Of Happy Days and Urban Legends
I am old enough (or is it young enough?) to remember the sitcom “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” (which was a spin-off of Happy Days).
Sure, I understood that both these shows were set in Milwaukee, but other than that, I never really thought about what that might mean for the actual real city.
In the opening of Laverne and Shirley, you can see them playing in the snow (sorta), so I understood that this was a place where they at least needed heavy coats and got a little snow, but beyond that, I had no idea.
By now, I’ve been to Milwaukee enough times to get an understanding of what to expect – Lake Michigan, great places to eat, and really fun places to visit, but I’d completely forgotten about those days of yore when Milwaukee was just a place where Potsie and Ralph Mouth got up to antics and the coolest guy around tended to hang-out with them.
But somewhere in my brain, this information was stored and just before leaving for this trip, I chanced to ask The Dane about it. As the words were coming out of my mouth, it sort of surprised me that I’d never thought to ask about it before. He said, “Oh sure, there’s a few places you can even go and visit that sort of cash in on the Happy Days idea.” So, I says, “Like what?” Because I was genuinely surprised that it had never come up before.
He says, “Oh, like Leon’s. It’s supposed to be the place that Arnold’s was modeled after. Though I don’t know how that worked as Leon’s is a walk-up and Arnold’s was a dinner. Maybe it was the roller-skating babes or just the custard. Who knows? Oh, and there’s the Bronze Fonz. Maybe a few other things, but that’s about all I can think of.”
For whatever reason, this sudden obsession sort of settled in, maybe because this was a HUGE chunk of life for kids my age back in the day. It took just a little digging to come up with a list which I mostly found here.
Regardless of whether Leon’s was the actual place or not, I suddenly wanted to visit. The first time The Dane took me to Milwaukee, custard was what my mother served in the form of a coconut pie. Frozen custard wasn’t a thing I understood. On that first trip, The Dane took me to Kopp’s and later to Culver’s. After that, custard has become a must-have any time we visit.
And like any good child of the late 70s, early 80s, I had to see what he was talking about. As a result, one of first stops upon hitting Wisconsin, was to check out Leon’s.
As you can see, it’s a walk-up and it was quite crowded. Regardless of whether it’s the model for “Happy Days” or not, it’s for sure a happy place.
The next morning, we did a LOT of walking. But the fun kind, where you take your time and check out things all around.
I am sincerely fascinated by the architecture in Milwaukee as you can see in the types of photos I tend to take. Here are some random shots from our day as we visited Milwaukee’s Third Ward (the arts and fashion district) and walked the Riverwalk.
One other landmark, this one from Laverne & Shirley, that didn’t immediately come to mind was the building that’s in the L&S intro that has “Welcome Milwaukee Visitors” written on it. The reason it didn’t come to mind as a landmark is because we always refer to it as “Marv’s Building” because it’s where my father-in-law worked. It wasn’t until we passed it that The Dane said, “Oh, I think Marv’s Building is featured in the opening of one of those shows.”
The Dane went there many times in his youth. When we got home, he looked at the photo from the into and said, “Peej (that’s what he calls me), I think those letters are probably every bit as big as I was.” He pointed to one of the windows below the letters, “Marv took me there once. I remember looking out that window as a kid.” I cannot tell you how much it warms my heart that he has that memory. Just wished they’d captured that skinny kid in the intro.
Here’s an alternate view of that building.
Of course, our day would not have been complete without a visit to the “Bronze Fonz!”
Overall, regardless of how hot it turned out to be, it was a very happy day 😉
Stay tuned, more of Wisconsin to come.