About the Open House Project

Apartment 4 is the first in the Open House Project series, an ongoing Arts Center initiative providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists and art forms. Artists and organizations are invited to collaborate and experiment with new ideas and original content in exhibitions that use the galleries in the John Michael Kohler home as a place for artistic inquiry. The home, built in 1883, is a unique setting for the generation of new curatorial explorations of topics ranging from the familiar to the phenomenal.

Iris Häussler and The Chipstone Foundation:

Apartment 4

June 22, 2018 - June 16, 2019

Florence Hasard in Milwaukee: On the Milwaukee Polish flat

Submitted by Julie Niemi
Posted February 12, 2019

 

When Florence Hasard emigrated to the United States from Paris in 1927, evidence shows she landed in Milwaukee. In a Dateline Milwaukee [1] newspaper article published fifteen years later, we learn not only details about Florence’s sudden disappearance but also clues about the sort of life she lived in the Midwest. The article titled “A Mystery in Milwaukee: What Happened to Florence Hasard?” reveals that Florence rented a second-floor apartment from Mrs. Agnes Pryzbylski, after responding to an advertisement in the paper. 

 

As we piece together the fragments of Florence’s life, advertisements and newspaper articles such as these help us build her biography. A seemingly simple advertisement allows us to uncover pragmatic details such as her neighborhood and income. More importantly, it allows us to look closely at more nuanced aspects of her life, such as where she decided to cultivate a sense of community. We start to understand Florence Hasard’s first few months in the Midwest by looking at Milwaukee’s political environment and the space she occupied—a type of regional architecture referred to as a “Polish flat."

Based on a testimonial from Mrs. Przybylski in Dateline Milwaukee, we know that Florence rented a small apartment beginning in 1928. It is speculated that her address was 451 Mitchell Street, located in a neighborhood that is now called Walker’s Square in Milwaukee. Florence’s home was likely a modest five-room flat, located in the heart of the city’s Polonia district. And perhaps more importantly, the location was just a short ride on the blue line trolley to the Layton School of Art, where she worked as a live model in drawing classes. Low rent in Walker's Square offered affordable options to new city dwellers such as Florence.

 

The Polonia community was a major influence in Milwaukee’s growing immigrant population, and the Polish flats were built in response to this growth. [2] Mrs. Przybylski’s is one story of emigration in a sea of many. In the late 1890s, Agnes Przybylski left the German-ruled provinces of Posen for Milwaukee with her mother and father, who were looking to find better work and affordable housing. Shortly after their arrival, Agnes’s father accepted one of the many low-wage steel mill jobs and joined the Polish Falcon fraternal organization. Polish immigrants, such as the Przybylski’s, valued owning land and building their own homes. When the Pryzbylski’s saved enough money, the family put a down payment on a modest single-story cottage located on one of the narrow lots lining Mitchell Street. The Przybylski’s expanded their wooden home, jacking up their original cottage to build another living unit in the half-basement beneath. [3] Typically, this alteration resulted in a two-family home environment with two separate entrances, both leading to individual hallways at the front of the house. The additional unit, when leased out to a tenant, brought in additional income for the family. Found across the broader Midwest, these stacked units became colloquially known as “Polish flats” in Milwaukee. [4]

The Polish flat was born of enterprise and an unprecedented demand for additional housing. Conditions in most Polish flats were cramped and poorly ventilated. The conditions endured in these private, modest domestic spaces played a significant role in Milwaukee’s political development. The Polish flat, also called the “Polish workers cottage,” served as a rallying point for the city’s Socialist-Democrats, who gained control of city government in 1910. This was inherently due to the city’s swelling population (18,000 people per square mile by 1920 [5]) inspiring working-class tenants to vocalize the conditions of their living spaces and working environments in organized protests.

When Florence arrived in the late 1920s, she was welcomed into a city hinged on socialist roots and a neighborhood that was a hotbed for social activism.

[1] Dateline Milwaukee is a fictitious publication created by Iris Häussler. It was developed as part of the Apartment 4 exhibition to provide additional context to Florence Hasard’s disappearance.

[2] Pienkos, Donald. "Poles." Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. Accessed January 25, 2019. https://emke.uwm.edu/entry/poles/.

[3] "University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee." Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. Accessed January 15, 2019. https://uwm.edu/mkepolonia/polish-flats/.

[4] McCarthy, John. "Dreaming of a Decentralized Metropolis: City Planning in Socialist Milwaukee." Michigan Historical Review 32, no. 1 (2006): 33-57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20174140.

[5] Christopher Hillard. "Milwaukee Architecture: The First 100 Years of City Homes." Urban Milwaukee. Accessed January 25, 2019. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2015/02/25/milwaukee-architecture-the-first-100-years-of-city-homes/.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Chipstone FoundationKohler Trust for the Arts and EducationKohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.