response to Scott's comment

Published on: 2/12/2012

I was ready to concede to Scott's comment on my Feb. 4th post. "Historical records" can't be wrong when it comes to describing the location of Les' boyhood home, can they? Even though I said in my post "as I understand it," Scott almost proved me wrong. Maybe Les had more than one boyhood home?

I've no doubt Scott's historical record is correct. My own Google search shows Les' boyhood home at 320 W St. Paul, which makes my suggestion of a guitar location near the Springs Artisan Village even more appropriate.

Hoping I don't get in trouble for reprinting copyrighted material, but this is a Journal Sentinel website after all, plus I've noticed my hyperlinks to J-S archives don't work.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)

Les Paul birthplace bulldozed in 1999

No one knew it when Walgreens was built


SCOTT WILLIAMS, Journal Sentinel  

Published: May 6, 2003
It has been the stuff of urban legends here in the birthplace of music pioneer Les Paul.

Local speculation surrounding the entertainer widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in pop music history has been vague, at best, on where he was born and what became of his original home.

But researchers planning a museum exhibit to honor Waukesha's famous son have solved the mystery. And they are dismayed by the answer: Paul's first home was bulldozed a few years ago to make way for a Walgreens.

"I went, `Oh, no!' " said Sue Baker, executive director of the Waukesha County Historical Society & Museum. "I was very sad to realize, as a city, we had inadvertently taken down his birthplace."

The building, at 109 E. North St., originally was an automobile repair garage with an adjoining apartment. There, Paul was born Lester William Polfuss on June 9, 1915.

The garage was operated by his mechanic father, George Polfuss.

Baker said it was among several buildings demolished in summer 1999 to clear the way for the Walgreens store that now stands at North and Madison streets.

One of the other structures a tavern that had been declared a city landmark was the topic of debate before succumbing to the wrecking ball.

Paul's birthplace went unnoticed.

Norman Goeschko, who was chairman of the city Landmarks Commission at the time, said buildings with no outward architectural significance sometimes are presumed to have no historical importance.

"Somebody needs to do that research," he said.

Inventive period

Among Les Paul aficionados in Waukesha, attention typically centers on the house where his family lived later and where he began tinkering with musical instruments and electrical devices. Located at 320 St. Paul Ave., that building was demolished many years ago for a strip mall.

The question of where the performer and innovator was born has spawned tales that the original home was cleared for condos in the 1980s or for a road widening as far back as the '60s.

The assertion that the building was standing as recently as 1999 and that it was sacrificed for the Walgreens store comes as a surprise to city officials.

"This is one I've never heard before," City Planner David Kopp said.

But a city directory from 1915 in the archives of the county historical society confirms the address of 109 E. North St. as belonging to George and Evelyn Polfuss. The family lived there only a few years after Paul was born.

Records in the city engineering department, including aerial photos, show that the building was still standing until the Walgreens project.

Home belatedly identified

Some confusion might have developed because city addresses were renumbered many years ago, and Paul's birthplace apparently had been reassigned the address 111 E. North St. In addition, the structure had undergone several new incarnations, including as part of a car dealership.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said company officials had no idea that Les Paul's birthplace was disturbed when the suburban Chicago-based drugstore chain settled on North and Madison for a new store.

While the fate of the nearby Cambrian House tavern stirred some concerns, Polzin said, no one raised any questions about the former Les Paul property.

"It wasn't an issue, so it couldn't have been that important to the community at the time," he said.

He added that Walgreens, which has 16 stores in Waukesha County, would entertain a request to post a historical marker at the location designating it as Les Paul's birthplace.

After leaving Waukesha as a young man, Paul embarked on a career of musical performances and guitar and recording innovations that won him a place in music history. In 1988, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

Officials at the Hall of Fame were stunned to learn that Waukesha had allowed Paul's birthplace to be demolished.

"That's a shame," said Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Cleveland attraction. "He's certainly one of the most famous people ever to come from Waukesha."

Now 87 and living in New Jersey, Paul has been cooperating with plans to open a museum exhibit honoring him at the former Waukesha County Courthouse on Main St.

The museum's Baker said that she realized about a year ago that Paul's birthplace had been cleared for the Walgreens. She confirmed the location with Paul himself, who was "a little melancholy" upon hearing that his original home was gone, she said.

But the community still has nightclubs where Paul performed as a young man, schools that he attended and other important markers from his past, Baker said.

"The sad news is we lost this one," she said. "I think a lot of people were like I was: They didn't realize it was there."

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