Michael Cudahy

Michael Cudahy

Michael Cudahy was born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1841. His family emigrated to the United States in 1849 and settled in Milwaukee. After leaving school Cudahy found work as a meat-packer. With his brother John Cudahy and Philip Armour he started his own meat-packing business in Omaha, Nebraska. In the 1870s he revolutionized the meat-packing industry by introducing summer curing under refrigeration. Cadahy died in 1910.


Milwaukee Talks: Michael Cudahy

The Milwaukee legacy of Michael Cudahy continues to grow. At a youthful 78, the founder of Marquette Electronics has transitioned from entrepreneurship to philanthropy. Cudahy thinks big, lives well and his generosity will help Milwaukee's future residents live even better. We recently sat down with Cudahy for a chat.

"It's Friday. We're having a drink." These were the first words Michael Cudahy said to me before our lunch at the Boulevard Inn. Early Times on the rocks is the comfort of choice for this charismatic community icon, and I also gladly welcomed an afternoon Tanqueray & tonic as we sat down to talk about Milwaukee, his life, his book and more.

The Milwaukee legacy of Michael Cudahy continues to grow. At a youthful 78, the founder of Marquette Electronics has transitioned from entrepreneurship to philanthropy. Not just standard philanthropy, but big-time stuff like the Milwaukee Art Museum, IMAX, Pabst Theatre, Pier Wisconsin and hopefully the Milwaukee Connector, a new rail transportation system for greater Milwaukee.

Cudahy thinks big, lives well and his generosity, curiosity and kindness will help Milwaukee's future residents live even better. The name Cudahy is one of the most prominent in Wisconsin Michael follows in the footsteps of this father and grandfather, John and Patrick. Both were innovative and successful and knew how to tell a good tale. Mike spins a great yarn too, and his new book "Joyworks" tells his life story and The Story of Marquette Electronics. It also shows that Cudahy's success is more about people and culture than business plans and process.

Mike Cudahy still keeps a busy schedule, meetings, lunches, fundraisers, idea generation and story telling. He still has a lifetime of ideas in his head and he gladly shared many of them with us recently. Read on for a very special "Milwaukee Talks" with Mike Cudahy.

OMC: Give us the "nut-shell" Mike Cudahy story, please.

MC: The Cudahys came from Ireland, a county called Kilkenny in 1849. There were four brothers, a sister, mother and father, father-in-law and mother-in-law. They set out to the land for a very simple reason. In Ireland at that time, you could either starve to death or leave and maybe die on the ship going over. Patrick, my grandfather, was three months old when he left, he was six months old when he got here . and the trip wasn't exactly a 747 trip across the ocean. Sometimes we forget that today.

The Cudahys settled in Milwaukee because it is said that they had some friends here. They landed first in Boston, and the problem with Boston was (that there were) too many Irish there. So, they weren't too well liked, if I may put it that way.

This group and a Ms. Shaw (from the Shaw family of County Callan) had a little more money -- three hundred pounds -- than most because old man Shaw had a pottery business he had sold. And you know what, I can't for the life of me figure out who would have bought a pottery business right in the middle of the potato famine, but they did.

Some of the group settled in Milwaukee, others in Chicago. My grandfather, Patrick, quit school at the age of 13 and went to work for a local meatpacking company by the name of Plankinton (later affiliated with the well-known Armour Packing Company of Chicago). He said 'we went into the meat packing business, because people always eat meat and it seems like a stable thing to do.' So Grandpa hooked up Mr. Plankinton and Mr. Armour.

OMC: So, where did you grow up in Milwaukee?

MC: I was born at St. Mary's Hospital about one block from where we lived on Terrace Avenue. Went to Milwaukee Country Day, sort of a snobby school (laughing). I have only one sister, who leaves in Sanibel Island. She's 81 and doing very well. She's a painting teacher still a very neat lady. Of course, I didn't think that when we were kids.

OMC: Where did you go after Country Day School?

MC: To make a long-story short, I was asked to leave so I went off to Milwaukee University School on Hartford Avenue. I don't know all of the bad things we did, but . Never went to college, but I did manage to finish high school. The diploma has a big stamp across it "Granted relative to the National Emergency." This means that we were at war and they made certain concessions. My concession was that I had flunked American History -- twice. I just didn't pay any attention, what a bore . I was interested in science. This was 1942.

OMC: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life when you were in high school?

MC: No, does anyone? I did have a passion for mechanical and electrical things. I became an AM radio operator when I was 12 and living in Ireland (through a school program). In those days, you had to build everything from scratch, the transmitter and receiver. You also had to be very careful not to electrocute yourself which I almost did a couple of times. The thrill after building these radios and wondering how it could possibly work, rigging it up with the antenna and having someone answer your call on the radio was . pow! Absolutely the most electrifying thing that had even happened to me in my life. I talked to other countries on my radio as a little kid. It was great.

As a tip to all parents, if you can find a thing to electrify your child .. do it. Try it. Let them find something, medicine, electronics, space science or whatever. This will launch your child's thinking!

OMC: You've been married four times? If I may ask, what's up with that?

MC: As to my four wives, I really don't have much to say except . if I had it all to do over, I doubt if I'd change much. After all, I lived with #3 (Nancy) for 23 years, and I'm still living with #4, Lisa, after 16 years. And I have five terrific kids!

OMC: Give me some of your thoughts on Milwaukee of today?

MC: I have a wonderful picture of the Lakefront, circa 1955, taken from a boat, and (development along the Lake) was pretty grim. I think Milwaukeeans for way too long said, 'oh yeah, the lake, uh huh.' They really didn't pay attention to the tremendous asset that we have here. This is a part of the biggest natural fresh water area in the world, and it's right here in Milwaukee!

I am delighted with the Milwaukee Art Museum. I also am working very diligently, as you know, on a project called Pier Wisconsin.

OMC: If you could change one thing about Milwaukee today, what would it be?

MC: I would hope that we could get a whole raft of business leaders to step forward and take a lead in moving this city forward. We have been, but the lack of leadership has been reported. I think the leadership is here, but they need to continue to step forward and step up to the plate. The MMAC and Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC ) are doing OK, but where is the leadership that can mesh with the political leadership to make this city really great, like Minneapolis and Indy did!?

OMC: How would you define leadership?

MC: It's a funny word. It's stepping up to plate, being unafraid of the consequences of stating your opinion. Being a leader is gathering momentum by gathering other people to follow your idea.

OMC: How can a younger leader make this happen?

MC: There are all grades of leadership. There are not old and young, there are old, somewhat old, medium, young. This community has made a clique out of the old leadership. Old leaders are either dying out or companies being sold. That old country club gang, where is it? The young leaders seem to be isolated. We need to bring them together. UWM chancellor Nancy Zimpher has asked me to head a group of old and young and bring them together. Maybe I should do that.

OMC: How do you define success?

MC: First of all, one of the biggest deterrents to success is a lack of confidence in the individual. 'It can't be done. Oh, I'll never get there. It's too big for me. I don't know anything or enough about it. The people I know who have been really successful have just said, 'Man the torpedoes. We're going to do it, and I don't care how. I'll learn as we go.' That kind of attitude is what is needed!

There is an awful lot that we teach in school and business school saying you have to be fully trained here and there . I'm not sure you need to be that structured!

OMC: Did you have a role model/mentor?

MC: Yes, as the book talks about a great deal. The guy that got me from a sort of a goofy kid who didn't know which direction to go to a sensible contributor to a business effort was Warren Cozzens. He was my partner the whole time I was at Marquette. He was just enough older to have some common sense.

OMC: If you could pick one person to have a drink with, who would it be and why?

MC: Tough question, Jeff. There are a lot of people I'd love to sit down and have a drink with or dinner with. Albert Einstein would be wonderful. George Bush, Sr. I did have lunch with him once. Dwight Eisenhower, I would have loved to have had some contact with that man.

MC: Benny Green at the Pabst. He's a dear friend. I'm sort of his "godfather." He's 39 and a budding jazz musician and a really great guy.

OMC: Is jazz your passion in music?

MC: I love all types of music. I love the classics, especially after the turn of the last century. People like Igor Stravinksky. I love Stravinksky's "Rite of Spring," it's an incredible thing. He was the first to break through from the classical cords and start using 9ths and 11ths and wild harmony, I love that kind of thing. Modern ballet also excites me, it's terrific -- a wonderful art form.

OMC: What are your plans for The Pabst Theater?

MC: In a sentence, fill it up with quality acts. I think it can become a national, in fact, international icon. It has all the characteristics. It's a beautiful jewel.

OMC: Please talk about the proposed Milwaukee Connector.

MC: Milwaukee is behind the times in a lot of aspects and areas, transportation is one of them. Milwaukee also is behind the times in trying to knit the various communities around us together. You have people in Racine saying 'we are here, your are there.' Wauwatosa, Waukesha, West Bend. There are a lot of communities that say we don't want anything to do with other communities. And this, to me, is a terrible mistake. We can't have isolated communities in this region fighting against the rest of world that is doing much more dynamic things.

The Milwaukee Connector infers that the isolationism will be broken, shattered. And that's the reason for the vehement opposition of some to rail transportation options. This is not light rail, it's a guided bus system. It's a new technology. It also won't tear up the city and economic advantages are there too. It has all the advantages of rail. I am very much for it.

The business community and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) feels we should pursue it to the next stage which is the preliminary engineering of the project. You can't tell until that's done whether or not it will work alright or not. We owe it to ourselves to do that next step. To say, 'no, no we don't what to try' is insane. And I think we have to pull these communities together and look at ourselves nationally and see where we stand. There are 18 cities across America right now who are building or planning rail or some form of high-speed transportation. Milwaukee is behind the times.

And all we seem to do around here is say, let's just add some more smelly buses. These cities are all very competitive. Come on, guys! We need to get in there and fight for our position. If we don't, we're gonna shrivel up like a prune.

OMC: Name two other things Milwaukee needs to continue moving forward.

MC: We have to do phase three of the Midwest Express Center, to be competitive nationally and fight for the big conventions. We need a champion for southeastern Wisconsin, someone who really sells the area. It's a beautiful place! People are fighting for places like West Virginia. We gotta get out there and scramble for it!

OMC: What do you do in your free time?

MC: I don't have any (he laughs). I train my dog.

MC: I'm a little bit hard of hearing, you know. So the first thing someone with hearing loss does is goes and gets a hearing test and they try to fit you with a hearing aid. When your sight goes, people go to Walgreen's and get glasses. The hearing aid is a bit of an insult, so I designed an ear amp. Radio Shack has something like it in its catalog. You plug in ear phones and it amplifies sound. So, they (Radio Shack) beat me to it, but I like to tinker with things like that in my spare time.

I had the pleasure of having Walter Cronkite on my airplane recently, and he is old and can't hear too well. He hates his hearing aides, they look horrible. So, I'm sure he'd like something like the ear amp.

Michael Cudahy's book "Joyworks" was published by the Milwaukee County Historical Society and is available at the MCHS and area bookstores.


Cudahy Brothers

Operating in the Milwaukee area from 1888 to the present, the Patrick Cudahy Corporation is one of Milwaukee’s historic meatpacking giants. The company originated in the packing firm of John Plankinton, a successful enterprise due in large part to the lucrative partnerships that he established with other budding packing moguls from the early 1850s through the late 1880s: Frederick Layton, Philip Armour, and Patrick Cudahy.

Patrick Cudahy moved from Ireland to Milwaukee with his family in 1849, shortly after he was born.[1] He learned the meatpacking trade as a teenager, working as a carrier, pickler, packer, and weigher for several companies.[2] In 1873, the short-lived Lyman & Wooley (Packing Company) hired Cudahy as superintendent.[3] The next year, Plankinton & Armour called on Patrick to replace his older brother Michael as their superintendent.[4] A decade later, Armour left this firm and Plankinton promoted Cudahy to junior partner.[5] In 1888, Plankinton sold the firm to Patrick and John Cudahy for $600,000 and leased his Menomonee Valley packing plant to the new Cudahy Brothers Company for five years.[6]

The need for facilities prompted the Cudahys to relocate their firm to Buckhorn, a small town two miles south of Milwaukee, along the Chicago and North Western Railroad. They opened a large, modern plant at their new location in 1893. The nearby area, formally incorporated as Cudahy in 1895, was gradually transformed into an industrial suburb.[7]

Like Plankinton before it, Cudahy Brothers processed a variety of animals, but specialized in pork products.[8] The new facilities were able to process as many as 7,000 hogs a day.[9] This increased capacity helped the company expand its distribution into European markets.[10]

The company continued to flourish through the early-to-mid twentieth century despite some notable struggles. For instance, a major fire destroyed nearly one-third of the Cudahy plant in September 1906.[11] The company also experienced barriers to its largest foreign market as Congress enacted new tariffs in the years following the First World War and Great Britain responded with mandates that agricultural products, like meat, be imported from Commonwealth countries rather than the U.S.[12]

Patrick Cudahy prided himself on maintaining an “open shop,” and the company fought frequently and fervently to thwart union organizing efforts throughout its history.[13] During the Second World War, Cudahy Brothers supplied large amounts of meat to the military but refused to comply with the National War Labor Board’s order to maintain union membership and dues checkoff systems.[14] In order to avoid a potential disruption to wartime production and force the company’s compliance, the U.S. Army seized the Cudahy plant under presidential order on December 8, 1944, and continued the occupation until the end of the war.[15]

The Cudahy family maintained control of the firm until 1971, when they sold it to Philadelphia-based Bluebird, Inc.[16] Several corporate buyouts took place until, in 2013, a Chinese meat processing company purchased Smithfield Foods, Inc. and, with it, the firm once known as Cudahy Brothers.[17]

Over the last decades of the twentieth century, the company weathered significant struggles. For instance, Cudahy workers went out on strike in January 1987 after the company cut wages and benefits to make the company more competitive. This particularly bitter strike lasted nearly 28 months, ending after a group of workers failed in an attempt to purchase the company in April 1989.[18] During the July Fourth weekend of 2009, an illegally obtained military flare landed on the plant’s roof and sparked a major fire that nearly destroyed the entire complex. This event—which has been characterized as the largest structural fire in Wisconsin history—caused $187.7 million in damages and displaced 1,400 workers for approximately three months before the complex was rebuilt and restored to operation.[19] Patrick Cudahy remains Milwaukee’s last meatpacking center, making bacon, ham, deli meats, and a variety of other pork products.

Footnotes [+]

    Paul E. Geib, “‘Everything but the Squeal’: The Milwaukee Stockyards and Meat-Packing Industry, 1840-1930,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 78, no. 1 (Autumn 1994): 15 Patrick Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy: His Life. (Milwaukee: Burdick & Allen, 1912), 13-16. Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 43-47, 54, 60. Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 73-76 “Patrick Cudahy,” in Who’s Who in America, vol. 3, ed. John William Leonard and Albert Nelson Marquis, (Chicago, IL: Marquis Who’s Who, 1903), 344. Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 76-77, 89. Geib, “Everything but the Squeal,” 15 Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 101 Bayrd Still, Milwaukee: The History of a City (Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1948), 333-334. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness: Patrick Cudahy, 1888-1998 (Cudahy, WI: Patrick Cudahy, 1998), 2 Geib, “Everything but the Squeal,” 15 Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 110-111 Still, Milwaukee, 334. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 2 Geib, “Everything but the Squeal,” 15-16 Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 114-115, 131-132, 136-139 John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999), 168-169, 183-184. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 11. Geib, “Everything but the Squeal,” 16 Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 5. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 4-5. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness., 6 Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 193-194. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 8. Cudahy, Patrick Cudahy, 134-135 Jonathan Rees, “Caught in the Middle: The Seizure and Occupation of the Cudahy Brothers Company, 1944-1945,” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 78, no. 3 (Spring 1995): 205-206. Rees, “Caught in the Middle,” 207-208. “U.S. Runs Cudahy Plant,” Milwaukee Sentinel, December 9, 1944, sec. 1, pp. 1, 2 Rees, “Caught in the Middle,” 200-201, 214-216. Patrick Cudahy was succeeded as company president by his son, Michael, after he died in 1919, and Michael was succeeded by his son, Richard, in 1961. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 8, 11-12. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 14-15 Jeff Engel, “Patrick Cudahy Won’t Change Much under New Chinese Parent Company,” Milwaukee Business Journal, October 3, 2013. Patrick Cudahy, Inc., Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness, 15 Michael Gordon, “Memory and Performance in Staging The Line in Milwaukee: A Play About the Bitter Patrick Cudahy Strike of 1987-1989,” in Remembering: Oral History Performance, ed. Della Pollock (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 86-87 Jeff Cole, “2-Year Strike Over at Patrick Cudahy,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 1, 1989, sec. 1, pp. 1, 7. Tom Held, “Fire Guts Cudahy Meat Packing Plant,” JSOnline, July 6, 2009, http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/50091637.html Joe Taschler, “Soon, Patrick Cudahy Will Begin Rebuilding,” JSOnline, March 21, 2011 Bruce Vielmetti, “Judge to Decide How Much U.S. Owes in Patrick Cudahy Fire,” JSOnline, November 24, 2015.

For Further Reading

Patrick Cudahy, Inc. Celebrating 110 Years of Goodness. Cudahy: Patrick Cudahy, Inc., 1998.

Cudahy, Patrick. Patrick Cudahy: His Life. Milwaukee: Burdick and Allen, 1912.

Rees, John. “Caught in the Middle: The Seizure and Occupation of the Cudahy Brothers Company, 1944-1945.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 78, no. 3 (Spring 1995): 200-218.

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Mike Grebe’s Conservative Cudahy Condo

It's just a short walk from the Bradley Foundation, where Grebe battles daily to turn us all conservative.

The Cudahy. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Cudahy, built in 1908, is one of the few buildings in the nation — and the only one in Milwaukee — that has been a prime residential address for over a century. Its adjoining 14-story Cudahy Tower (not “Towers”), built as an apartment hotel, has likewise had a stellar tenant roster and near total occupancy since it was added in 1929

Since its construction, the Cudahy, designed by Ferry and Clas, has endured two world wars, a depression and suburban flight with no diminution of the building’s prestige. In 1988 then-owner Michael Cudahy emptied the apartments of their tenants, added a penthouse floor, and turned the building into deluxe condominiums, asking as much as $125,000 for city-facing units, and triple for those facing the lake — record prices at the time. [Cudahy retains ownership of the Tower, which remains a first-class rental property.]

The Cudahy, with its peerless views of the lakefront and proximity to downtown, has drawn a number of prominent Milwaukeeans as residents. Some have treated it as a sort of way station to spend a decade or so between their suburban mansions and the nursing homes further up N. Prospect Ave. to which they eventually retire. It has long been a resort for widows, and to this day, most of its 43 units are owned by women including Barbara Kohl, Barb Stein and Betty Quadracci.

Michael W. Grebe, our House Confidential Honoree this week, comes to the Cudahy via the Village of River Hills, where he resided for many years on N. Range Line Road while chairman of Foley and Lardner, Milwaukee’s oldest and largest law firm.

In retirement, Grebe secured a new gig as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, located just up the street in The Lion House, 1241 N. Franklin Pl. The Foundation, with 2012 assets of $615 million, made $31 million in grants that year, including about $7 million to support civic and cultural programs in its hometown.

Much of the rest of its grants went to conservative organizations, like the Heritage Foundation, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Cato Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the National Tax Limitation Foundation and other groups. It recently funded a report critical of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, entitled “DPI’s War on Wisconsin’s School Choice Program.”

Grebe recently deflected criticisms that the foundation funds anti-Islamic programs, saying the group also has supported moderate-Islamic organizations.

Grebe is well-paid by the foundation, earning about $232,000 last year, down from 2003, when he made $529,000 there. Still, not a bad piece of change, especially on top of the Foley and Lardner retirement pay, and plenty enough to afford the 4th floor middle tier unit in the Cudahy, which is assessed at $72,200 for the land and $529,200 for the improvements for a total of $601,400. Taxes on the unit, one of 43 in the Cudahy, are $17,821.78, and are paid in full.

The 1929 tower addition, Milwaukee’s first residential high-rise, was built on land bought from the Munkwitz Co. in 1924 by the Patrick Cudahy Family Co., and is 231 feet tall to the top of its pointy roof. It was designed by Holabird and Root of Chicago. Both structures are skeleton reinforced concrete, with concrete slab floors and joists, one reason they have been able to remain in such good shape. The Tower had 120 apartments in 1968, and probably a bit fewer today, as many units have been combined. The Tower operated as a residential hotel, much on the order of the nearby Astor and Knickerbocker buildings, neither one of which ever quite approached the Cudahy in terms of status or eclat.

Eleanor Roosevelt, while first lady, stayed in the Cudahy Tower when she came to town in 1936 to dedicate the Village of Greendale. The next year the Board of Appeals ruled that the “Swedish Institute of Massage,” proposed to open there, was acceptable. “Occupancy of Massage is to be classed under sanatorium and to be permitted in a residence district.” The tower is also the home to Bacchus Restaurant, one of many food establishments located there over the years, including the Boulevard Inn, Monsoon Chinese Restaurant, the Colonial Room and the Fleur de Lis, owned by Paul “Frenchy” LaPorte.

In 1959 Frenchy unexpectedly locked the doors to the restaurant and moved out, saying the rent was too high. This did not deter Michael Cudahy from relocating a planned cocktail party from the restaurant to the lobby of his apartment building, which he still owns.

THE RUNDOWN

  • Style: Beaux Arts Apartment Building
  • Location: City of Milwaukee
  • Neighborhood: Juneau Town, Milwaukee’s 3rd most walkable neighborhood
  • Commute: Grebe can make it to his office at the Lion house, .65 miles away, on foot in 12 minutes, but he can drive there in 5, or hop on the bus right across the street.
  • Walk Score: 85 out of 100. “Very Walkable” Probably more walkable than the score indicates. [The Cudahy Tower scores an 89 out of 100.]
  • Street Smart Walk Score: 93 out of 100 “Walker’s Paradise.”
  • Transit Score: 56 out of 100. “Good Transit”
  • Size: 2,501 square feet, plus a parking spot in the garage.
  • Year Built: 1908
  • Assessed Value: Land — $72,200 Improvements — $529,200 Total $601,400
  • Taxes: $17,821.78 Paid In Full

ABOUT MICHAEL GREBE

Michael Grebe served for decades as a lawyer with Foley & Lardner, beginning in 1970, becoming a partner in 1977 and rising to become its CEO, a position he held from 1994-2002. Meanwhile, he was heavily involved in Republican politics, both in Wisconsin and nationally. He served as a general counsel to the Republican National Committee and was the Republican National Committeeman for Wisconsin from 1984 to 2002. He was a delegate to Republican National Conventions from 1984 to 2000.

Grebe served as campaign chair for Wisconsin’s former Republican U.S. Senator Bob Kasten. In the early 1980s, Grebe seriously considered running for governor, but eventually decided against it.

His style as Bradley’s CEO has been very different than that of his predecessor, the late Michael Joyce. Joyce loved to do battle with liberals and wrote op eds and made outspoken comments criticizing liberals and liberal ideas. He was much criticized for using Bradley money to help fund “The Bell Curve,” the book co-authored by Charles Murray, which argued that there were racial differences in intelligence. Grebe seems to have taken a deliberately low-key approach while quietly funding ever more organizations to help move the nation — and Wisconsin — to the right.

Some observers have suggested Grebe has been instrumental in helping to engineer the conservative revolution overseen by Gov. Scott Walker. Grebe served as chair of Walker’s 2010 campaign for governor and has provided funds for groups like ALEC, which helped write model bills for conservative legislation adopted by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. Grebe and Bradley have also funded a host of new right-wing publications that can be depended on to support Walker, as Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy has written. And the Bradley Foundation provides funding to the Americans for Prosperity, which provides support for the Tea Party, which has had a major influence nationally and in Wisconsin.

As “Fairly Conservative” blogger Cindy Kilkenny has put it: “To be Republican in Wisconsin means you are a Michael W. Grebe Republican. To a growing extent, to be a Republican in American means you are a Michael W. Grebe Republican.”


HOLLYWOODLAND

At this time of year our thoughts are on ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Bad luck and superstition has followed Hollywood and those who lived and worked there long before the film people arrived.

A house that had its share of bad luck and tragedy was built on the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Fuller Street more than 100 years ago. Gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, called the home that once stood at 7269 Hollywood Boulevard, “the jinx mansion.” Over the twenty-five years of its existence, it was home to a grocery store founder, a meat packing heir and a Hollywood film producer and his movie star wife. All experienced misfortune and heartbreak during their stay there.

The builder and first resident of the “jinx mansion” was George A. Ralphs, the founder of Ralph’s grocery store, the largest food retailer in Southern California. Every Angelino has shopped at a Ralphs at one time or another.

George Albert Ralphs was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1850. His family moved to California on a prairie schooner and a yoke of oxen when he was a boy. In Kansas, they joined a caravan and upon reaching Colorado, they were attacked by Indians. Half of the caravan became separated in the fight and no word was ever heard from them again. It was presumed that they were massacred.

The remaining caravan arrived in Los Angeles after eighteen months of travel. Once he was settled, George Ralphs was trained as an expert bricklayer. After losing an arm in an accident, he gave up bricklaying and found work as a clerk in a small grocery store. In 1873, he had saved enough money to purchase his own grocery at Sixth and Spring Streets. From then on, Ralphs prospered, operating three of the largest stores in Los Angeles.

In 1897, Ralphs married Wallula von Keith and together they had two children: Albert and Annabel. In May 1913, Ralphs began construction on a new house on a three-acre lot in Hollywood that he reportedly bought from George Dunlap, the town’s second mayor.

Located on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard at Fuller Street, architect Frank M. Tyler designed the Mission Revival house at a cost of $35,000. With a plastered exterior and a red clay tile roof, the house had sixteen rooms with three baths. The interior was richly furnished in oak and mahogany onyx and tile mantels adorned the fireplaces. There was a tennis court on the property, and a swimming pool which was emptied often to water the citrus orchards.

The Ralphs mansion as it looked shortly after being constructed

On June 21, 1914, a few months after moving into the house, Ralphs took his family for a week-end outing to the San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Arrowhead. He had just gone up Waterman’s Canyon with his wife and children for an early morning stroll and, having walked a little faster than the others, sat on a boulder to wait for them to catch up.

As his wife approached, he moved over to allow her sit beside him when the boulder, weighing about three tons, gave way and rolled twenty feet down the canyon, carrying Ralphs with it. His leg was caught beneath the boulder and nearly torn from the socket. He was rushed to the Ramona Hospital (now Community Hospital of San Bernardino) where his leg was amputated. Ralphs came out of the anesthetic shortly after, and talked to his wife for a few minutes but he went into shock. George Ralphs died within the hour at 4:15 o’clock that afternoon.

Ralphs body was returned to his home in Hollywood where funeral services were held. The Ralphs grocery stores were closed that day in memory of their founder. After the service, Ralphs was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

The grave of Ralph’s grocery store founder, George A. Ralphs at Evergreen Cemetery

Mrs. Ralphs remained in the Hollywood mansion for several years, sometimes living there, and at other times, renting it out to such well-known residents as Mira Hershey, owner of the Hollywood Hotel and to actor Douglas Fairbanks. On August 20, 1918, Mrs. Ralphs hosted a political garden party in honor of California Governor, William D. Stephens and as a fund raiser for the war effort.

However, the “jinx” continued.

In 1920, Mrs. Ralphs leased the mansion to John “Jack” P. Cudahy, the son of the millionaire meat-packer, Michael Cudahy. The town of Cudahy, California which is east of Los Angeles, was named for the family.

In 1899, Jack Cudahy married Edna Cowin, daughter of General John Clay Cowin of Omaha. They had four children, Edna, Marie, Anne and Michael. For a time, Cudahy was general manager of his father’s packing plant in Kansas City. While there, he and his wife became estranged after Cudahy attacked Jere Lillis, the president of the Western Exchange Bank, who he suspected of having an affair with his wife. They were divorced, but reconciled two years later and were remarried, living in Pasadena, California.

Cudahy, however, had his problems. In 1914, he was sued for $30,000 in damages after throwing a doctor’s wife against a table. After a stint in the army, Cudahy was given a medical discharge following a nervous breakdown. In 1919, he was sued by the Hotel Maryland for failure to pay a two-year hotel bill amounting to almost $10,000.

Shortly after moving into the Ralphs mansion, Cudahy was under a doctor’s care for an extremely nervous condition and for insomnia. In early April 1921, he disappeared for ten days and it was later learned that he had been living at the Rosslyn Hotel under a fictitious name. Previous to that he had spent three months in a sanatorium.

At the time, Cudahy was reportedly having financial problems. On April 19, 1921, he received a letter from a trust company in Chicago stating that they would not carry a loan unless his sister Clara would vouch for him. Later that night, Clara sent her brother a telegram briefly stating, “Sorry, but find it impossible to do what you ask.”

John Cudahy’s death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

The following morning, at about 10:30am, Cudahy went into his bathroom, retrieved his Winchester shotgun which he used for trap-shooting, and went to his bedroom. Edna claimed that he did not seem to be unusually despondent. At exactly 11:45am, Edna was in her dressing room when she heard a gun shot and rushed into her husband’s bedroom where she found him dead. He had committed suicide by blowing off the top of his head. John Cudahy was buried at Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles.

Edna and her children moved out of the house shortly after her husband’s suicide. Thirteen years later she was living in a mansion near Vine Street and Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. Actor Lou Tellegen, who had fallen on hard times, was living with her and committed suicide in his bathroom by stabbing himself in his heart seven times with a pair of scissors.

After Cudahy’s suicide, the mansion stood empty for about a year. In October 1922, Mrs. Ralphs sold the house and property to a local realty company for $150,000. They planned to demolish the house and build a 350 room apartment hotel at a cost of one million dollars. For unknown reasons, the hotel was never built and the mansion was spared.

Norma Talmadge and Joseph Schenck

Film producer, Joseph M. Schenck and his wife, actress Norma Talmadge, were the next owners of the “jinx mansion.” The Schenck’s, who were married in 1916, probably moved into the house in late 1922 or early 1923. For the first few years their lives were routine, at least for film people, with the exception of several break-ins in which Norma’s jewelry was stolen.

Gradually, the couple began to grow apart. They separated in 1927 and moved into separate residences Norma to an elegant West Hollywood apartment building on Harper Avenue, and Schenck moved to a large house in Beverly Hills. They remained married, however, and kept ownership of the Hollywood Boulevard mansion.

In July 1930, Talmadge traveled to Europe for a rest amid rumors that they were getting divorced but the couple denied the rumors, each claiming they were still in love. The following year, Talmadge asked for a divorce and Schenck agreed but she never filed for it. In 1932, she asked again for a divorce and traveled to Europe, supposedly to get one, but once there, she denied the so-called rumors.

During 1932 alone, the Schenck divorce rumors were many and were announced and denied several times. In the meantime, she had an affair with comedian George Jessel until finally, in April 1934, Talmadge and Schenck were divorced in Juarez, Mexico. Three weeks later Norma married Jessel.

The Talmadge-Schenck home as it looked from Fuller Street in the 1920s

Above is the site from the same angle on Fuller Street as it looks today

During all of this, the Schenck’s kept the mansion, and may have rented it out but Schenck reportedly moved back after the divorce. In May 1936, Schenck redecorated the property, adding a two-story cabana and a 60-foot swimming pool that replaced the one installed by the Ralphs, which was filled in by the Cudahy’s.

Notice of Schenck auction (click on image to enlarge)

Bad luck continued to follow Schenck. In 1936, he agreed to pay a bribe to avoid strikes with the unions, but because he made the payoff with a personal check, it came to the attention of the IRS and he was eventually convicted of income tax evasion. In 1940, he finally sold the Hollywood Boulevard “jinx mansion” and all its furnishings in an auction, supposedly to help pay his legal fees. In 1946, Schenck spent time in prison before being granted a pardon by President Harry Truman.

After Schenck sold the mansion, it was razed to make way for Peyton Hall, the first apartment house to go up on Hollywood Boulevard west of La Brea. The colonial-style garden apartment complex included more than 70 apartments. A red carpet rolled all the way from the grand portico to Hollywood Boulevard. There were discreet private entrances and a loudspeaker on the grounds that summoned stars to the studios.

The architect and builders kept the 60-foot swimming pool that Joseph Schenck installed four years earlier and it was used by the residents, including Shelley Winters and Johnny Weissmuller, who once jumped from the roof into the deep end. Other celebrity residents at Peyton Hall included Susan Hayward, George Raft and Janet Gaynor. Cary Grant stayed there during World War II and Claudette Colbert actually owned the complex and sold it in 1946 for about $450,000 to the first of a succession of owners. In 1960, an investment group bought it for $790,000.

In 2013, Peter Chaconas, aka “MR PETE” (Best Host Emmy winner for KTLA, Channel 5 – 1990), who once lived in Peyton Hall, told Hollywoodland:

“I moved into Peyton Hall in 1976. Living there were Richard Guthrie (Days of our Lives), Dave Fleisher (brother of Max-both of Popeye cartoon fame), McLean Stevenson (M*A*S*H), Herman Hover (who had managed Ciro’s), Timothy Patrick Murphy (actor), and Bill Miller (the first Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Roxy on Sunset.

“We loved Peyton Hall. I lived in 3 units. A bachelor (just a room w/a bathroom), a studio apartment (with a full kitchen & great stainless steel counters), and a one bedroom-all at 7243 Hollywood Blvd.

“The long pool was amazing (next to the old maids quarters)… Four lanes with hand laid Italian tiles. There was a HUGE old carriage house that we used for parking. You entered from Fuller Street, and also some covered parking near the pool. The movie Eating Raoul was filmed in apartments there.

“We went on a rent strike for 2 years, to try and save the building. We all deposited our rent into a bank account, and tried our best to lobby the city council to give Peyton Hall a landmark status. But, the land was bought by investors from Taiwan and we were all evicted. They gave us around $1,000 each, and three months to get out.

“We were all very proud to have lived there and really loved the fact that our building had SO much Hollywood history. I sat in my Mustang convertible on Hollywood Blvd and watched them tear down the apartments I had lived in. I should have taken pictures. Now an UGLY complex stands where once a beautiful garden apartment was a fantastic home to those who loved Hollywood. RIP Peyton Hall… We did love you.”

Beginning in 1978, preservationists waged a two-year battle to save the landmark complex –but to no avail. Peyton Hall was demolished in the early 1980s and the recently renamed, Vantage Apartments (formerly the Serravella) was built in 1988 and remains there today.

The Vantage Apartments above is the site of the
Ralphs-Cudahy-Schenck-Talmadge mansion and Peyton Hall

Whether you believe in the “jinx mansion” or not is up to the reader—but it makes an interesting story. If you happen be in the neighborhood of the 7200 block of Hollywood Boulevard on Halloween night, do so at your own risk.


On November 27, 1910, Cudahy died of double pneumonia at a Chicago hospital. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, Illinois.

Cudahy dropped out of school at age 14 and found a job working at Layton and Plankinton, an area meat packing plant. He worked his way up the ranks and was eventually because a private meat inspector. By 1869, Cudahy was a manager in charge of the packing house at Plankinton Armour. In 1873, he was made partner in Armour and Company.

With the help of his brothers Edward and Patrick Cudahy, he established the Cudahy Packing Company in South Omaha, Nebraska in 1890.

Real estate

By the late 19th century, Cudahy had become a wealthy man living a comfortable life. He took an interest in Mackinac Island, Michigan as a summer home. He also owned a home in Hubbard’s Annex on the island in the late 19th century, which he later sold to his brother Edward. He then went to California in 1897 and traded in real estate to expand his fortune. He returned to Mackinac Island in 1904 and bought , making him one of the largest landowners on Mackinac Island. In 1908, Cudahy sold his share of the Cudahy Meatpacking Company and acquired a 2,800 acre (11&nbspkm²) Rancho San Antonio east of Los Angeles, California. He subdivided the ranch and sold it as one acre (4,000 m²) lots. This area was incorporated in 1960 as the City of Cudahy, California.

Cudahy handpicked renowned architect Frederick Perkins to fulfill his visions of a West Bluff mansion. Perkins also designed the Governors Mansion on the island. In 1904, construction was completed on his mansion which he named Stonecliffe which was the largest private home on Mackinac Island. It went through a number of owners after Cudahy’s death in 1910. In 1970, Stonecliffe was purchased by an entrepreneur named George Steffan who converted the mansion and associated buildings into a first class resort hotel called The Inn at Stonecliffe in which capacity it continues to function to this day.


Michael Cudahy - History

The Irish-born Cudahy brothers started working in the Milwaukee meat business in the early 1860s there they met Philip Armour, whom they followed to Chicago during the 1870s. In the years that followed, the Cudahys operated small packing plants in Chicago. In 1887, with Armour&aposs backing, Michael Cudahy and his brothers started an Armour-Cudahy packing plant in Omaha, Nebraska. The Cudahy Packing Co. was created in 1890, when Michael bought Armour&aposs interest. Over the next 30 years, the company added branches across the country, including a cleaning products plant at East Chicago, Indiana, built in 1909. In 1911, the company&aposs headquarters were transferred from Omaha to Chicago. By the mid-1920s, Cudahy was one of the nation&aposs leading food companies, with over $200 million in annual sales and 13,000 employees around the country. Although it was hard hit by the Great Depression, the company still employed about 1,000 Chicago-area residents during the mid-1930s. Following World War II, the company moved its headquarters first to Omaha and, in 1965, to Phoenix, where it took the name Cudahy Co. During the 1970s, after it was purchased by General Host, Cudahy was dismantled.

This entry is part of the Encyclopedia&aposs Dictionary of Leading Chicago Businesses (1820-2000) that was prepared by Mark R. Wilson, with additional contributions from Stephen R. Porter and Janice L. Reiff.


Novices threaten Cudahy’s status quo

They have no money, no name recognition and no political experience.

But that didn’t stop Daniel Cota, an elementary school teacher, and Luis Garcia, a former city maintenance supervisor, from recently filing to run for the Cudahy City Council.

That’s news in this tiny Latino working-class suburb southeast of Los Angeles because there hasn’t been a contested election here since 1999.

“A lot of people want change,” said Cota, who once worked on a city street crew. “They don’t like the way things are being run.”

The candidates said City Hall needs more independent voices. They worry about a City Council that often votes in unison and is closely allied with City Manager George Perez, considered by many to be the most powerful person in town.

For his part, Perez dismissed the challengers as “disgruntled former city employees,” saying a united City Council is essential to progress in a town where fewer than a quarter of adult residents are believed to be U.S. citizens.

“Everybody gets along and everybody supports the council,” said Perez, a longtime Cudahy employee who sports a tattoo of the city’s logo on his leg. “It does scare me that special interests can come in and divide this city.”

His critics say Perez -- whom some call a cacique, a Mexican term for political boss -- has created a political culture in Cudahy resembling Mexico’s when it was a one-party state.

“It’s kind of suspicious that on every issue,” Garcia said, no one on the City Council has “a difference of opinion.”

Cudahy started out as a ranch owned by Omaha meatpacker Michael Cudahy, who moved west in the late 1800s to raise sheep and hogs. Later, he subdivided his land into 100-by-395-foot parcels.

Known as Cudahy Acres, the town was defined for years by the large, narrow parcels that gave it a rural feel in an increasingly urban swath.

After World War II, Cudahy, like its neighbors, emerged as a blue-collar town of white residents. General Motors, Chrysler, Firestone and Bethlehem Steel factories formed the southeast area’s industrial spine.

“When I first moved here, within a radius of five to 10 miles, you had good-paying union jobs,” said Mayor Frank Gurule, a retired business manager for the local carpenters union. “All that’s gone. Now all we have is McDonald’s and Jack in the Box.”

As factories disappeared in the late 1970s, so did the area’s white residents. Neighboring cities subdivided into single-family homes, but Cudahy Acres gave way to enormous stucco apartment complexes.

Three decades later, the city of 25,655 is the state’s second densest, after nearby Maywood. The town is 94% Latino, and almost half its population is younger than 19.

Of the city’s 5,800 housing units, 5,000 are rentals. The median household income is $29,040 and the two largest employers are the Kmart/Big Lots Center and Superior Super Warehouse.

Most who remain settle at the bottom of the region’s low-wage economy, said Francelia Vargas, 19, a cashier at a local market who has lived here most of her life.

“They settle for their American dream, which is a minimum-wage job,” said Vargas, who is also an English major at Long Beach City College. “I’m trying to leave this city.”

Against this socioeconomic backdrop, Perez, 46, has emerged as an unusually powerful city manager.

As a youth, Perez worked as a janitor for the city. By the mid-1990s, he was elected to the City Council. And despite lacking management experience or a college degree, he was hired as city manager in 2000.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s later investigated his hiring for the $120,000-a-year post, but no charges were filed.

Former City Councilwoman Araceli Gonzalez said Cudahy suffers from “democracy in disarray, without checks and balances.”

Many of the city’s residents are uneducated and come from Mexico and other Latin American countries where machine politics are the norm, she said. Many people can’t vote many who can vote don’t, she said.

Perez has eliminated any organization that could pose a political threat, Gonzalez said. For instance, the city stopped funding the Cudahy Chamber of Commerce, which dissolved, and the nonprofit Cudahy Youth Foundation, she said. The foundation is now run by Perez.

“He got rid of all the support that any council member could have outside of him,” Gonzalez said.

Perez said the city stopped supporting the chamber because “City Hall would be able to handle any and all issues that the business community may have.”

But merchants along Atlantic Avenue complain that Korean investors are purchasing some of the town’s few strip malls and dramatically raising rents, causing many businesses to leave.

Miguel Duenas, owner of a driving school on the avenue, said his rent almost doubled in the last two years. Nine shops in the strip mall are empty and tenants fear the owners may be using the shopping center as a tax write-off.

“You go to the city and no one’s interested,” Duenas said.

Perez acknowledges he’s viewed by some as a political boss. But he maintains that he has done a good job managing the city’s finances and opening up City Hall jobs and services to Latinos.

The city, which has a $7.9-million annual budget, boasts a $3.8-million reserve, the largest in its history, Perez said. People are happy with their city government, he said, adding that town hall meetings regularly draw crowds of 200.

“We are extremely hands-on, dealing with every single issue that comes across [the City Council’s] desk,” he said. “There is nothing that gets past us.”

Maria Espinoza, a Cudahy day-care operator, said she considers the city manager her friend. “Any problem I have,” she said, “I call him and he takes care of it.”

Gurule, who is running for reelection, said council elections have not been contested in the past because “we are doing a fairly good job. Most of the people seem to be happy.”

Others say the town hall meetings are examples of a machine culture that is meant to keep the same people in power.

After each meeting, the five City Council members together raffle off numerous toys and household items. Cudahy also holds monthly food giveaways.

People “are attracted to the gifts,” Cota said.

The challengers said they want to provide more openness at City Hall and to keep people better informed. They point out that a city newsletter rarely circulates. And the city’s website -- www.cudahy.ca.us-- hasn’t been updated since 1999. It still lists the city’s area code as 213 instead of 323.

“That’s just a reflection of where we are right now,” Cota said. “They want to keep the doors shut.”

If elected, Cota and Garcia said, they want to improve educational opportunities, combat gangs and lure more businesses to town.

But they know they face an uphill battle.

A friend of the candidates, Tony Mendoza, had also planned to run for a council seat in the March 6 election. But Mendoza received threatening messages on his answering machine, telling him to leave Cudahy, Cota and Garcia said.

Mendoza didn’t file his candidacy papers in time to meet the Dec. 1 deadline. He could not be reached for comment.

Recently, Garcia said, his Dodge Ram pickup truck was spray-painted with graffiti. Neither Garcia nor Cota is sure that the incidents are tied to their plan to run for council, which has been well known in Cudahy for weeks.

“That’s for the police to find out,” Garcia said. But “it’s funny how this graffiti and these threats came in at the same time we were due to file for council.”

As the campaign gets underway, Cota said, he and his allies know they will battle political apathy and resignation that many immigrants bring with them.

But Cota said he is undeterred.

“Once they see a few individuals out there trying to make a change, they wake up,” Cota said. “They need that energy, that drive, that little push.”

Meanwhile, Perez said, his supporters are happy about the challenge.

“We are not going to allow people who have worked with the city and are upset to come in and tear things apart.”


Michael Cudahy, the eldest of the Cudahy meatpacking brothers, was born in Count Kilkenny, Ireland, and immigrated to Milwaukee with his family in 1849, to escape the Great Irish Famine. The Cudahy brothers helped innovate and grow the meatpacking industry at a critical time, rising from poverty to become some of the wealthiest men in the nation.

At age fourteen, Michael began working for a Milwaukee meatpacker, working his way up to inspector, and then superintendent of the packing house of Plankinton and Armour. By 1875, he was made a partner in Armour & Company, serving as superintendent of the company’s Chicago plant at Union Stock Yards. With Philip D. Armour, he founded Armour Cudahy in Omaha, 1887. In 1890, he traded shares with Armour, establishing the independent Cudahy Packing Company in Omaha. The headquarters moved to Chicago after Michael’s death.

Brothers Patrick and John continued to develop the business in Milwaukee, and eventually Cudahy Packing also had major operations in Kansas City, Sioux City, Wichita, Memphis, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles.

The Cudahy brothers, and later, their children, helped revolutionize the meatpacking industry, first shifting from barreled pork to a cured meat business. They developed a process of summer curing meat in stationery refrigeration units, so it was available year-round. Cudahy responded to European tariffs and wartime food supply needs by shifting to serve the domestic market. In 1957, Cudahy Company was one of 500 companies listed in the first S&P 500.


Michael Cudahy - History

A History of the Cudahy Family Library

The history of Cudahy Family Library is the story of continuing community support for the cultural and educational values it represents. Mrs. Barney Eaton, wife of the Village of Cudahy's first President, provided the impetus for the founding of the first Library. The wives and children of the early immigrants from Europe were taught to read and write English by Mrs. Eaton, who shared her own books with them. Working with Lutie Stearns, a field supervisor for the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, Mrs. Eaton convinced Otto Frank to open a small library in the back of his drug store on Packard Avenue in 1906. Just a few years later, Mr. Frank notified the Cudahy Common Council that his store space was becoming overcrowded. In 1913, the Council granted a $50 appropriation to move the Library to the old Cudahy City Hall building, with the city clerk acting as librarian.

The first contract with the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors was signed in 1916, making it possible for Cudahy to borrow books from the Milwaukee Public Library. This heritage of sharing materials with other municipalities has remained in effect ever since.

In 1937, the Library moved to a rented space at 3701 E. Layton Ave. The Board of Vocational and Adult Education offered quarters for the Library in the Vocational School, located at the corner of Squire and Swift Avenues, in 1940, and the Library moved once again. During World War II, hundreds of Cudahy's young citizens were inducted into the armed forces, and the Cudahy Service League was formed in 1943 to raise money for a memorial building for all those who had served their country. By 1944, the League decided that a library would be the most suitable memorial, and the Municipal Memorial Building Commission was created to assist with the building plans. Working together, the League and the Commission conducted a citywide fundraising campaign during 1944 and 1945 and raised $82,000, far short of the $165,000 needed to construct the building. In 1949, a group of Cudahy's leading industrialists adopted the War Memorial Library as their own project. The giving spirit of these industrialists, including Victor F. Braun, Michael F. Cudahy, Herman W. Ladish, and George L.N. Meyer, as well as the generosity of other Cudahy men and women, built the Library that was erected at the corner of Packard and Plankinton Avenues. The War Memorial Library was dedicated and presented to the City on Memorial Day, 1952. The Cudahy Memorial Library holds the distinction of being the only library building in Milwaukee County financed entirely by private contributions.

As the Library's collections grew, however, the 6,500 square feet of space in the original Cudahy Memorial Library building were quickly filled. Just 15 years after the building was dedicated, the book collection had outgrown the planned building capacity and the library's Activity Room was filled with book shelves housing the Library's periodical collections. Access to the Library was also becoming difficult, with the lack of parking spaces for patrons identified as a major problem in the 1967 annual report. In 1974, extra book stacks were added to help ease overcrowding in the adult and children's collections. The Library Board began planning and fundraising for a new addition, which expanded the memorial facility to 8,300 square feet in 1979. Within a matter of a few years, the expanded facility was again filled, with service and functional areas severely compressed.

In 1995, MCFLS adopted a new library software system, and the County Cat was born. County Cat marked the end of an era at the Cudahy Public Library: the card catalogs were replaced by 22 computer terminals throughout the building. Windt Woodwork made the necessary modifications to the Library's circulation desk and constructed a new reference desk and public computer stations. That same year, new interior signage was installed to help library users better locate desired materials. Starting in 1995, the Library also opened on Sundays, with the expanded hours quickly becoming among the busiest of the week.

The Library Board also continued to plan for the future and had a Library Space Needs and Alternatives Study conducted in 1995 by consultant David R. Smith. Following the recommendations of the study to erect a new facility, a Building Advisory Committee (BAC) was appointed in 1996 to help choose a site for the new Library. Boris Frank was also hired to facilitate the BAC meetings and conduct a fundraising feasibility study. Continuing a long history of support for the Library, the Ladish Foundation donated $40,000 to the Library Board to help fund its efforts in planning for a new building.

Deciding on a site and obtaining funding proved to be challenging tasks for the BAC, with a variety of options being explored and many potential sites considered. Environmental studies were conducted on three different sites, and the feasibility of modifying existing buildings in the City was examined. In 1997, following a recommendation from the BAC, the Library Board voted unanimously to build a new Library on Barland Avenue on property owned by the Ladish Company. Once again demonstrating its commitment to the Library, the Ladish Foundation offered to donate the Barland Avenue land for the new Library building in 1998. The Library Board hired architectural firm Frye Gillan Molinaro to design the new library, and preliminary plans for a 25,000-30,000 square foot facility were drawn. In 1998, the Library also marked the Wisconsin sesquicentennial, an event that the community and the Library celebrated through a year's worth of historical programming.

The Library Board's plan to locate the new Library building on Barland Avenue was not without controversy, however, and the plans for the building were put on hold until an approved location and funding could be determined. Throughout 1999, supporters and detractors of the location met with various community groups, the Common Council, and the Library Board to discuss whether a new library was needed, what size it should be, where it should be located, and how it should be financed. Finally, the issue of the need for a new library and how to pay for it was placed on a public referendum in April 2000. The measure was overwhelmingly approved, with 74.6 percent of the community voting to construct a new library and 61 percent voting to use city tax dollars to do so. Throughout 2000, the school children of Cudahy worked diligently to help raise funds for the children's section in the new Library by conducting a penny drive. The students collected money in jars at their individual schools, then brought the coins in to add to the Library's "penny box" in an effort to fill it to the top with one million pennies.

After months of discussion about where the new library should be built, plans for the new Library came into focus in December 2000, when Burke Properties expressed interest in constructing a four-story condominium building and several townhouses in downtown Cudahy. Proximity to the new Library was a key selling point. The Engberg Anderson architectural firm designed the exterior of the new 27,000 square foot library building, and Frye Gillan Molinaro of Chicago designed the interior space.

The City of Cudahy provided $3.2 million in funding for the almost $5 million project. The remainder of the funding for the new Library was donated by the many generous citizens, corporations, and foundations who believe in the importance of a new Library to serve future generations. Echoing the donation made to the War Memorial Fund more than 50 years ago, Judge Richard D. Cudahy donated $1 million for this new building through the Patrick and Anna M. Cudahy Fund. Paying homage to the legacy of his grandfather, Patrick Cudahy, and his parents, Michael and Alice Cudahy, Judge Richard Cudahy named this new facility the Cudahy Family Library.


Watch the video: BizTimes BizExpo 2013 - Michael J. Cudahy