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Armory Park

VETERANS MONUMENT AND MEMORIAL GARDEN at ARMORY PARK honors the rich history of men and women who served and fought valiantly for our nation.  Located on the original site of Whitefish Bay National Guard Armory, it is at the southwest corner of Henry Clay Street and Ardmore Avenue in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.

In 1908, the 57th Field Artillery Brigade relocated from downtown Milwaukee and began drilling where a family farm once stood.  When Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort closed in 1914, two of its buildings were moved here.  The resort’s train depot became a drill hall.  Its dance hall housed soldiers’ storage lockers.  The red brick armory was built in 1929 for Battery A of the 121st Field Artillery of Wisconsin’s National Guard.  Up to 500 guard members drilled at the armory on training weekends.  For many years, the original Rabe farmhouse was its headquarters, as well as a home for officers and their families.

During World War I, Battery A fought in six major campaigns as part of the United States Army’s 32nd Infantry Division.  During World War II, the 57th Field Artillery Brigade sent troops to both the Pacific and European theaters, and later fought in Korea.

The armory was an integral part of the Whitefish Bay community.  During the 1940s, the armory became a recreational center called “Bay’s Back Door”.  For decades, it hosted weddings, proms, church services, basketball tournaments, police balls, and activities of more than thirty community groups.  The Rabe farmhouse was razed in 2000 and the armory was demolished in 2004.

Design of the monument is based upon the insignia of the 32nd Infantry Division, the famous “Red Arrow”.  An informational plaque is located at the arrow’s feathers and is the gathering area.  The arrow’s shaft passes through the donor walls and memorial area, just as the 32nd pierced every enemy line it faced.  The arrow’s head, where our nation’s flag now stands, is a memorial garden.  Donor benches encircle flag pole and garden, providing a place to pause and reflect on sacrifices made by service members and their families.

The idea of a memorial originated in 2004 with David Kurtz, Milwaukee district commander of Wisconsin’s American Legion and a Whitefish Bay resident.  A task force was needed to handle design and fundraising, so “Friends of Armory Park” was formed.  Members included former village trustee John Kearns, architect Jim French, and Ellen Abrams Blankenship, whose older brother served as a naval aviator and died in Vietnam.  A formal proposal was made in 2005 and unanimously approved by the village board.  Nearly 400 individuals contributed to the fund, and construction began in 2009.  Dedication was held on Memorial Day 2010.

Since 2010, 47 plaques have been placed in honor of men and women who served in our United States military.  Some of them made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives for our freedom.  We welcome additional plaques to honor the service and sacrifice of veterans from all eras.  For information, please email:  johnkearns424@iCloud.com.

Site History:  Whitefish Bay National Guard Armory was located at 1225 East Henry Clay Street, on six acres of land at the southwest corner of Henry Clay Street and Ardmore Avenue, in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  The red brick building with crenelated top and central tower was called “the finest armory in the state".  Inside were well-lit classrooms off wide terrazzo corridors, double staircase with ornate ogee window, gymnasium, kitchen, and lounge with beamed ceiling and mammoth fireplace.  Built in 1928, it was designed by prolific local architect Herbert W. Tullgren.

The land was part of a 19-acre plot purchased in 1870 by Friedrick Gustave Rabe, a German immigrant, who built a white frame farmhouse for his wife and two daughters.  His land was bordered by Henry Clay on the north, Ardmore on the east, Fairmount on the south, and Marlborough and Kimbark on the west.  After his death, the property was purchased by Otto Falk, vice president of Falk Corporation, and a prominent Wisconsin National Guard officer.

Starting around 1909, the property was used as a summer camp by a National Guard artillery unit.  The farmhouse was occupied by three different commanding officers and their families.  Numerous Wisconsin National Guard units trained on this property for duty in the Mexican border war, World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict.  It became home to the United States Army’s 32nd Infantry Division.  Called “Red Arrow Division” to signify its tenacity in piercing the enemy line, their shoulder patch design forms a striking centerpiece to the site’s current memorial garden.

In 1927, 13 acres were sold to the village of Whitefish Bay as a site for the high school, which opened in 1932.  Architect Tullgren was chosen to design the high school, as well as elementary schools Henry Clay (now WFB MS), Cumberland, Richards and, not surprisingly, Whitefish Bay village hall.

In 1941, red brick garages were added to the west side of the armory.  A two-story addition to the farmhouse provided offices, classroom, and a pine-paneled officers' club room, affectionately dubbed “the white house".  Many important village events, such as weddings and proms, were held in the armory.  For years, local 16-year old WFB residents took their driver’s license exams in its classroom.  In 1989, it was named a Milwaukee County Landmark.

In 1995, the village of Whitefish Bay bought the property.  Public hearings were held to determine how the building should be used.  Numerous suggestions were considered but, in 1998, a decision was made to raze the building, garages, and farmhouse for use as a park.  Efforts were made to save the farmhouse, one of the oldest buildings in the village, but it was razed in 2000.  The armory building and garages were demolished in 2004.

Now known as Armory Park, the site is home to Whitefish Bay Veterans Monument and Memorial Garden.