Connecting With The Past As We Eye The Future

Posted on Jun 1, 2009 :: Editor
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Growing up in Door County,  my interest in art was piqued by a colorful old guy who kept a cottage with his wife on the bay just down the road.  Many years later I came to realize that Clarence, whose studio was a wonderful mess of oils and acrylics and the smell of what he called “turps” (turpentine) founded Orde Advertising.

I’ve known Bill Chaudoir for the past few years, mostly as a trusted source of business news out of Door County, but I didn’t know he once was a student of my father. And I’ve known Doug LaViolette since I began working in business magazines a few years ago, but only recently did I learn that he was a good friend of Bob Safford, who formerly owned the historic building I work in today. (Doug led us to Seaway Printing in Green Bay, which now prints Insight magazine.)

These little discoveries – that we are connected in more ways than one – keep life interesting. They also pique nostalgia.

My dad is retired from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College but barely a month goes by that yet another person I meet doesn’t tell me what he learned from him. Chaudoir talks about what’s new in Door County in this month’s “Face Time” feature (page 17), as well as in our annual Door County economic development update (page 31).  As for LaViolette, he’s encouraging us to spruce up our offices at Insight in time for a building-wide open house coming up this month.

The Irving Zuelke Building, the gray high-rise at the corner of College and Oneida in downtown Appleton, is hosting the after-hours open house June 11 to launch a business incubator program. Steve Schneider of Safford Building LLC is extending an opportunity for qualifying startup businesses to rent space at rock-bottom prices (see page 42).

“Our group likes historic buildings and preserving them and elevating them within the community,” says Schneider, whose investor group also owns the Bellin Building in downtown Green Bay.  “When you look at an old building with a rich history I think it portrays more than current businesses – it portrays a whole face of a community over time.”

Talk about nostalgia. A big old box delivered to my office marked “Zuelke History” is chock full of black-and-white photos and faded newspaper clippings.  I gaze out the window overlooking Houdini Plaza and wonder who sat in this spot before me.

There are photos of a fire, dated 1928, with the name “Irving Zuelke” still visible over the main door on the façade. A photo dated 1931 shows a gleaming seven-story building, rebuilt by Zuelke (who owned a music store) in stone, marble, steel and brass to withstand any future catastrophe. Other photos show the five upper floors later added, and news clippings dated 1951 hail what was then the tallest building in Appleton. One photo shows Zuelke’s grand pianos on display before the 5-foot half-moon windows in the east and south corner of the building.

The building brims with character, especially in the marble-lined lobby and mezzanine. It’s got quirks, like the men’s and women’s restrooms on every other floor – but the views are the best around.

“I think what has made some of these buildings have the rich history that they do is the entrepreneurs, like Irving Zuelke and his music company and his aspirations and his aesthetics as to how a building could look,” Schneider says. “People sometimes come into the Zuelke Building and say, ‘We never expected this – in downtown Chicago, yes, but not Appleton!’

“We’re hoping that by making the building available for entrepreneurs, it will develop into a much larger enterprise as their businesses grow.”

After all, he adds, every company, even the titans of the Fox Valley paper industry, once started small.

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →