10.1 million gallons from the lake every day.

    The problem with taking water by cities like Waukesha, which are located outside of the Great Lakes drainage area, is that the wastewater does not flow back to the lakes, as required by the compact.

    Waukesha proposes to pump most of the treated wastewater it would generate from a lake diversion a considerable distance into a river that flows into Lake Michigan. But that doesn’t overcome the fundamental reason the Waukesha application should be rejected: Approving a diversion outside of the lakes watershed would be a precedent that could threaten the lakes as areas of the continent get progressively drier.

    The possibility should be taken seriously. Recall what Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a presidential candidate, said in 2007: “States like Wisconsin are awash in water” and should share it with other states.

    Representatives of water-challenged states seem to have prevailed in the 1980s when Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of sending Great Lakes water to dry parts of the country, though nothing came of it.

    The director of the Northland College water research center in Ashland was recently quoted by the New York Times as asking, “If you could send water from the Great Lakes to Asia, where can’t you send it?”

    He was referring to the infamous attempt in 1998 by a Canadian company to send tanker ships full of Lake Superior water to Asia, which had been approved by Canadian authorities and was abandoned only after a furious public outcry.

    The Great Lakes Compact is the closest thing the Great Lakes have to a dike protecting their precious freshwater resource. Letting Waukesha take water would be like drilling a hole in the dike. It would be a small leak, but one sure to get bigger as the Waukesha precedent is exploited.

Chair factory redux PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 21:31

A proposal for commercial development of public lakefront land recalls the era when Port Washington lake views were blocked by the brick walls of factory buildings

Views of the water were blocked by ramparts of brick and mortar. At the north end of the harbor, the massive presence of a Wisconsin Chair Co. building made the harbor invisible to anyone walking or driving on
Washington Street or living in the nearby neighborhood.

    Those were the opening words of an Ozaukee Press editorial published on November 6, 2014, about the time the first murmurings of a city plan to sell public lakefront land for private development were heard.
The editorial described the Port Washington harbor area as it looked before the chair factory buildings were razed in the 1950s.

    Next week the Common Council will consider a project that, in an eerily accurate rendition of deja vu, calls for construction of a building on that same site that will block the harbor views that were revealed when
the chair factory was torn down. The new building would have a two-story brick facade facing Washington Street and is designed to recall the look of the chair factory manufacturing plant.

    The council is expected to approve the project on Tuesday even though the proposal has been in city hands for less than three weeks. Hasty approval is not what this proposal needs, for it will only increase the
likelihood that elected officials will make a mistake that will haunt the city for generations.

    The move to transfer to a private developer land owned by the public between the north slip marina and Washington Street is fraught with consequences that cry for thoughtful, unhurried evaluation. For one, the
proposed building would block lake views that might never be restored.

    Further, even a city government that has appeared hell-bent to sell the harbor land should view the paucity of proposals for the site as a red flag warning of doubts about the property’s commercial potential. After
enthusiastic talk about attracting a brewpub or “destination shopping experience,” the city publicized and widely distributed requests for proposals—and received just one.

    The single proposal it attracted, for a Paramount blues-themed building called the Blues Factory, is incomplete. The city’s RFP (request for proposal) attracted what more accurately could be called a PIP (proposal
in progress).    

    The city asked for proposals to acquire the land, which has an appraised value of $575,000, but the Blues Factory response contains no mention of a purchase price. The proposal calls for a building with a
restaurant, but would likely be built with the restaurant space vacant. Financing for the project, which relies in part on so-called crowdfunding via Internet solicitation, is apparently uncertain enough that it is
dependent on a $1 million taxpayer subsidy.

    Even more than the uncertainty over the viability of the proposal, public angst over the loss of visual and physical lake access is a compelling reason to put on the brakes. In large numbers, citizens have said they
don’t want the lake views and open lakefront space that define the city, attract visitors and please residents compromised by a commercial building.

    As for that building, it is unfortunate that developer Christopher Long’s Blues Factory concept is now enveloped in what is becoming an increasingly strident controversy, for aside from its unacceptable location
Long’s vision of an enterprise that would celebrate Port Washington’s role in the growth of America’s indigenous blues music in the early 1900s as the home of the Paramount Records division of the Wisconsin Chair
Co. has much to admire. The museum, performance hall and banquet facility he envisions, freed from the negative baggage of compromising natural lakefront aesthetics, would be a boon to the city. City officials
and private property owners should be working to help find an appropriate site to take advantage of this opportunity.

    That 2014 editorial continued:

    Progress came and in an era of remarkably enlightened land use the buildings were cleared away and the north slip was remade into a heart-of-the-city marina embraced by walkways, a park and open space that
ensure the satisfying water views that are now Port Washington’s signature.

    Yes, that was progress.

    Blocking lake views once again with an insensitively placed building would be something else.

    In the minds of many of the citizens who love this beautiful lakeshore city, it would be a foolish step backwards.

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