Carl Baehr
City Streets

The History of Plankinton Avenue

Once West Water St., it’s pretty short but long on history.

By - Aug 17th, 2015 04:47 pm

Once West Water St., it’s pretty short but long on history. Back to the full article.

Photos - Page 3

6 thoughts on “City Streets: The History of Plankinton Avenue”

  1. Casey says:

    Plankinton is one of my favorite streets/avenues in the city. The intersection of Plankinton and Wells has so much potential to be used for mix use. Redesign the street to enlarge the small square that the statue sits on, add some retail and sidewalk cafe/restaurant and you’d have gold.

  2. Eric S says:

    @Casey I agree about Plankinton/Wells/2nd. I’ve often thought that either Plankinton or 2nd should be opened to pedestrian/bicycle traffic only (closed to vehicular traffic) next to the small square – in other words only one of the two streets would be open to vehicular traffic north of Wells. This would require rerouting the 19, 33, and 42U bus routes, but those routes make a number of turns in that area as is and could potentially benefit by straightening the route, or at least not be significantly harmed by perhaps moving them to 3rd Street.

  3. blurondo says:

    The square at that location has additional historic significance. It is the place where the Milwaukee 13, in protest of the Vietnam War, ignited the Selective Service files that they had removed from government offices which were in the Brumder Building across the street.
    After starting the fire with napalm, the group united in prayer while waiting to be arrested.

  4. AG says:

    Milwaukee 14

    Looking at the pictures, I never really put together how many monuments, memorials, etc there are in that small area!

  5. PG1946 says:

    In keeping with Mr. Baehr’s City Streets series, this is an excellent, consciousness-raising article. As a pedant, however, I must make a couple of corrections: The second Plankinton House Hotel was not located in the block between Michigan and Clybourn Strteets, where the former Gimbels’ parking structure and “Electric City” appliance store now sit, but on the northwest corner of Plankinton and MIchigan, immediately to the south of the Plankinton Arcade building, a site on which the Grand Avenue parking garage now stands. Its Sky Room restaurant, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling often served as an auxiliary ballroom, in which banquets and ceremonial events, a couple of which I attended in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The hotel in its later years deteriorated and lost its first-class standing and eventually closed. It was demolished for the aforementioned Grad Avenue mall parking structure.
    The second error is the caption for photo #12, which is labeled as the Plankinton Arcade, when, in reality it is the old Gimbels(and later Marshall Field’s, department store. The store was a first in a chain established in the late 19th century by Adam Gimbel. Gimbel had started out as a traveling peddler in rural Indiana, saving enough of the proceeds of his sales to open a shop in Vincennes, Indiana. He was successful enough to hit the “big time” in the rapidly growing city of MIlwaukee, where he established his first department store at Plankinton and Grand–now Wisconsin–Avenues in the 1880’s. By the turn of the century, he was able to build a Daniel-Burnham-designed eight-story addition to the original store, which was eventually demolished and replaced with more eight-story additions. The Milwaukee was subsequently followed by large stores in New York CIty, where it became an arch-competitor to the adjacent R.H. Macy Company, and in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as by suburman stores in all four metropolitan areas. The chain fell victim to both the leveraged-buyout craze in the 1980’s and by changing retail buying patterns. The Milwaukee store was first sold to Marshall Field’s of Chicago and closed when its sales failed to measure up to those in the Mayfair store. The building was redeveloped as a multi-purpose facility, which now houses the offices of the American Society for Quality, a Marriott hotel, and Planet Fitness. I might speculate that the captioning error stemmed from some understandable confusion caused by the pedestrian bridge connection to the real Plankinton Arcade, a connection made as a part of the development of the Grand Avenue Mall.

  6. Carl says:


    Thank you for your comments and corrections. The photo captioned the “Plankinton Arcade” should be captioned “the former Gimbels store” and the location of the second Plankinton Hotel was north of Michigan Street not south of it. I appreciate you taking the time to set the record straight and for adding background information.

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