I have read the recent news coverage about the future of the Sheboygan Armory and remember attending games of the Sheboygan Redskins while having the privilege of watching our hometown hero, Ken Suesens.
During high school I went to North-South basketball games. Additionally, I was a guest at some of the Hmong New Year celebrations and paid to hear Bobby Vinton. It rained when I graduated from North High School in 1955 and the ceremony was at the Sheboygan Armory. Although I can honestly state I am emotionally connected to all of those events, it is those that I remember, not the place.
Great memories, I’m sure, yet, without “the place” there are no memories, just as your grandchildren have no memories from the Armory, a building that has, and can continue to provide a venue for memory making events well into the future. It’s sad that you don’t remember the perfectly polished hardwood floor, or some of the most beautiful natural lightning ever seen by man. Yet, we all remember things in our own way. Maybe it was that pure audio dynamite, or that special person we met, memories can be as subtle as a whisper.
The Sheboygan Armory is about 70 years old and suffering from the ravages of age and insufficient maintenance by its owner, the City of Sheboygan, because of no justifiable reason to do so. It was built as a Work Progress Administration project before the Second World War and is not architecturally attractive. Other examples of his style of architecture in presently occupied buildings are our courthouse and the post office.
The Armory is as old as it feels, knock on the walls, jump on the floors, they feel like new, look like new, the City of Sheboygan has been perpetuating the myth of the Armory’s decay since the late sixties. It was barely 30 at the time, in architectural years, it was, and is a child. Many memories later, the Sheboygan Economic Development Corporation, now the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation, saw the promise of this child and developed a campaign for the future of Sheboygan, Spaceport Sheboygan, that held at its core, the Armory.
It’s true the City of Sheboygan and Spaceport Sheboygan let the building decay over the years, ask them why, don’t hold it against the building. The truth is, Jack Hertel and others like him, kept the Armory in better shape than you would ever imagine. The superficial decay had far less effect on this concrete and steel fortress than you would think from the propaganda campaign focused on its destruction. The Kewanee boiler providing the heat is so bulletproof, a warranty can still be purchased, yet, isn’t really needed. It should operate for at least another hundred years, a true testament to midwestern manufacturing.
Most would argue the Court House, and Post Office, join the Armory as the crown Jewels of Sheboygan Architecture. They are all great building that will serve us as long as we want them to. The Armory stands out for its sheer simplicity, and early vision of form follows function. It’s 3 foot thick steel reinforced concrete foundation serves as a testament to the thousands of Sheboyganites who poured their hearts into the project. It’s not a here today, gone tomorrow building, it’s a for the ages, Sheboygan Pyramid, nothing less. I think it’s beautiful, yet beauty…
If basketball were played at the Armory in the manner in which it is now, players running for a layup on the West end of the court would end up on the stage and those doing so on the East end of the court would end up in the lobby.
The court is the court, it worked than, it works now, the only real addition to the game of basketball is the three point line, and it has that. Players didn’t end up in strange places then, logic dictates it wouldn’t happen now. If by some strange chance a player would end up on the stage, I have a strategy for getting them back on the court, it’s called getting back on the court.
To those people who want to hang onto a vestige of the past I would say that the past is history and can never be recreated. Trying to do so is emotional folly. Will your children or mine ever remember those glorious years? No, because they never experienced them. Nor will the continued existence of that building help to do so.
The past is history, yet, the Armory isn’t history, it’s an idled future staring us in the face. It’s true your grandchildren will not have any memories of the Armory, or the opportunities they have been denied, if we follow your line of thinking. Your children grew up in Sheboygan, I’m sure they have their own memories, yet, this isn’t about memories, this is about the now, about the future of Sheboygan, a future you fail to envision.
I recommend demolishing the building and creating a green space that could serve as a marine park with the relocation of the Lottie Cooper, the eyesore in front of our refurbished YMCA, and the old fishing boat resting on the South side of the Sheboygan River adjacent to Blue Harbor. Erect some historic plaques about the marine history of Sheboygan and maybe even commission the making of bronze statues of two of Sheboygan’s basketball pioneers, Ken Suesens and Mr. 600, Tom Desotell.
Tear it down so we can prominently display what you refer to as an eyesore? That old fishing boat has already had enough taxpayer dollars spent on it to keep the Armory open for a decade, if not longer. My greatest memory of that boat, my brother living on it for the several years prior to the City making it into history, sweet history. Joe Hauser, arguably Sheboygan’s greatest athlete, is little more than memories, and a gravestone. Joe lived many incarnations of life before this plaque in his honor was cleverly hidden in a cemetery. One might say his greatest years were behind Joe when he moved to his adopted City of Sheboygan, I would argue they were just starting. My common bond with Joe, we both sold tickets to the Globetrotters and Packer fueled basketball events at the Armory. Many of us have far greater memories, yet, as a community, we failed to properly memorialize Joe, and what he meant to the community.
Bronze statues sound like expensive monuments to two Sheboygan basketball legends, I would argue we have many more every bit as deserving of such honors, yet, the Armory already serves as a much better monument to not only Sheboygan basketball, yet, the history of the sport. These statues and plaques would only serve as a slap in the face of true believers in the history of Sheboygan, and its future, much like privatizing the Quarry has been.
Think! What individuals, organizations or government entities have sound reason to spend the money to refurbish and maintain the Sheboygan Armory? Not the taxpayers of the City of Sheboygan, the County of Sheboygan, the State of Wisconsin or the federal government. Nor can private individuals, foundations or any corporations justify spending the money in the face of the donor fatigue that exists today as the result of so many more worthy projects to benefit humanity.
We never asked you, or any of the versions of Citizen representation you list to spend any money. This is a myth perpetrated from behind closed doors at City Hall, a myth you, and our local media are promoting. Donor fatigue, what a surprise, the core of Sheboygan has been systematically dismantled to such a degree in the name of failed development that we have become “Brokeback City”. Our “leaders” perpetuate the myth that we can’t afford anything, yet continue to waste money at every turn. You can deny your grandchildren the opportunity, yet not ours. We are doing this for them, we want them to do what recent generations don’t. Stay and play in the City of Sheboygan, a geographically blessed area that has seen our youth and most others flee to greener pastures as we eliminate the now in the name of star chamber development.
Robert E. Chesebro Jr. is Chairman and CEO of Wigwam Mills, Sheboygan.
Mike Brunette is SheVegas, a Photojournalist, Futurist, Educator, Former, and once again Dreamer of all things Sheboygan. The bold ramblings are his, he would like others to ramble on.