Prison Cells with a River View… Coming to Milwaukee in 1983.
Pictured Above: The building that nearly became
building was located at
Pictured Above: The
the state had been scouting for new prison sites since the mid-1970s. The
existing prison faculties were badly overcrowded and state officials had
determined that placing a prison in the heart of
Brewers’ Hill residents also strongly opposed the plan. As the sale of the land was pending, a neighborhood group joined in the city in a lawsuit against the state, claiming the sale was in violation of state law because the required environmental impact study on the new prison had not yet been completed. Despite a court order to delay the purchase of the site until the report was finished, state officials had gone ahead with the transaction anyway. A judge sided with the neighbors and ordered the sale voided.
By the summer of 1983, with the prison plan in flux, the state pressed for a reversal of the ruling. A pro-prison state-issued report on the matter claimed that the neighborhood had already been so badly depressed by the preceding decades of deindustrialization that the prison could not possibly further harm the area. Responding to the claim that the prison might cause residents to leave the neighborhood and depress property values, the state said that property values had already reached their nadir and that the bulk of the local populace was too impoverished to relocate.
The state also used the proposed design of the facility to allay fears. The 16-foot-tall, razor-wire topped fences and twin 30-foot guard towers would secure the prisoners and the added patrols of the grounds, it was claimed, would actually make the neighborhood much safer. The plan also called for the building to be neutrally painted, giving it the look of an unassuming office tower that could blend into its surroundings. And as for the prisoners, it was proposed that tinted or reflective glass could be placed in the windows of each cell, to prevent residents from seeing in, and to obscure any prisoners who might be looking out.
July, another court ruling gave the state the OK to proceed with planning the
conversion, although the transfer of the property remained on hold. The state
was pleased with the ruling and announced that their plans for beginning work
by the end of the year were still on track. Months later, the state announced that
matter dragged on throughout 1984 with the Trostel site held in abeyance and the
state official responsible for approving the purchase of the property, despite
the court order forbidding it, was charged with contempt of court. In May, an
appeals court dropped the charges and reversed the ruling on the sale, but after
an appeal by the city, the state placed the Trostel prison project on hold,
instead choosing to focus on the
Pictured Above: The Beerline B Apartments (beerlinebapartments.com)
By winning in court, however, the state had been gifted with a property that quickly became a millstone. Soon after dropping the prison idea, routine soil testing at the Trostel site – which had been skipped during the purchase process – revealed the ground to be severely polluted by decades of tanning chemical spillage. The state tried numerous times to unload the land, but each sale was scuttled by the polluted earth. Finally, in 1992, the Trostel Company agreed to buy back and rehabilitee the land for development. The state sold the plot for less than $200,000 – nine years after buying for over $1.3 million. In 2012, after the property had been cleaned of its pollutants, the Beerline B Apartments opened on the site.