The history behind Colectivo Coffee's lakefront cafe

Posted at 4:38 PM, Jun 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-22 19:55:44-04

Visitors to the popular Colectivo Coffee lakefront location may notice some recent improvements to the patio.

Construction over the last several months is wrapping up and guests can now take advantage of an outdoor serving area.

As changes happen outside, the inside of the building remains true to its historic heritage.

Long before coffee lovers flocked to the patio in the summertime, the building was used to clean up the Milwaukee River, with an enormous pump that's still in the building today.

"At the time, it was the largest water pump in the world," said Lincoln Fowler, one of the co-owners of Colectivo Coffee.

He says they had a lot of fun in 2002 converting the historic landmark built in 1888, into one of the most popular spots on the lakefront.

"We wanted to highlight some of the equipment so when you move through there, you'll see some of the exhibits that highlight what the original function of the building was," Fowler said. "The building itself housed a huge pump and still does, that could move an enormous amount of water."

In the late 1800's, industrial runoff polluted the Milwaukee River. The Milwaukee River Water Flushing Station (now Colectivo Coffee) would take lake water and flush the river.

But despite its practical use, the building has a lot of unique features.

"It's built at a high architectural level," Fowler said. "The arches, the cupola up top, the slate roof."

Colectivo maintained the interior structure, allowing the water pump to become part of the experience.

They're still working to improve the patio area and plan to begin a second phase of construction in the fall.

"We were always very focused on creating a place that was suitable to integrate with the larger park land that surrounds it," Fowler said. "And to create something that's kind of an iconic place on the lakefront."

Colectivo is continuing its summer concert series with free live music on the patio Wednesday and Thursday nights.