EPA evaluates Beer Line building

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Like so many Milwaukee industrial buildings of a certain age, the decrepit three-story building at 3456 North Buffum Street is abandoned, boarded up, and slowly falling apart. Nothing so remarkable about it, other than the fact that the last business left behind enough chemical nastiness that the Environmental Protection Agency is currently evaluating the property for possible cleanup under the Superfund program.

Located at the northern end of the Beer Line recreational trail and built in the early 1900s, the building was home to Jager Lumber & Manufacturing’s furniture factory, which was located at what was then the northern city limits of Milwaukee and adjacent to the Milwaukee Road’s busy Beer Line railroad. The factory had woodworking machinery on its first floor, cabinets on its second floor, and the third floor was used as storage. It was lit by electricity and provided with city water. A smaller building abutted the east side of the factory and housed a steam boiler rated at 75 horsepower to drive the machines and heat the building in winter.

In the 1950s, the building was occupied by Amber Laboratories. In spring 1955, that company introduced “Quaff-Aids,” a hangover remedy made from concentrated brewer’s yeast in tablet form. The pills promised “To make a pleasant time more enjoyable” and “No regrets tomorrow for feeling good today.” They initially sold well and plans were made for national distribution, however, the company landed on the front page of the October 24th, 1956 Milwaukee Journal when the federal government seized a quarter-million hangover pills after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asserted the product was ineffective.

Not so, said Sheldon Bernstein, Amber’s director of research, who told the newspaper Quaff-Aids contained B vitamins necessary for speedy recovery from overindulgence.

Hangover remedies aside, the building has stood for more than a century and in that time it has housed a furniture factory, a feed and fertilizer dealer, an animal research laboratory, a chemical processor, a fiberglass fabricator, a metals recycler, as well as companies involved in the manufacture of yeast, soap, and plastics.

That’s a lot of productivity for one building, but Milwaukee was a city that made things. Today at 3456 N. Buffum, industrial waste is all that remains. And memories.

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