Top

The Drakes

Douglas and Thallis Drake have lived in Riverwest for more than 40 years. They know the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood, but when asked about their favorite Riverwest attraction, Thallis laughs and replies, “Our house!” The Drakes have good reason to prefer their own home, which peeks out from a green sea of forestry. Much remodeled, the house is a monument to years of dedication and careful tending. Casually seated on their deck, which overlooks a heavily wooded ravine, the elegant couple talks about their life in Riverwest. The Drakes, who moved to Milwaukee from Chicago, settled in Riverwest in 1960 because they wanted to live near a waterway and liked being close to downtown. Douglas Drake, an architect, worked for various architectural firms in the city, while his wife, Thallis, who was trained as a violinist in New York, played with Medieval and Renaissance classical music groups, including the MacDowell Club, the Medieval Recorder Consort, and Les Gonglaires. The Drakes have three children, two of whom live in Milwaukee. The Drakes enjoy the diversity and the close-knit atmosphere of Riverwest. “There’s a wealth of people [in Riverwest] that contribute in so many ways to the life in the city,” Thallis says. “Riverwest brought a lot of different kinds of people together. People like to put labels on things but they don’t really fit,” adds Douglas. The neighborhood doesn’t look all that different than in did in the 1960s, the Drakes say. But one big change Douglas notes is that people are moving back to the city from the suburbs. “For 30, 40 years I’ve been saying that people will move back to the city,” says Douglas. Gentrification is not yet a big threat, but it could be, says Douglas. “If real estate keeps going, it’s kind of questionable what might happen,” he says. The problem is keeping diversity “not only in racial and social things but economic diversity,” he adds, noting the possibility of half-empty luxury condos populated by residents who have similar incomes. Thallis recalls struggles to stop developers from building a strip mall on Locust Street and condos by the Whitnall Home in the 1980s. (In 2004, condos were built next to the Whitnall Home). Still, Douglas remains optimistic, noting that no houses have been demolished. “The neighborhood is holding its own,” he says. Along with the diversity, the Drakes enjoy the close-knit atmosphere of Riverwest. “In Riverwest, there are groups of people dedicated to solving problems,” says Douglas. Suburbs like Brookfield and Mequon don’t offer the same level of community closeness, explains Thallis, mentioning a block club on Chambers Street and the camaraderie among neighbors who live on their street. The Drakes agree that improving local schools is the key to enhancing the neighborhood. They worry that parents tend to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private schools. All three of the Drakes’ children attended local schools, and they are glad they did so. “Schools have to be improved so people don’t move out to the suburbs,” Douglas says. “Schools are the lifeblood of the city for families that you want to attract and maintain,” adds Thallis. Although both Douglas and Thallis are now retired, they keep active in the community. Douglas still remodels residential homes in Milwaukee — “Once you have a profession or a skill you want to keep using it”- and cites sailboat racing as his favorite hobby. Thallis volunteers for the Lake Park Friends at the Villa Terrace. As they talk, the Drakes engage in good-natured banter with each other. (When asked if Douglas is as musical as his wife and children, Thallis laughs and rejoins, “He just pays for the lessons!”) They smile when asked for the secret to their long marriage: “Respect the other’s interests,” says Thallis. “I don’t expect her to go sailing with me every time. And she goes to too many concerts for me,” explains Douglas. As for advice for Riverwest’s younger residents? “Continue to take pride in the neighborhood,” offers Thallis. “Keep track of things. Get to know your neighbors.”