History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.
History and Folklore!
"There is a tavern in the town, in the town
And there my true love sits him down, sits him down,
And drinks his wine as merry as can be,
And never, never thinks of me."
Anyone living in Milwaukee has probably heard the first verse of this polka several hundred times, at weddings, picnics, festivals and almost any other occasion. Today we don’t think twice about having a tavern in the Village Center of Greendale. But in 1936 when planning the building of Greendale, it was not necessarily a given to have a tavern. Only three years earlier it would have been illegal for anyone, much less the government, to build and operate a tavern! It was not until December of 1933 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment to the Constitution nullifying the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition.
This was quite a turnabout. Before the enactment of prohibition in 1919, saloons and “demon rum” were exclusively male domains. Following the enactment, it’s no surprise that the “speakeasies”, the illegal nightclubs of the Roaring 20’s became the domain of tax evading scoff-laws and organized crime. Hardly the family friendly places that respectable folks would patronize… one would think.
However, these new establishments saw women as a target demographic and their drinking in these semi-public places became socially acceptable. A woman being able to drink a cocktails is an interesting, unintended consequence of Prohibition, but there it is, and my wife is grateful. Once prohibition ended taverns were no longer viewed as for men only, nor for women only, but as a congregating places for socializing. So when it came time to design the business section of the Village Center, this new attitude towards the tavern resulted in one being planned for Greendale
The Greendale Co-operative, Incorporated August 22, 1938, held the general lease on all business properties in Greendale. The Co-op did not wish to operate all of the businesses from the outset, and selected Fred Staub to sub-lease the tavern. Staub was a tavern and restaurant operator in Milwaukee for the 10 years prior to opening the Greendale Tavern on July 1, 1939. Sherwood L. Reader said in the Greendale Review newspaper that “We want a clean, decent tavern, one where we can go of an evening with our family and enjoy a glass of beer. No other kind of tavern will be tolerated.” The paper also reported “The tavern will have no special ‘ladies’ or ‘family entrance.’ Staub will invite the women’s organizations to hold meetings in his place.”
When Staub’s lease ran out, the Greendale Tavern was leased to Joe and Kitty Sullivan. The Sullivan’s renamed it the Greendale Village Inn. Then in late 1943 the Co-op took over management of the Village Inn directly, with Jack Blosser as the manager. Lunches were served for workers on the night shifts at Allis Chalmers and other Milwaukee factories. But most people remember the Friday night fish fry, which cost 35¢ each.
Once again, our resident ‘kid’ from the early days, Ted Mainella, shares this humorous ‘Fish Fry’ story for us to enjoy:
“The Friday night fish fry at the Village Inn in Greendale wasn't just for the tavern goers. As teenagers we couldn't go in the front door but we eagerly lined up at the back door for our Friday night fish.
Following the dance in the basement of the School (now the ) we would follow the aroma of French fries and fried perch wafting from the Village Inn. None of us could drive then, and the Village Inn was right there so we could walk in the back door and line up in the narrow hallway leading to their small kitchen.
We waited patiently for our turn to order. With a dollar in hand and change to come, we anticipated our late snack by goofing around. Someone in the front of the line noticed that in a room off to the side cases of Blatz beer waited for their time in the tavern.
It was too tempting. Standing near the back of the line, I noticed a bit of commotion towards the front and soon a case of Blatz shorties worked its way toward me and my good buddy Steve. We were nearly out the door anyway, so when the case came to us we did what most teenagers do when in doubt-we ran! I don't remember how hard it was to run with a full case of beer. Maybe we took turns.
We headed for Dale Creek and made the snap decision not to open the case but, squirrel-like, bury it. Like a lot of decisions we made at that age, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Steve remembered where the beer was hidden. And so did a third accomplice who was running along behind us. I guess because I lived in the "E" section and they lived closer to our buried treasure in the "B" section they had priority rights. In any event, I only heard about how good those Blatz beers tasted.
I am not sure if the Village Inn tightened their security after our raid of their beer. I know they still let us kids line up on Friday nights for what I remember as the best fish fry for under a dollar.
Even without a beer chaser.”
In 1953 the Government got out of the Tavern business when Greendale was sold to The Milwaukee Community Development Corporation (). The Co-op chose not to continue operating any of the businesses and was dissolved. MCDC then leased the property to The Village Inn, Inc. a corporation led by Jim Kendellen. Jim and his family were one of the original families that moved into Greendale in 1938. In 1957 the Village Center was sold to the Commercial Management
Corporation, run by August Urbanek. In 1958 Urbanek supervised the building of the businesses on the East Side of Broad Street, and the remodeling of the businesses on the west side. In late 1958 the Village Business Center had a grand opening.
Since 1958, The Village Inn and The Village Center have gone through other changes and interesting times, but that story is for another day. This story is about the Greendale Tavern, a social gathering place for the new residents of Greendale. A place where the family could go, and where the sense of community spirit could begin to take hold and grow.
But did you know?
The Friday Night Fish Fry is a Wisconsin tradition. But how did it get started? There is no one single reason or event that can be identified, but rather a series of influences. Immigrants came to Wisconsin from many ethnic and religious backgrounds, with a large numbers of German Catholics coming to Milwaukee and Green Bay. Fish was abundant in the many lakes and rivers, and this was a cheap and convenient source of protein for the family. These immigrants brought with them the technology of frying fish to make it taste better. In strong Catholic areas like Green Bay and Milwaukee the Lenten requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays served to increase the consumption of fish. Prohibition and the Depression of the 20’s hurt the tavern business. Some taverns kept going by offering cheap or free food like the fish fry to families, and made money on beer and whiskey (illegally of course). After the repeal of prohibition in 1933 many taverns continued to offer cheap or free food on Fridays to lure families back. Today, the Friday Night Fish Fry is a requirement for any notable restaurant or tavern.
People, Past & Present!
James Kendellen was born in Ireland in 1900 and immigrated to the United States in 1911. The details of his teenage years are sketchy, but we catch up with him living in West Allis, married to Elizabeth (Bess) and working for the Milwaukee Road. By 1938 Jim and Bess already had three children, Kathleen, Tom and Dan. It was then that they picked up and moved to Greendale, first living at 5605 Arbutus Court. Baby number four must have already been on the way as Sheila was born in 1938, one of the first babies in this new wilderness community. From Arbutus Court they moved to 5590 Apple Court, purchased it when the Government sold the houses, and this is where Jim and Bess lived out their lives. Jim passed away in 1993, and Bess in 2010 at 101 years of age.
Jim was a member of the Greendale Co-op and helped manage the Tavern and the Gas Station for the Co-op when they were leased out. My source for Jim and Bess comes from daughter #1, Kathleen, who is still active in the Greendale Historical Society and a treasure trove of information about Greendale. Kathleen was five years old when the family moved to Greendale, and she was in the first kindergaden class. Kathleen tells her dad’s story of Hilbert Guse, the operator of the Gas Station, and the lottery tickets. Hilbert would give her dad money for a lottery ticket every week. He would just save the money for months, and then give it back to Hilbert as ‘winnings’. That would be a wise idea for everyone to follow even to this day.
When the Co-op took over the direct operation of the Village Inn (as it was now called), Jim worked for the manager Jack Blosser. The kids would help him clean up around the Inn, and later would help in the kitchen and wait on tables. Kathleen particularly remembers washing the windows. Her dad used to say “If the windows are clean no one says a thing, if they’re dirty everyone tells you about it.” She also remembers picking cherries off of the five cherry trees in the yard, and helping her mother can them, and also make pies for the village Inn.
Then in 1954 the Village Inn truly became a family affair. They established a corporation named ‘The Village Inn, Inc.’ and the property was leased from the new owners, first the MCDC and then August Urbanek. The officers were James Kendellen, President, Elizabeth Kendellen, Vice President and Treasurer, and Kathleen Hart (Kendellen) Secretary. For the next seven years until 1961 everyone pitched in and worked at the Inn when they had time. Kathleen remembers the Friday fish fry of course and also the Spaghetti dinners on Saturdays.
If you were a kid during the early years, you remember the Friday fish fry. If you were an adult, you remember Jim, Bess, the kids and the rest of their cheerful helpers at the Village Inn. Good memories of a fun place and one of the special pioneer families in Greendale, the Kendellen
Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:
– The Greendale Tavern opened on July 1st, 1939; the first operator was Fred L. Staub; the first customer was Fabian W. Strong; and a beer cost 5¢.
Week#50 Question – Who is the longest serving employee of the Greendale Department of Public Works?
** Week #50 contributors Sally Chadwick, Library of Congress, The Greendale Historical Society, Jean M. Miller, Ted Mainella, Kathleen Hart (Kendellen), Wikipedia, Janet C. Gilmore PhD.