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Greendale polishing up an old gem

Ted Mainella, president of the Greendale Historical Society, stands Dec. 21 outside of the Greendale Hose Tower. Work is expected to begin this month on adapting the historic tower into a community center. The goal is to substantially complete work in August, when the village will celebrate its 75th anniversary. (Staff photos by Kevin Harnack)

By Jeff Cota

Carbon emissions and global warming weren’t exactly on the president’s front burner while crafting the New Deal.

It’s reasonable to imagine that Franklin Roosevelt might have loved green roofs, had he thought of the concept while planning Greendale during the Depression. But because he didn’t, the village’s hose tower will be profligately, but charmingly, a carbon emitter.

Since Greendale was built 75 years ago, the charm of the Middle-American downtown faded. Interstates were built, diverting travelers from small-town motor courts and diners. Once vibrant store front windows turned dull and dusty after the mom-and-pops closed up shop. Suburban sprawl and big box stores with all the charm and character of, well, a big box store, took over.

Tangible pieces of Americana fell to the wrecking ball, a result of neglect and indifference. Too often it seems we Americans forsake the old gem for the shiny, new cubic zirconia. Some towns, such as Greendale, realize what they have and restore the luster.

The village, just southwest of Milwaukee, is preparing to polish up one of its old gems, the hose tower. The fire department used the tower to hang its hoses to dry.

“We were able to get some old fire hoses from the fire department to hang in there so people can see what it once was used for,” said Ted Mainella, president of the Greendale Historical Society.

This month, the society will begin adapting the 47-foot tower and attached building into a community center. The goal is to have the first phase of construction substantially complete by August, when the village will be celebrating its diamond anniversary. The Works Progress Administration built Greendale and two other planned communities to become suburbs of Milwaukee, Washington, D.C. (Greenbelt, Md.) and Cincinnati (Greenhills, Ohio). The U.S. Department of the Interior granted National Landmark status to Greendale in October.

Old fire hoses hang on display within the 47-foot-tall hose tower. The Greendale Fire Department used the tower to hang hoses to dry.

This phase of Greendale’s hose tower adaptation includes restrooms, a kitchen and new entrances. But because of the National Landmark status, any construction must pass the scrutiny of the state historical society and the federal government.

“We can’t substantially alter the buildings,” Mainella said. “We have to do our homework and make them aware of what we’re doing.”

Some parts of the project, such as the restrooms, sail through the process. Others require more finesse.

“You have to be fairly creative to put mechanical systems to work for adapting use,” said Jim Reed, the project’s architect. “If we plop a big air conditioning unit on the roof, it can detract from the character of the building.”

The aforementioned green roof concept that would have reduced energy consumption, and doubled as a pavilion, didn’t pass muster.

“It was not favored by the state historical preservation office,” Reed said. “So we backed down from that idea. We’ll do something in the back of the building on the ground.”

Greendale’s latest project is small in the grand scheme of historic preservation. The price tag isn’t expected to exceed $600,000, which has been or will be raised through private donations, grants and a pledge from the village to match as much as $100,000. But it’s this type of foresight and dedication to safeguarding its history that stand as a model for others.

“I truly love the idea of preserving an original municipal building with its original design,” Reed said. “I love preservation with a viable use. This seemed like a very viable use.”

It’s too bad FDR isn’t around to give his thumbs up to the green roof. It might have been a New Deal for a new millennium.

Jeff Cota, who believes in global warming and the Easter Bunny, is a copy editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be contacted at 414-225-1825 or at jeff.cota@dailyreporter.com.


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