Sadly, when the festival opens on Thursday, July 14, the little Eiffel Tower will be missing because it’s still in storage in the Walker Point basement awaiting restoration, hopefully in time for next year’s festival, as Bastille Days will celebrate its 40th anniversary in the East Town district.
Eddie Stork, interim executive director of the Eastown District Organization.
“Although the decision was difficult, I quickly decided there wasn’t enough time or resources. Serious planning for this year’s festival is only happening in four months with mostly new people—me and Events By Design I’m helping with production—maybe in The most challenging environment you can imagine.”
Plus, says Stork, the East Town Association, like everything else, has been mostly in business since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited its revenue.
In most years, East Town staff would spend twice as long — eight months — planning Bastille Days. And this is at times when there is no shortage of labor and problems in the supply chain.
Although the Eiffel Tower has long been among the most popular attractions of its Bastille days, this isn’t the first time it’s been out of sight and in need of restoration.
In fact, in 1999, it was replaced by an inflatable version, during the restoration procedure. Stork says this inflatable version will likely make a comeback this year.
The 43-foot-tall wood and steel tower—its original 1,083 feet—was not intended to be permanent, much less disassembled, reassembled, and brought back outside for a long weekend each year.
It was initially built as part of an admittedly ambitious indoor store show in the late 1980s, possibly in Dayton, Minneapolis.
It premiered at a French-themed street festival in 1989, and by 1999, it was in dire need of repairs. So, the Easttown Society used the inflatable tower for the festival and called on its neighbor, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, for help.
Twenty-five students from the school’s Department of Engineering and Building Construction spent evenings and weekends for months – from January to May – to rehabilitate it under the supervision of Associate Professor Fritz Devries.
DeVries told the school magazine, Dimensions, that it was fun to see how the 50 parts of the tower fit together. The magazine noted that the students reinforced the iron and added 10,000 pounds to the base for fixation. “Then the paint came…a lot of paint.”
The renovated tower first appeared at the 2000 festival and soon resumed its position as a meeting, gathering and photographing point for festival-goers.
In 2015, the Mini Eiffel was reassembled in front of the City Hall as a gesture of support for France in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris. Four years later, after the festival kicked off, the sick tower was stockpiled and the MSOE was called up again.
According to a 2019 assessment conducted by the school, “The next round of repairs should focus on the small legs that are installed above the platform. There is extensive rot of the plywood affecting the connection to the platform and broken mesh pieces.”
However, the work required is more extensive. The evaluation report suggests repairs or replacement of the tower top, upright shaft, pyramidal shaft, side struts, main legs, box feet and also the platform. Sacre bleu, that’s pretty much all part of the thing.
There is talk of replacement, but, says Storky, this is an expensive option.
“In 2018, the East Town Association, Inc. approached Milwaukee Blacksmith, Inc. for an estimate to manufacture a 42-foot replica that would cost approximately $70,000 and likely cost more after additional lighting accessories,” he says. .
“I suppose that number will be a little bit higher today. So I think the eventual replacement in the future will come at a cost of about $100,000 or more.”
In the meantime, fundraising has begun – contestants in this year’s popular Storm the Bastille 5k and others can donate – and after this year’s festival ends, Sturkey will discuss restoration possibilities with MSOE.
“We have an active fundraiser at our Storm the Bastille registry site, from which we have currently raised only about $1,700 from an initial request of $20,000,” says Sturkey. “The cost of the restoration could be a little higher, assuming we can get it back and not have to replace it right away.
“MSOE has already reached out to once again participate in the restoration of the current Eiffel Tower. We hope to be able to restore it in time for the 40th anniversary of 2023!”
However, the challenges facing East Town are real, and the Eiffel Tower is only the most vivid example, says Stork.
“Our organization can really use more donations beyond even those for the Eiffel Tower to ensure we keep coming back and improving the Bastille Days,” he says. Bastille Days was, until recently, known as one of the county’s largest free public street festivals, funded solely by liquor and vendor sales, sponsorships, registration and donations.
“We regularly receive calls from French organizations across the country who look to Milwaukee Bastille Days for inspiration to start their own festival in their city. I personally see Bastille Days more and more as not just a French cultural festival, but as Milwaukee’s “People’s Festival” As we try to tap into local music talent and local street artists, we are free to the public, and we have a lot of volunteer opportunities.”