Carl Baehr
City Streets

Spencer Tracy Lived on Logan Avenue

Future Hollywood star grew up on street created in 1880s, named after Civil War general.

By - Jan 14th, 2019 03:51 pm
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Logan Avenue homes. Photo by Carl Baehr.

Logan Avenue homes. Photo by Carl Baehr.

The recent death of Vel Phillips and the subsequent renaming of N. Fourth Street in her honor exemplifies a city practice of not naming streets for living people. There have been exceptions, but not many. Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati is an example of why there is a reluctance to honor living people this way. After that street was named, Rose was banned from baseball for gambling and later was involved in several sex scandals, leaving some Cincinnatians embarrassed by the name.

It’s too bad for Vel Phillips, though, that her street wasn’t named earlier so she could enjoy it before she died. But naming after death has been the tradition in Milwaukee. Names of both local and national figures have appeared on city street signs shortly after their deaths. Examples include Archbishop Moses Kiley, President Grover Cleveland, and Admiral William Halsey.

Logan Avenue in Bay View is another case. When Milwaukee annexed Bay View in 1887, it gave the city a second street named Mitchell to go with the South Side’s main shopping street. Both the streets were named for Alexander Mitchell, who was an investor in Bay View’s rolling mills. But two streets with the same name was one too many, so the Bay View street had to have a new name.

John Alexander Logan. Photo is in the Public Domain.

John Alexander Logan. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Alderman Theobald Otjen (yes, Otjen Street in Bay View is named for him), suggested that Milhardt Avenue would be a good name for the street. Charles Milhardt (aka Carl Mielhardt), was a carpenter, builder, and property owner on the street. But Milhardt’s neighbors had other thoughts, at least most of them did. They wanted to honor former Civil War general and “Father of Memorial Day,” John A. Logan, with the designation.

John Alexander Logan was born in Illinois 1826. He was a United States Congressman when the war broke out. He raised his own regiment and served as its leader. He gained a reputation as an effective officer and rose to the position of major general. Three years after the Civil War ended, in 1868, Logan was the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization made up of Union veterans of the war. He issued an order to the GAR making May 30 a nationwide date for decorating the graves of those who had died during the conflict.

In December 1886, the popular Logan, who was then serving as a United States Senator, died. As Memorial Day of 1887 approached, many communities throughout the country planned to honor Logan for originating what had become a popular holiday. In Milwaukee, the Common Council accepted the residents’ recommendations, and one week before Decoration Day they changed the name of Bay View’s Mitchell Street to Logan Avenue.

Spencer Tracy. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Spencer Tracy. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Charles Milhardt went on with his life. He immediately announced plans to build a saloon on the corner of S. Logan and E. Potter avenues. The saloon opened the next year and Milhardt operated it for decades while living above the tavern. Over the years, others operated bars in the building. Today, it is a popular watering spot called Burnhearts.

Logan Avenue’s most famous resident was Academy Award-winning actor Spencer Tracy. Tracy was born in Milwaukee in 1900 and his family resided on the 2800 block of this street while the future film star was in his early teens. Tracy won two Oscars for best actor in a leading role and was nominated for seven more, and was considered one of the greatest actors of Hollywood’s golden age.

Burnhearts is one of the few businesses on the mostly residential S. Logan Avenue. The street passes both Humboldt and Mitchell Airport parks on its way from E. Lincoln Avenue on the north to E. Layton Avenue three miles to the south.

Along Logan Avenue

Carl Baehr is the author of Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names and From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City: A History of the Irish in Milwaukee.

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Categories: City Streets, History

One thought on “City Streets: Spencer Tracy Lived on Logan Avenue”

  1. Ron Hockersmith says:

    Excellent article!

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