News: Milwaukee County





Thar she blows?

Whale of a secret over courthouse annex implodes on film Web site

Posted: Dec. 1, 2004

Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but the Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex will be razed within the next 18 months.

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Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex
Photo/David Joles
Traffic on Wednesday flows north and south along I-43 past the Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex, near the Marquette Interchange. Officials maintain that discussions are continuing over whether the annex will be razed for interchange reconstruction.
Walker's staff 'wanted it to be on the Web site for possible film use, but they didn't want it to be public. I don't think they were expecting anyone from the newspaper to see it.'
- Wendy Haase,
Spokeswoman, Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau
On the Web
Web site: Wisconsin Film Office


It's supposed to be a secret - unless you're a Hollywood director looking for a shot of a downtown building blowing up above a freeway.

Officially, county and state officials say, no decision has been reached on the fate of the parking garage that hangs over I-43. They say they're still talking about whether the building with the giant whale mural will come down in connection with Marquette Interchange reconstruction and, if so, who would pay for demolition.

But the plan has been announced in a somewhat unlikely forum: the Wisconsin Film Office's Web site.

At the bottom of the "News & Crew Calls" page of the state agency's Web site,, is this notice:

LOCATION TO IMPLODE: If you have a project that calls for imploding/destroying part of a building in Downtown Milwaukee, just over the I-43 Marquette Interchange, then contact the Milwaukee County Executive's office for more information, (414) 278-4083. The locally known "Whale Wall" portion of the building (overlooking the downtown Marquette Interchange) will be imploded by May of 2006.

In June, County Executive Scott Walker suggested that the state Department of Transportation should demolish the annex as part of the $810 million reconstruction of the interchange. He said he didn't think the aging structure could withstand four years of vibration from rebuilding the junction of I-43, I-94 and I-794.

State officials disagreed, saying demolition wasn't necessary and they didn't have $22 million in their budget to raze and replace the annex, which houses key components of the county telephone system along with 447 parking spaces and other facilities. But they did offer to open a window in the interchange work in 2006 if the county wanted to do the job itself.

Since then, attention has focused on whether the annex demolition might be packaged with development of a county office building at N. 6th and W. State streets or in the proposed PabstCity complex.

Steve Mokrohisky, a deputy chief of staff to Walker, said the issue remains under discussion. Don Reinbold, chief of the state's Marquette Interchange team, also said no decision had been reached.

But Jerry Huffman, spokesman for the state Department of Tourism, said the film office received its information from the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau, which in turn had received it from Walker's office.

Wendy Haase, a spokeswoman for the visitors bureau, confirmed that she had received the information from Bob Dennik, another Walker deputy chief of staff. Dennik's office phone number matches the one listed on the Web site.

Haase added, however: "Nobody's really supposed to know about it. They (Walker's staff) wanted it to be on the Web site for possible film use, but they didn't want it to be public. I don't think they were expecting anyone from the newspaper to see it."

She said she wasn't sure why Walker's staff would think material posted on the Internet would remain secret.

Dennik claims it was all a misunderstanding.

"I'm not sure where this whole thing came from," Dennik said. "We were just looking at all the options."

He said he had been discussing the big-screen potential of the annex demolition with a neighbor, Wauwatosa screenwriter Tom Matthews ("Mad City"), and Matthews told Dennik about the film office.

Dennik said he told the visitors bureau to let the film office know the potential annex demolition might be a possibility for a film shoot.

But Dennik said he didn't know anything about the Internet posting until Journal Sentinel reporters started asking about it.

On Wednesday, Dennik said he had asked the film office to take the material off its Web site.

As for the Hollywood directors, they haven't been burning up Dennik's line. He said the film office told him that few people had clicked on the site since the information was posted Nov. 4.

Dave Umhoefer of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

From the Dec. 2, 2004 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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