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20 Ton Studios

Photo Tour

Since being built in 1911, the long-time fixture at the intersection of 20th St and North Ave has not changed much on the outside over the years.

With its red brick construction and large textured windows raised up from street level it is a building recognized by many, even if they do not know its story. Built by the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company, the space operated as a substation for almost three quarters of a century until being retired in 1981. Although all the electric equipment is now long gone, there are still many hints throughout the building that speak to its original use. Upon stepping through a particularly rusty front door, many are surprised to find a large open cream brick interior with a 35-foot-tall clear span main floor filled with an abundance of daylight pouring in through wonderfully large windows. Throughout the building remains numerous small details such as many of the original equipment numbers still stenciled on the walls and evidence of large bundles of copper wire that would have been run through much of the building. Not so small is the original 20-Ton bridge crane, though no longer in operation, it remains on its original rails spanning the building complete with its controls.

Now home to 20 Ton Studios, the building is currently being used by a group of artists. Primarily a working studio, they use a wide range of media including painting, screen printing, woodworking, metal fabrication, and more. With six artists in the studio and more being considered, the building is gradually seeing an increase in activity, likely more than it has in decades. Generally only open to visitors through appointments, 20 Ton Studios hopes to start opening its doors to the public on a regular basis post Covid through small events and art shows. Until then, those passing by may catch glimpses of the building coming to life, be it in the louver windows changing position throughout the summer or light filtering out through the large textured windows at night.

Photos courtesy of Magdalena Lachowicz

Featured in OnMilwaukee Urban Spelunking by Bob Tanzilo and the 88Nine Urban Spelunking podcast.