Fred Pfister: Part 2 of 2

“My grandmother used to save this stuff and my mother was a saver too. Now that I am all alone in the house, rather than just throw it away, I wanted a way to preserve it,” Fred Pfister said about the beautiful handmade clothing his grandmother created. We couldn’t be more flattered that he has entrusted the Pfister Hotel to preserve his family’s legacy. Before we tuck  away these artifacts for safe keeping, Timothy and I felt such unique, delicate garments deserved one more walk around the hotel. And lucky for me, they fit like a glove.

The maroon jacket, made from traditional linen with decorative, silk ribbon appliques, dates back to the early 1900s. The wicker boning on the inside was very rare for the time; most tailors used whale bone. Fred’s grandmother Margaret made the jacket for herself – she sewed all of her own clothes. Timothy helped me carefully place the jacket over my shoulders and immediately I felt like a character in a black-and-white photograph. The sophisticated bun perched atop my head, created by the WellSpa, solidified my look as a true Gibson Girl pin-up of the Belle Epoque.

The pink satin dress belonged to Fred’s mother, Helen. She loved to dance. The cool satin cascaded down my body, stopping to rest on each curve. As I slipped into it, I felt myself morph into Helen Pfister. Fred explained that his grandmother made the dress for Helen to attend a wedding party.  The above-the-ankle hemline and flared bottom allowed for movement when she would glide and turn. Helen loved to waltz, but she didn’t care much for  the flappers – she thought they were too risque. Helen waltzed right into the arms of her husband Fredrick Pfister at the Milwaukee Club (right across the street for the Pfister Hotel) and spent the next 60 years of her life with him.

Helen’s silk crepe blouse was originally black, but over the years, has faded to a rich olive hue. It’s embellished with iridescent glass beads and a high, pointed collar. Both the blouse and the dress date back to the late thirties, though paired with denim, the blouse looks contemporary and chic.

Thank you to Fred, who allowed us to revitalize these objects of art and preserve the memory of Margaret Faubel and Helen Pfister. Fred dutifully cared for his mother until she died in 2003 at the age of 94.

To see part one of the Fred Pfister story, click here. All photos courtesy of Carol Rice Kraco and Kraco Photography.

 

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Fred Pfister: Part 1 of 2

A man walks into the Pfister hotel and he sees a fashion designer hard at work. This man’s name just happens to be Pfister too – no relation to the hotel. As a way to preserve the legacy of his family, he decides to donate his grandmother’s handmade clothing from the early 1900s, hoping the young designer will find some inspiration.

In Germany, Pfister is as common a name as Jones in America. Pfister actually translates to “baker” in English, the same craft Fred Pfister’s father mastered back in Germany and practiced here in America. This is how our history lesson begins…

A towering stature, but a gentle demeanor, Fred has lived in Milwaukee all his life. He never married, and worked as a policeman for 28 years. There’s a hurried and syncopated cadence to his speech. Timothy Westbrook and I shared lunch with Fred to learn the story behind the marvelous clothing he donated.

History is Fred’s passion. He pulled out his detailed map of Germany to show me where his relatives hailed from in comparison to Guido Pfister’s, proving there was no relation. “It took my father ten years to become a master baker. He came to America and thought he’d earn $10,000 and go back to Germany, but then the depression hit and then the second World War – and no one was going to go back to Germany when Hitler was in charge,” he recounts. He even told me about how he dug up his father’s old recipes for the Milwaukee Journal to share with an interested reader who longed for his father’s famous cake from Militzer’s Bakery.

Fred and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.
Fred and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.

Fred’s grandmother, Margaret Faubel, came to Milwaukee in 1893 on a steamship from Speyer, Germany at age of 19. She worked as a cook for the Trostel family, six and a half days a week for 15 years. And she still found time to make all of her own clothing. She learned to speak English by singing the song “After the Ball” by Charles H. Harris.

Fred continues to pull out binders filled with laminated pages of black and white pictures of his family from generations past, preserved with the same attention and care a doctor would give to open heart surgery.

In 1908, at age 34, Margaret married a widower named Henry Lange. He was a plasterer and 11 years her senior. She lived in a house at 2542 N. 17th Street for the next 51 years.

Margaret passed away in 1959 at the age of 84. When I asked Fred what he remembered most about his grandma he commented, “She was a really hard worker. She didn’t smile a lot, but was a nice lady.”

See the second half of this story at the end of the week in conjunction with Gallery Night, where Timothy Westbrook and I will reveal photos of Fred’s grandmother’s stunning clothing.

Keeping a Watchful Eye Over the Cafe

John Miller has been coming to brunch at the Pfister Café every Sunday with his family for the past eight years. It’s a post-church tradition that has continued to grow, along with with his family.

Henry Miller (the superhero-in-training, not the author) is 16 months old and Max is an outgoing and precious four. Superheroes are all the rage in their household. His brother Max led the way with his Spiderman fixation. “He pretty must just does what his brother does,” says John.

All the waitresses were cooing at Henry,  playing with his wiry curls that shoot off his scalp like springs on a mattress. His Batman cape, carefully clinging to his tee-shirt with two fraying pieces of Velcro, has obviously been through a few rescue missions before.

Henry Miller and his father John
Henry Miller and his father John

He’s like a little celebrity at the café, aloof and unencumbered by the attention. The other Sunday regulars all know him too – they wave and comment on his growth and development.

Max sees me working at my computer and approaches to ask if I will take his picture too. I most certainly couldn’t deny him, so he races down the ramp, through the lobby like a true superhero responding to the call of duty, to pose with Dick and Harry, the gilded lions at the bottom of the stairs.

If you happen to be at brunch on Sunday morning, you might see them keeping a watchful eye over the cafe. Afterall, it never hurts to have a pair of superheroes around.

 

Max, Henry and John Miller
Max, Henry and John Miller

 

Alivia and Elly

There was no dance floor so they created their own. Their dance moves were abstract, like the jazz. They were show stoppers – at just two feet tall. Who were these two little angels dressed in matching zebra print and ruffles at the Mason Street Grill? “People often mistake them for twins,” says Stacey, their mom. “They love to perform for others and make people smile and laugh. They are best buddies.” Elly is two and her sister Alivia is one – they are 13 months (to the day) apart and they’ve got serious rhythm.

Elly and Alivia
Elly and Alivia

Like trying to grab a slippery fish out of water, Stacey chased after her daughters as they continued to gyrate and giggle. She finally grabbed a hold so she could introduce me to these little dancing machines.

Goldberg Family lives in Chicago, but has been back and forth to Milwaukee ” so many times, we have stopped counting” in the past three and a half years. At just two years old, Elly has been to the hospital more than I have (and is probably a lot braver).

Because Stacey was 39 when she was pregnant with Elly, doctors recommended a more thorough “level two” ultrasound at 20 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors thought at the time  that Elly would be born with a congenital lung disease referred to as a CCAM (congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation) so the pregnancy was closely monitored. There was a growth of unhealthy tissue mass in Elly’s left lobe of her lung.

“Prior to Elly’s birth, we met with specialists both in Illinois and Wisconsin. We were incredibly impressed with Dr. Casey Calkins at Milwaukee’s Children’s Hospital. His broad knowledge, experience with this type of condition, and wonderful ability to connect with the children and families made him, without doubt, the number one choice for Elly’s medical journey,” reveals Stacey.

Miraculously, Elly came into this world asymptomatic, but needed a CT scan shortly after birth to determine the specifics of the mass, which they determined was a pulmonary sequestration. “It  is even more unique in the sense that it is a mass of nonfunctioning lung tissue that lacks normal connection with the tracheobroncheal tree and receives an anomalous blood supply and in Elly’s case, to the aorta,” said Stacey, although she might as well have been speaking Greek. She is no doctor herself, just (most obviously) an incredible mother committed herself to her daughter’s care.

Imagine being 40, four months pregnant and taking your 6-month-old baby to have the lower left lobe of her lung removed.  Dr. Calkins performed a thoracic surgery that created just two small incisions on her left side of her body. Both the physical and emotional scars from the surgery are minimal and quickly fading.

Milwaukee has become a special place for the Goldberg family throughout their journey and tonight they are celebrating the holidays together as a happy, healthy family at the Pfister.  Though they love Dr. Calkins, The Goldbergs were ecstatic to learn in July that Elly would no longer be under his care, without further follow-ups. Elly’s left lobe has been replaced with healthy lung tissue because the smaller the lung, the quicker it regenerates.

Stacey remarks, “We have found our new ‘home away from home’ at The Pfister. What a special place. The people in Milwaukee are delightful, warm, and so friendly. Milwaukee provides a big city feel, at a level that meets the needs of everyone.” The Goldbergs will most definitely be back to Milwaukee in 2013, under much happier circumstances.

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Christmas with the Tamscins

I think most people who’ve hosted a large gathering will agree that not having to cook on Christmas is a gift in itself. Being able to celebrate with your family, minus the grocery shopping, prep work and dishes leaves you a lot more time for holiday cheer.

One thing was also particularly evident this Christmas day at the Pfister – the hospitality industry never sleeps. Staff was bustling around through the crowd to accommodate each and every guest –  over 500 for Christmas brunch in the ballroom alone. The lobby and the cafe were also busting at the seams with guests.

The Tamscin family spread out one of the plush velvet couches in the lobby, digesting after brunch. They looked right out of a J Crew catalogue – gorgeous, blonde, neatly groomed and amiable. Mr. and Mrs. Tamscin grew up in Wisconsin, but have been living in Arizona for the past decade or so. They  came back to see their parents and agreed that a Wisconsin Christmas feels much more normal than Christmas in the dessert.

“What was the most delectable thing you ate?” I inquired. In case you missed it, I went on about the brunch menu here. “Pork roast, leg of lamb and gluten-free desserts” they chimed back in unison.

I snapped a few family photos in front of the Christmas tree for them and talked journalism with their daughter, a college student, before they were on their way.

No matter how you celebrated your holiday season, I hope it was merry and bright. And may 2013 bring you and your family much health and prosperity!

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The Menu of Holiday Past and Present

There are all kinds of relics to uncover here at the Pfister Hotel. With the holidays in full swing, food comes to my mind right away.  In my home, food for any celebration is always given the utmost care and attention, like a newborn baby. As I was poking around last week, I hopscotched my way up the wide, coral marble steps in the lobby guarded by Dick and Harry (the bronze lions). Displayed inconspicuously, was the china used at Thanksgiving dinner in 1899 at the Pfister Hotel, complete with the dinner menu. DSC_0046

Blue point oysters, Little Neck clams; followed by consomme, whitefish, salmon, leg of lamb, filet mignon, young chicken, young turkey and haunch of antelope. I’m not quite sure about that last entree, but overall, that sounds like a way better spread than turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

Luckily, this tradition of elegance and fine dining continues today with both Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch here at the Pfister. When I first arrived back in November, I marveled at the Sunday brunch service. Now, I see that truly, no one does the holidays like the Pfister.

Pfister menu

Only one other holiday tops the decadence of Thanksgiving, and that  is Christmas. At The Pfister, food is paramount.  I made a special trip on Christmas morning just to see the spread for myself. A runway of tables split the grand ballroom in two, piled high with every kind of delicacy you could imagine. It was a sight for the eyes, as much as a treat for the stomach. The tables intersected another horizontal row of smiling, white-coated chefs eager and willing to prepare you a fresh omelet or a stack of malted Belgian waffles.

Features from this year’s menu were: juniper berry grilled quail with sun-dried fruit wild rice, traditional rosemary leg of lamb with mint pan jam,  sea salt and herb crusted prime rib with thyme-garlic jus, Scottish salmon en croute with fennel, snow crab claws, shucked cold water oysters and lemongrass poached jumbo shrimp with cognac infused cocktail sauce.

(Is your mouth watering yet?)

Caramelized onion broth with parmesan croutons, citrus roasted chicken with rosemary polenta cakes, melted arugula, smoked tomato cream and winter squash ratatouille. I could go on all day…

The ballroom was packed with families smiling, laughing and enjoying their time together. I realized that although the food was spectacular, the more important function of it was bringing families together to share a meal and make memories on this most sacred holiday.

 

 

Making Connections and Building Community

There are certain advantages to being from a small town. “Connection really matters in small towns,” says Phil Gerbyshak. Phil is from Crivitz, a popular summer destination with a rustic charm in Northwest Wisconsin.  He’s built his own robust community and is passionate about helping people connect.

Phil was the featured speaker at an event Monday night for the Working Writers of Wisconsin. He is known for his no-nonsense approach to communication. He’s written five books (the first when he was only 26) and insists that good communication is always the differentiator in the room.

There was no need to warm up the crowd. His effervescent presence, neon yellow glasses and jazzy hand gestures were enough to immediately command the group’s attention. He introduced the idea of human connectivity and preaches: “If you build a community, each one commits to its success. You have to make people feel welcome and give them the space to be a part of whatever it is you’re doing.”

Phil and WWW member Carla Ann Ernst.
Phil and WWW member Carla Ann Ernst.

Writers create niches and now more than ever, have the power of accessibility when it comes to building communities through social networks. If you contribute to something – like good content – then you’ll have amazing reach. His advice doesn’t just pertain  to writers though. Phil encourages everyone to cultivate their own community around whatever it is that you have to offer, and convert them by making them feel included. Give your community something they can’t get anywhere else.

This small-town concept of community has a very practical application in both business and communications. And  how novel an idea that in the digital age you do something as simple as reach out to someone face-to-face to share ideas, rather than just Tweeting or Facebooking (Yes, they’ve now become verbs) back and forth. We are all guilty of getting stuck behind our screens, but it’s always a nice reminder to leverage those digital tools for real connections.

 

The Bride in Repose

Annie was unlike any bride I’ve ever seen – totally relaxed. Before she endures an afternoon of coiffing and dressing tomorrow, she was getting polished down at the Well Spa. The pale pink polish on her hands and toes matched her demure personality. Annie has to run out to pick up a card box – “Who knew you needed a special box just for the cards?” she shrugs, but agrees to meet me in the lobby to catch up when she returns.

The pomp and circumstance of a wedding can often set even the coolest cucumber into a fine frenzy. Not Annie. Maybe she was blissfully ignorant since she didn’t really start planning for her December wedding until October.

Annie and her flower girl.
Annie and her flower girl.

Everything was put on hold until she finished graduate school though. At least she’s a girl who’s got her priorities in line.

Annie returned promptly with her mother, Fern, who also seemed relatively calm. “Chris and I drove the moms crazy, at least that’s what his mom said,” Annie admitted. “Oh, I am glad you were making her crazy, I thought it was just me,” Fern voluntarily chimes in.

Shortly after, her brother and sister, Jaime and Jeremy, showed up with their own entourage of curious and adorable kids. There was a chorus of questions and plans to accommodate last-minute needs before they dispersed to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. Annie’s dad also popped in to check up on everyone and then retreated to his room after he felt reassured (and relieved) that his help was not needed.

We had yet to talk about a major part of her wedding – the groom. Annie and Chris met in college in 2003 and dated for a while before she moved to Manhattan and he took off to Colorado. A few years later, they met up in Florida and agreed that they wanted to be together. They’ve been living in Chicago for the past five years, and plan to stay there while Chris finishes law school.

Annie did have one wedding detail on lock down. She and Chris booked MeatBute, a Meatloaf cover band, to make a special guest appearance and perform a few songs at the wedding – mainly, a rousing rendition of “I Will Do Anything for Love.” She was giddy with excitement, like a kid talking about Santa Claus, “We heard them in Chicago and were just blown away. But shh…don’t tell my mom, it’s a surprise and no one knows about it.” Nothing like a surprise cover band to kick things up a notch at a wedding.

Throughout our entire conversation, I continually comment, “You’re so calm, I can’t believe that you’re getting married tomorrow.” She looks at me point blank and replies, “What’s there to be nervous about?” Now that’s a blissful bride.

Annie and family getting ready for the big day.
Annie and family getting ready for the big day.

 

 

 

A Voice Like Velvet

Close your eyes and you’ll swear Frank Sinatra is singing. Open them and take in the view. Up at Blu, it feels like I’m in a different city tonight, it feels like the Windy City.

I collided with Myles in the elevator  and I recognized him  (strangely enough) from the main stage at Homestead High School. He hasn’t changed much. Even back then, it was obvious that he was at home on the stage and behind the mic.

Tonight, he’s perched on a high stool in a tight configuration with a piano, bass and cymbals. He cradles the vintage silver slatted mic like precious cargo. Myles sings classic jazz and Christmas songs. His velvety voice is as smooth and warm as the whiskey pours being served at the bar. Blu was overflowing with people – strangers shared tables just to to stay and hear him sing.

Myles Hayes
Myles Hayes

During his break, we shared a cocktail at the bar and the took me through the abbreviated version of the past 15 years and I did the same. “I didn’t know I could sing jazz until a few years ago,” Myles admits, “But I was born to be a crooner baby!”

Myles comes to Milwaukee with his trio, aptly called the Myles Hayes Trio,  once a month from Chicago to sing at Blu. He has regular gigs five nights a week in Chicago and he also works in a photo studio during the week. He’s extroverted and charming, embodying the laid-back attitude of his predecessors in the Rat Pack. Had Myles been alive back then, he surely would have fit right in.

 

A Palace for the People

The King of Hospitality knows a thing or two about throwing a party. I, along with 500 of Mr. Marcus’s closest friends, attended a dinner celebration last week to commemorate his 50th anniversary of Pfister Hotel ownership.

Both Mayor Barrett and Governor Walker declared December 6th “Steve Marcus Day” in Milwaukee. Guests even took home Steve Marcus bobble heads. If there’s any indicator that you’ve made it in life, a mayoral declaration and a personalized bobble head should really top the list.

Stephen’s father, Ben, handed the hotel over to him in 1962 in total disrepair so Steve undertook a $7 million renovation and added on the 23-floor tower. He later found out that the collection of Victorian art was worth more than the hotel at the time. Steve was able to carry out the original vision for the hotel, creating a “palace for the people.”

A few other fun facts I learned:
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  •  Every president since McKinley has stayed at the hotel
  • Rosemary Steinfest was the first female GM and worked there from 1962 to 1996 (She’s a lovely lady – more on her to come in January)
  • Dr. Jeffery Hollander has been the musician in residence for 30 years
  • There was a piano piece commissioned in 1894 called The Pfister March

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The three Marcus boys talked about the historical significance of the hotel and its impact on their life and family. Greg, Steve’s son, put it best when he said they think of it more as “caring for” the hotel, rather than owning it.

Andrew, Greg, Steve and David Marcus

The Pfister is filled with special memories for so many other people too. I shared a table with George and Anastasia Papageorge, who married at the Pfister on October 26, 1958. Their daughter also got married there in 1972 and they even celebrated their 25th and 50th anniversaries there. Now, they are hoping their granddaughter will carry on the Papageorge tradition and tie the knot at the Pfister soon! They say that the “Pfister was, and is, the one and only hotel in Milwaukee.”

Anastasia and George Pappageorge

 

Through all the remarks, laughs and historical details, the most touching part of the evening was that after all these years, the Pfister is still relevant and marvelous things still happen every day.