This week in 1913, Mayor Gerhard Adolph Bading ordered that a tribute to the victorious club be raised on the facade of City Hall, high over downtown.
Manager Harry Clark's Brewers, pennant winners of the American association, this week took precedence over the Wisconsin Medical society, as they also ranked ahead of about everything else in Milwaukee.Although the welcome sign was taken down decades ago, readers of a certain age will remember the days when messages like that one shone forth from the city hall. One was even immortalized in the opening credits of Laverne & Shirley, beginning in January 1976:
Monday morning Secretary Claude Ellis said to Mayor Bading:
"The Wisconsin Medical Society will meet here this week. Shall I order the welcome sign for the organization?"
The mayor gave Ellis a withering look.
"I should say not," he said, with more withering looks. "Don't you follow the events of the day? Don't you know that the Brewers have won the pennant in the American association? See to it that a welcome sign for them blazes forth every night this week."
"But will not a big association like the Wisconsin Medical society feel rather offended because of the slight," protested Ellis.
"You put up the champions sign," said the mayor. "I'll vouch for the medical society. All the members I know are rattling good baseball fans, and they'll appreciate the sign as much as anybody."
So the "champions" sign stll is blazing on the city hall.
I always presumed that the sign was a much later addition to City Hall's Flemish Renaissance Revival style-facade, perhaps an artifact of the 1950s—it seems appropriate for a time of civic expansion—but it dates back much farther than that. The message system was added in 1906, a little over a decade after the building itself was completed. It was originally installed by then-City Electrician David McKeith, who designed a catwalk built into the back of the sign, allowing city workers to change the letters without requiring any tools which may have been dropped on the street below.
From those early days, the letters proclaimed a series of rotating greetings, from a simple "WELCOME":
Mayor John O. Norquist and the Historic Preservation Commission in 1988. Citing the increased costs of maintenance (although I can't help but think that aesthetics played a part in the decision), McKeith's framework was dismantled. The letters are now on display at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Those illumunated wooden letters shone forth messages across the Milwaukee skyline for eighty-two years, including a note of congratulations to the first pennant-winning Brewer squad.