Over the years, Milwaukee has been known as "Brew City" for all the beer, “City of Festivals” for our summer-long line-up of festivals, but "Cream City?" The cream in question is not a reference to our dairy state of Wisconsin, but rather comes in solid, brick form.
“Cream City brick” emerged from Milwaukee's kilns in the 1830s.The relatively high concentration of lime and sulfur in the clay found in the Menomonee Valley created the creamy hue. Locally-produced, it became the least expensive building material of its day, making it a primary building component for churches, homes, factories, and businesses for the next 70 years.
While the bricks brought a characteristic lighter color to new buildings at the time, their porous nature meant dirt, smoke, weathering, and pollutants could easily penetrate. By the early 1900s, many of the buildings constructed with Cream City brick had lost their luster. Access to other building materials, such as concrete, led to a steady decline in Cream City brick production shortly after 1900.
In modern times, restoration projects initiated by developers, architects, and preservationists have resurrected an interest in the original Cream City brick. As attempts at sandblasting buildings in the 1970s proved more harm than good, chemical composites now restore the brick to its original look, as the numerous renovation projects across the city attest.
So where are these Cream City brick buildings? Famous examples are the Miller Brewing Company buildings along State Street, along with the former Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz brewery buildings in downtown Milwaukee, and St. John the Evangelist Cathedral on Jackson Street. But you’ll also find them all over town, as Milwaukee is expert at preserving our historic buildings and giving them new life for the future.