Like the little engine that could, the historical red-roof pagoda finally made a lifesaving journey Thursday, overcoming a hill of obstacles.
After nearly two years of wrangling over the future of one of the last pagoda-style Wadhams Oil and Grease Co. gas stations, the structure on Thursday was dug off its foundation and detached from Federal Mfg. Co., 201 W. Walker St., which provided its fourth wall.
The 60,000-pound pagoda, built in the 1930s, was jacked up onto a trailer for the move to its new home at 430 S. 2nd St., next to the Reed Street Station tavern. There, it will be refurbished and reopened as a coffeehouse and gift shop by Reed Street Station owner Bill Brunke.
The long-awaited move drew the attention of Mayor John O. Norquist and city Department of City Development Director Julie Penman, who put in appearances to praise the efforts that allowed both the pagoda to be saved and Federal Mfg. to expand its business.
"I wanted to see it finally moved," said Penman, who said she had opposed efforts to grant a historic designation to the pagoda, which would have prohibited the structure from being moved. "I'm happy that it will be pumping another kind of fuel," she said.
"It's a landmark, and I'm glad it can be used," Norquist said.
"It's been a real journey," said Ald. Angel Sanchez, who worked to find a buyer for the pagoda. "I've popped a lot of gray hairs over this one."
The recent chapter in the pagoda story began a couple of years ago when Federal Mfg. Co. President Otis Cobb said he wanted to tear down the pagoda to expand his business. But some in the area sought a historic designation for the building to save it.
Cobb finally agreed he would sell the building for $1 if the buyer would move it. His company makes capping machinery used by the dairy, juice, water and pharmaceutical industries.
"The company has been incredibly patient," said Sanchez, who spent most of the day monitoring the move.
Even after Brunke agreed to move the building a year ago, a lot of problems, complications and delays occurred.
"It turned out to be a very, very big project," said Brunke, who estimates he will spend $60,000 on the project, far more than he originally planned.
But Sanchez praised Brunke and his efforts in Historic Walker's Point. Brunke has bought and refurbished the Reed Street Station tavern and The Social bar and restaurant next door.
So, inch by inch, very, very slowly, the red pagoda made its way down S. 1st St. and around the corner for the six-block voyage that took several hours to complete. Along the way, onlookers stopped, took pictures and shook their heads in wonder.
For Tim Stys, who owns the house-moving company that bears his name, the pagoda move was relatively simple and all in a day's work. Usually, such moves are made in the middle of the night, so being able to move the pagoda in daylight was a plus, he said.
When the pagoda arrived at its new home, people from Soref's Carpet City and others came out to watch and to welcome the old new neighbor.
"It's exciting," said Gary Shovers, Soref's owner. "There are a lot of improvements going on in this neighborhood. It's terrific."
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 4, 2002.
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