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Friday, June 13, 2008

Brady Street Now and Then

Frank Alioto

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When Brady Street resident Frank Alioto became a fireman 25 years ago, he fulfilled his boyhood dream. When he published his first book earlier this year, he realized one of his greatest adult aspirations: to chronicle the history of his neighborhood. Milwaukee’s Brady Street Neighborhood, published as part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, is an engaging visual survey of the area and its people from the mid-19th century through today. It also serves as an excellent primer to the changing face of Brady Street.

How did this book come about?
My wife started the neighborhood newsletter in 1996 called the Brady Street News and asked me to write a history column, so I started a column informing neighbors of the things I’d dug up in the history of the area— famous people who’d grown up here, interesting buildings and the old businesses.

I interviewed some of the veterans from the neighborhood, and over time I’ve amassed historic photos of the area. All of my articles are on the Brady Street Association Web site, and someone from Arcadia Publishing contacted us and offered me a contract.

Why do you think it’s important to showcase local history in this manner?
One reason is that I think it’s important to have a guide for young people and children to know what their roots are to a place they’re connected to.

And once you’re aware of the past, you gain an appreciation for a place. Too often in this country, there are no roots anymore. A book like mine can tell them what was here. Another thing is there’s a lot of newcomers in the area moving in and I think it’s important to have a definitive guide for people to show it didn’t always look like this. Another reason is, most importantly, history’s fun. I’ve had so much feedback from people who’ve paged through it and have certain memories and it’s fun to reminisce.

Describe some of the challenges you met.
Well, there’s really no book on the area and there are very few photos of the very early years, so it was hard work to scour people’s basements and local archives—everything from the state historical society to UWM—and I struck out a lot. But there are other areas where there are scores of pictures and I had to pare them down.

Who do you think will get the most out of your book?
I get a lot of positive feedback from the old-timers in the neighborhood, thanking me, and it feels good to know they have something to pass on to their children and grandchildren that goes along with the stories they tell. I also find it very important that my 10- and 12-year-olds see what life was like for their great-grandparents and so on. It has a broad base. There are also just history buffs who’ll enjoy the book… Milwaukee’s full of wonderful neighborhoods, and as we update and renovate, it’s important to have recordings of what preceded, even if it’s the lean years.

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