Prentiss Block, Late 1860s
This building, which still stands on the corner of Mason St. and Water St., may be Downtown's oldest commercial building.
There is much of interest in this late 1860s downtown Milwaukee photograph. The most obvious is the signage of the Badger State Variety Store. The owner was Adolph Meinecke who would relocate to larger quarters before 1870. Then look to the right and you will find a sign with a polar bear. The bear is holding a beer stein and the business is named the Ice Bear Saloon, run by the proprietor Victor Schuette.
Also interesting is the architectural style of the corner building. This is the Federal style which predominated here in the 1840s. But by the early 1850s it was replaced by the Italianate style of which many more Cream City brick buildings survive. By the way, this structure still stands at the northwest corner of Mason and Water St. It has been altered several times over the years, but this very likely is the oldest surviving commercial building in the heart of downtown. It now houses Bruegger’s Bagels, at 753 N. Water St.
Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.