Wisconsin antique bottle and advertising club

A Milwaukee Whiskey Bottle Tells a Forgotten Story

By Henry Hecker

I started with ancestry.com and with a few clicks I found a Fred Pawinski in the 1905 Wisconsin State Census, age 50, with a wife named Bronsilawa, 43 with 3 children, Alice age 13, Alfred 11, and Eugene 5. His occupation is “saloon keeper” so it certainly appeared that it may be “the” Fred W. Pawlinski. He was born in Poland and according to the census, he immigrated in 1868. At this point, it appeared that he ran some little saloon at 654 Reed Street and that would be about all I would learn. Wrong!

I started checking Milwaukee City directories and was soon rewarded with listings for him back to the late 1880’s with Fred (and brother Peter) in the employ of “F. Snyder & Co.” It turned out that Fred’s residence for several years was on Reed Street. And he moved several times. In the 1880’s, he lived at 440 Jackson Street, then Milwaukee Street, Grove Street and finally on Reed Street and that was not his place of employment. Now I needed to find out what kind of business this Snyder & Co. was at the time. Pawinski’s occupation in the 1890’s was listed as “Prop,” short for “Proprietor” but Proprietor of what?

With additional poking around in the directories and several decades of censuses, it became pretty clear that Fred W. Pawinski was engaged in the liquor business but that still did not explain the “Marble Hall” on the bottle. One ancestry.com listing for the City Directory, had “Marble Hall” listed as his wife. How romantic I thought, Fred had actually named his booze after his wife. However, when I looked at the actual image of the document it was clear that it was his place of occupation. I also noticed that in later listings his wife’s name had been shortened to a more pronounceable and Americanized, “Blanche.” Then I did the unthinkable, I googled “Marble Hall, Milwaukee” expecting
Google to tilt on that one. Just the opposite, PAYDIRT!, several articles popped up solving the puzzle.

First, I found a 1933 newspaper clipping courtesy of the Wisconsin State Historical Society that reported a pretty serious fire that destroyed the top two stories of old “F. Snyder’s Marble Hall.” (This clipping appears at the end of this story.) It turned out that Marble Hall was a serious political gathering spot at 383 Broadway in the second half of the 1800’s and well into the 1900’s. It was a whiskey bar on the first floor with rooms on the upper floor where gambling of all types was conducted and occupied by a veritable “Who’s Who” of local and State politicians. Mathew Carpenter a prominent U.S. Senator from Wisconsin was often a customer and a painting of him hung over the bar for years. By the time of the 1933 fire that street had changed to 625-629 on Broadway. The story also mentions Fred Pawinski as the last proprietor of Marble Hall.

Then I found a 2012 article by WUWM radio, and a recording of the radio show http://www.wuwm.com/post/marble-hall-contender-milwaukees-oldest-building#stream/0 that revealed that perhaps what remains of the Marble Hall building today vies for one of the oldest surviving buildings in Milwaukee.

Photo from WUWM article with Fred Pawinski (left), his brother Peter and Fred Snyder (right.)

In its heyday, Marble Hall got its name for the spectacular marble bar and tile floors. Amazingly the WUWM research surmises that the Marble Hall building dates to the 1840’s and was situated immediately next to the Newhall House hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1883. A photo from the time provides strong circumstantial evidence that Marble Hall preceded the Newhall House, built in 1857, see below.

Signs exposed on the side of the Marble Hall building after the fire had been concealed with the construction of the Newhall House.

Sometime around 1900, the Pawinski brothers assumed ownership of Marble Hall as they are both listed as proprietors. Clearly. they sold bottled liquor not just dispensing it to customers at the bar, the bottle is evidence of that. At the time whiskey bars were recognized separately from beer bars.

Fred must have had controlling interest of the concern as the embossing on the bottle makes no mention of Peter. That may have been a good thing for Peter because when prohibition went into effect in 1920, one can imagine that the fate of establishments such as Marble Hall were severely stressed. But the story does not end there, my newly made friend, Fred W. Pawinski, got a little more publicity in 1921. He was indicted and convicted in Federal Court for illegally selling whiskey and sentenced to 11 years in Federal Prison. He was sixty-six years old at the time. Likely owing to his long association with many politicians, some highly placed, a petition was quickly circulated and presented to then President Harding. President Harding issued Fred a pardon. Boy, does that ring a familiar bell in today’s political climate?!

P.S Today the Marble Hall building, or what is left of it, houses Ianelli’s Upholstery shop at 654 N. Broadway as the street number has changed again. However, the distinctive entranceway shown in the vintage photo is still easily recognizable.


References:
www.ancestry.com, numerous Census and City Directory citations.
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Newspaper/BA10395
http://www.wuwm.com/post/marble-hall-contender-milwaukees-oldest-building#stream/0
https://www.milwaukeemag.com/the-bar-that-once-ruled-milwaukee-politics/
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Author: Henry Hecker
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