MILWAUKEE — If you google the address, it’s listed as a “tourist attraction.” Looking at this Bay View building from the street, you wouldn’t know why. The former theater’s façade is nothing special. It’s the rooftop that puts this property on the map.
The location on Delaware Avenue has long served as photographer Mark Gubin’s studio.
He lives there too, and over decades he’s filled the room upon room with collectibles. There’s a Civil War-era cannon, and artifacts from Roman antiquity.
Countless nick-nacks and hangers full of period clothing are stuffed in every corner. “There are some interesting things,” Gubin quipped, as he led a tour through his collection. “I worked for Smithsonian for a while.” You wonder if the Smithsonian has as many artifacts.
Gubin uses many of the items in his photography, doing work seen the world over. Magazines, advertisements, calendars, and the like make up his extensive portfolio. Yet it was a Wednesday whim, back in 1978, that perhaps brought him more fame than all of it.
“It was just madness,” he recalled. “All the different times people have done things they say, ‘why did you do it.’ And I say, ‘it was Wednesday.’ There was no possible reason in the world.”
That Wednesday, Gubin painted in large, block letters the words, “welcome to Cleveland,” on his roof. “No practical reason. I thought it's a hard world. We need some kind of humor. Something that makes people smile a little bit.”
Those words on any Milwaukee rooftop would certainly be an oddity. What’s made them hilarious and a “tourist attraction, is the fact that Gubin’s building aligns with the approach to runway 19 at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. “Most of the people who land here, have to come in over the lake to land into the wind, so.”
So… if the passengers on the left side of the aircraft happen to be looking out their windows, that’s what they see moments from landing in Milwaukee, “welcome to Cleveland.”
Gubin has heard stories of passengers at least a little freaked out. That moment where they think, “…wait… what?” One airline he says has taken to pointing out the rooftop on approach, and assuring passengers they are indeed inbound to Milwaukee.
“I was a young man when I did that,” Gubin explained. “Since 1978 until now, it just keeps going. You go online, and you can keep finding things for ever and ever on it. Most people loved it. Some people don't understand.”
That is one thing Gubin struggles to understand. How exactly does this story continue to resurface every now and then? It most recently went viral with exposure in online publications across the world, and a mention on NBC’s TODAY Show in 2015. Now here’s TMJ4 news, knocking on his door again. “What can I say,” Gubin laughed.
He’s selling off his collectibles piece by piece on eBay, but this treasured work, he’s hanging on to it. Gubin admits he touches up the paint every couple of years to keep the joke running.