The drive into Milwaukee once offered a sweeping vista of the American industrial apocalypse.
Abandoned factories and decaying smokestacks cast shadows over rusting rail yards, weed-choked lots, heaps of junked automobiles and small mountains of sand, coal and salt. The odor from the slaughterhouses, a massive coal-fired power plant and, especially, a yeast factory wafted up to the traffic, while waste from a century and a half of tanning leather, pouring steel and butchering beasts seeped into the river below. Once the beating heart of this great industrial city, the Menomonee River Valley had become, in the words of a mid-1980s Milwaukee Journal reporter, “an ugly, rust-colored lesion on the city’s midsection.”
Fast-forward two decades and Wisconsin’s most visible eyesore is barely recognizable.