The Penny Post

Milwaukee solid

By Andrei Codrescu

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Milwaukee banks is where you want to keep your money if you have any. Made of solid reddish brick, gated in brass, glumly German, and Lutheranly understated, they bespeak a trustworthiness steeped in fog, rain, snow, and discretion. Milwaukee is the prosperous but progressive heart of Wisconsin, a state where social improvement makes good business sense.

This you’ll hear from Robin Hoke, for instance, tour guide at the Frank Lloyd Wright-built H.Q. of the Johnson Company. Delighted by the global reach of the maker of Edge shaver and Raid bug-killer, among other markers of our daily lives, Robin will point out the vast philanthropy of the Johnsons that, combined with their three-year avantgarde grip on the ozone, makes this one of the best companies to work for in the whole world.

Frank Lloyd Wright had his wild-artist disagreements with the elder Johnson, but in one respect they must have rejoiced together: the space bubble where the office drones buzz productively in the overwhelming light gave Patriarch Johnson, seated above in the gallery, an unencumbered view of every worker-bee, while so much curved space got Wright so high on his own esthetics he never came down again. Did he even acknowledge post-mortem the horror of his influence on the open classroom of the seventies, so roundly hated by everyone? This is a question for theosophists, many of whom, like other varieties of social-utopian mystics, abound around Milwaukee.

But back to Johnson and Wright while the theosophists channel Steiner and Blavatsky. There was the problem with the chair: designed to hold a pose, it wasn’t practical for women who fell out of it whenever they crossed their legs. So Mr. Johnson wanted to add another chair leg. Mr. Wright consented, after the tantrum. The chair is still hell to sit in. I tried. It was frightful.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wright, as well as many kings of agricultural machinery and insurance, kept their money in square brick and brass Milwaukee banks that, architecturally, are the opposite of the workplace Mr. Wright devised, which tells me that the workers’ happiness is not about money or privacy, like their progressive bosses’. How did I know that? I don’t have any money, that’s how.

What’s that? Yes, the answer is in from the channels: no, F. L. Wright was never sorry. Thank you, Steiner and Blavatsky. That’s what I thought.


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