The Milwaukee River formed the best natural harbor on the western shore of Lake Michigan and when the first wave of settlers from the East Coast arrived in the 1830s they had their pick of three towns in which to live. There was Juneautown between the lake and the river that was developed by Solomon Juneau, an ambitious French fur trader from Quebec who was to arrive, back in 1818. There was Kilbourntown on the west bank of the Milwaukee River that was the pride of Byron Kilbourn, a surveyor and engineer from Ohio who had purchased his land in 1837, And there was Walker’s Point on the south side of the Milwaukee River that was established by George H. Walker as a fur trading post in 1835.

All was not balloons and seashells among the three settlements. Walker spent most of his time fighting claim jumpers and Juneau and Kilbourn became bitter rivals in promoting their settlements,. Kilbourn’s maps of the area he distributed to potential newcomers did not even acknowledge the existence of Juneau’s older community on the other side of the area. Hostilities came to a head in 1845 over a bridge between Juneautown and Kilbourntown and the violence of the Milwaukee Bridge War led to a unification of the three towns. A charter signed on January 31, 1846, welded Juneautown, Kilbourntown and Walker’s Point into the City of Milwaukee. Solomon Juneau was elected the city’s first mayor. Kilbourn served a couple of later terms as mayor.

The new town grew rapidly on the back of its wheat shipments. More ships loaded with Upper Midwestern grain left Milwaukee’s harbor than any other port on earth. When the railroads arrived in the 1850s Milwaukee became a boomtown with thriving industries in shipbuilding, metal fabrication, meat-packing, leather tanning and, most famously, brewing.

German immigrants began arriving in great numbers in Milwaukee after a failed political uprising in the homeland in 1848. Soon one in every three Milwaukee citizen was a “forty-eighter” - many of them educated, talented and motivated. Milwaukee became known as the “Deutsches Athen” (German Athens) and the value of its manufactured goods tripled by 1869. The town reveled in its Bavarian heritage and institutions until the German influence was muted by World War I.

During the first half of the 20th century, Milwaukee was the hub of the socialist movement in the United States. Milwaukeeans elected three Socialist mayors during this time: Emil Seidel (1910–1912), Daniel Hoan (1916–1940), and Frank Zeidler (1948–1960), and remains the only major city in the country to have done so. Their influence made Milwaukee one of the best governed municipalities in the country, ranking among the leaders in health, safety and solvency among the nation’s large cities during that time.

Our walking tour will visit both sides of the Milwaukee River, in both old Kilbourntown and old Juneautown, and we will start at a building that was the tallest habitable building in the world when it was finished in 1895...

Milwaukee City Hall
200 East Wells Street between Market and Water streets

When City Hall was finished in 1896 only the Washington Monument was a taller structure in the United States. Its 353-foot bell tower lorded over a town of mostly two-and three and four-story structures. Milwaukee architect Henry C. Koch designed the civic centerpiece in a Flemish Renaissance Revival style and sunk 2,584 pine pilings into the marshy ground along the Milwaukee River to support the building. On top of the pilings were placed two floors of black granite and six floors comprised of eight million pressed bricks, about half of which were used for the bell tower. Inside the Common Council Chamber is the largest in the country - quite an upgrade for a government body that had started in the 1840s in a small church and then moved to the second floor of a livery stable.


Pabst Theater
144 East Wells Street at northwest corner of Water Street

Johann Gottlieb Friedrich Pabst enjoyed his boat ride from Germany as a 12-year old coming to America so much that he went to work as a cabin-boy on a Lake Michigan steamer. Pabst earned his pilot’s license in 1857 when he was 21 but his career as a ship’s captain ended when he ran his vessel aground bringing it into the Milwaukee harbor. Captain Pabst then bought a half-interest in his father-in-law’s Best Brewery but unlike other German immigrant brewmeisters Pabst had to learn his craft in Milwaukee, not Bavaria. In 1890 Pabst purchased the old Nunnemacher Grand Opera House, located opposite the Milwaukee City Hall, and turned it into the Das Neue Deutsche Stadt-Theater (The New German City Theater). After it burned to the ground Pabst hired Otto Strack to rebuild in the tradition of European opera houses and the German Renaissance Revival style. The Pabst was completed in just six months as one America’s first all-electric theaters. Still hosting about 100 events per year, the Pabst Theater is the fourth-oldest continuously operating theater in the United States.

Newsroom Pub
137 East Wells Street at southwest corner of Front Street

This restored Victorian commercial building from the 1890s is today the home of the Milwaukee Press Club, which moved into a clubhouse here in 2000. The Club lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating press club in America, established in 1885 by four local journalists as a means of bringing together newspaper professionals and promoting the profession in town. The Club’s most cherished artifact is a mummified cat named Arubis who is displayed in a case above the bar. The cat either followed a couple of reporters home in 1897, or was maybe he was purloined, but he was named after an Egyptian god and became the official Club mascot. 

Milwaukee Repertory Theater
108 East Wells Street

The Romanesque-flavored brick building was constructed in 1898 as a powerhouse for the Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company. For twenty years coal was fired here in the conventional method of burning lump coal but on November 11, 1919 the plant began the controversial practice of pulverizing the coal before shoveling it into the furnaces. Despite initial opposition from engineers, using pulverized coal to drive turbines became the world standard. Experiments conducted first here are credited with reducing the cost of electric power and conserving coal resources. In 1987 the powerhouse was converted into stages for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which has been producing professional theater since 1954.


City Center
735 North Water Street

One of the fathers of the skyscraper, Daniel Burnham, designed this 16-story building as the headquarters for the First National Bank in 1912. As it approaches its centennial, the building is representative of the Chicago Style that ushered in the orderly, relatively unadorned era of modern high-rises. Not all Neoclassical decoration was forsaken, however, as witnessed by the granite entrance level and the ornate terra cotta cornice that sparkles from a recent restoration. The building is trapezoidal in shape to conform to its proximity to the Milwaukee River and was designed with a south-facing light court to allow light and air into the inner offices in the days before air conditioning. The bank and its successors stayed in this space until 1973.

Milwaukee News Building
222 East Mason Street

This was Newspaper Row in the 1880s and it was a busy place - there were five English-language, four German language and two Polish language daily newspapers on Milwaukee streets. These two buildings, now joined together, are survivors from that age. The earlier one, inside on the right, was constructed in 1879 and was the original home of the Milwaukee Journal when it began publishing in 1882. The taller of the pair with the bay windows dates to 1884, as can be seen in the highly decorative roofline.


Milwaukee Athletic Club
758 North Broadway Street

Armand D. Koch was the son of esteemed City Hall architect Henry Koch and studied his craft at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris before returning to Milwaukee to join his father’s firm. Armand was on his own for the 12-story Milwaukee Athletic Club in 1917, to which he applied his classical training. The club had formed in 1882 and followed a peripatetic existence until settling here. The facility includes a formal dining room, restaurant, 17 private meeting rooms including the Grand Ballroom, 60 guestrooms, two cocktail lounges, library, barber shop, child care room, racquetball and squash courts, co-ed fitness studio and private men’s’ and women’s athletic facilities, each with its own lap pool.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
844 North Broadway Street at southeast corner of Kilbourn Avenue 

Victor Schulte, the busiest of Milwaukee’s ecclesiastical architect-builders in its early days, constructed the core of this church in 1846. Schulte sailed from Prussia and first settled in Pennsylvania where he worked building bridges. The Greek Revival flavored building picked up major additions and its steeple twenty years later. It was the first German Roman Catholic church in Milwaukee and is the city’s oldest church. 

Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering
1000 North Broadway Street at northeast corner of State Street

This building began life in 1924 as the Metropolitan Cadillac dealership and then did duty as the Milwaukee branch of the Federal Reserve bank. After a combination demolition and renovation it re-emerged in 2007 with a steel and glass-domed corner entrance and three floors of gallery space to house the world’s most comprehensive art collection dedicated to the evolution of human work, The Eckhart G. Grohmann Collection Man at Work. Eckhart Grohman, a local businessman and school regent, donated the collection of some 700 European and American art works depicting various forms of work.

German-English Academy
1020 North Broadway Street

The academy was founded in 1851 for German immigrants, offering classes taught in German and English. The school moved into this Romanesque-flavored building in 1891. The Milwaukee School of Engineering acquired the property in 1932 and when they no longer wanted the building in the 1970s they offered to swap it to the city in exchange for a vacant parcel next door to build an athletic field. When the city balked the school threatened to demolish the old school and went so far as to bring a wrecking ball to the site, even though they had no real intention of crumbling the landmark. The city blinked, made the deal and this heritage building was renovated into office space. 

Blatz Brewery Apartments
1101 North Broadway Street

Milwaukee has been home to more than 40 breweries through the years, some big, some small, but four came to define the town’s legendary beer heritage - Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz. Valentin Blatz learned his way around hops and malt at his father’s brewery in Bavaria. He emigrated to the United States in 1848 and started his own brewery in 1850. Blatz produced the town’s first individually bottled beer in 1874 and was the first Milwaukee brewery to market nationally. By the time Valentin Blatz died in 1894, his brewery was the third largest in Milwaukee. Blatz Beer would remain an independent concern until 1959 and in 1988 the former brewery was converted into upscale living quarters, the first industrial-to-residential conversion in the city.

Blatz Offices
1120 North Broadway Street

Herman Paul Schnetzky was born in Wrisen, Germany in 1850 and moved to Milwaukee in 1868. Moving into architecture, he designed notable Gothic churches around town but for the Blatz Corporate headquarters in 1890 he borrowed heavily from the Romanesque stylings of Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential of America’s post-Civil War architects. The two-story office building with attic features such hallmarks of the style as rough-faced stone, wide central arch, smooth granite columnettes, prominent gable, architectural elements grouped in threes and contrasting colors, in this case rusticated yellow-gray Wauwatosa limestone and darker Indiana limestone trim. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the building today is owned and operated by the Milwaukee School of Engineering.


Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
802 North Jackson Street

Bishop Henni purchased this land in 1847 and laid the cornerstone for this Cathedral on December 5, months before Wisconsin attained statehood. The Cathedral is designed in an austere German style known as Zopfstil and built of cream-colored Milwaukee brick. The exterior has changed very little save for the present tower, which was constructed in 1893, and the expansion of the east end of the building, which was added during the rebuilding of the Cathedral after a fire partially destroyed the church on January 29, 1935. The Cathedral was rededicated on February 9, 2002 after a complete restoration and renewal of the interior and exterior to maintain its beauty and elegance.


Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center
790 North Van Buren Street at southeast corner of Wells Street

Victorian architect Edward Townsend Mix designed this building for the Plymouth Congregational Church in 1889. It’s still in there somewhere but was radically remodeled by Herbert W. Tullgren in 1936 when the Scottish Rite Masons purchased the property. Tullgren’s father Martin sailed from Sweden and established an architectural practice in Chicago in 1881. He relocated to Milwaukee in 1902 where both his sons became architects. In the 1930s, Herbert Tullgren became one of the foremost architects practicing in the progressive Art Deco and Art Moderne styles in town and here he transformed the facade with carved and cut limestone.

University Club
924 East Wells Street at northwest corner of Prospect Street

The private club organized in 1898 with nineteen college alumni. The members settled into this posh six-story clubhouse overlooking Lake Michigan in 1928. Architect John Russell Pope, who would later design the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, contributed the stately Neo-Georgian design for the University Club. In 2007, the 36-floor, 446-feet tall University Club Tower was constructed on the adjoining lot. It is now the tallest residential building and third tallest building in Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.


Cudahy Tower
925 East Wells Street at southwest corner of Prospect Street 

Patrick Cudahy was born on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland in 1849, just as his family was packing to move to Milwaukee. As a young fellow he went to work in a Plankinton and Armour meat packing plant, moving up to become superintendent at the age of 25. By 1888 he and his brother owned the newly named Cudahy Brothers. In 1892 Cudahy moved the operation to 700 acres south of Milwaukee. He constructed the Beaux Arts southern portion of this complex in 1909 as the “Buena Vista Flats,” helping prompt a rush to multi-residence lakefront structures. Twenty years later sons Michael and John hired Chicago skyscraper specialists Holabird & Root to create the adjoining tower.


Northwestern Mutual
720 East Wisconsin Street at northeast corner of Wisconsin Avenue

This is the third of three grand headquarters for the insurance company that has been a fixture on the Milwaukee business landscape since 1859. The monumental Neoclassical pile was designed by Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox of Chicago, who had been skilled practitioners of the form since 1905. Before they could erect their round Corinthian columns and square Corinthian pilasters some 6,000 wooden pilings needed to be driven to bedrock in the swampy ground on this site. The columns, fashioned from white Vermont granite, are 74 feet tall and weigh 422 tons each. In 1930 Holabird & Root, another Chicago tandem, expanded the building which is still the company headquarters. It is the first of the three headquarters to be occupied solely by Northwestern Mutual employees.

U.S. Bank
777 East Wisconsin Avenue

This is the tallest building in Wisconsin and has held the title for nearly 40 years. It was originally constructed for First Wisconsin National Bank and was completed in 1973. The 601-foot glass (there are 5,000 windows) and aluminum tower was finished with over seven million tons of travertine marble.


Milwaukee Gas Light Building
626 East Wisconsin Avenue

Alexander Chadbourne Eschweiler was born in Boston in 1865 before his mining engineer father moved the family West, eventually settling in Milwaukee. He attended Marquette College for a year before going to Cornell to study architecture and moving back to Milwaukee. Eschweiler was in practice by 1892 and became one of the town’s leading designers. His three sons followed exactly the same path, forming Eschweiler & Eschweiler in the 1920s. In 1930 the firm designed this Art Deco tour-de-force using differing materials on the exterior to graduate from dark to light. Look up to see the classic setbacks on the 250-foot tower that were introduced by Eliel Saarinen of Finland in 1922 in the competition to design Chicago’s Tribune Tower. The Weather Flame that indicates the forecast of the weather with a flicker and color was added to the top of the Wisconsin Gas Building in 1956.    

Northern Trust Bank
526 East Wisconsin Avenue at northwest corner of Jackson Street 

George Bowman Ferry and Alfred C. Clas created one of Milwaukee’s most vibrantly decorated buildings here for the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company in 1906. The two-story Beaux Arts office confection was the third for the company that was established in 1869. It sports carved fluted columns and a fanciful roofline with a balustrade, dentil-block cornice and festive gables. The heritage structure currently does duty as a bank.

Federal Building
517 East Wisconsin Avenue at southwest corner of Jackson Street

There was a brief window in American history in the 1890s when the federal government abandoned the Neoclassical style for its buildings and that’s when Milwaukee’s federal building was constructed, 1892. Willoughby J. Edbrooke, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, tapped the brawny style of Richardsonian Romanesque based on the work of Henry Hobson Richardson of Boston. Elements seen here such as towers, multiple gables, powerful entrance arches, current turrets, and rough-faced stone are the calling cards of Richardson’s architectural vision. The building of pale gray Mount Waldo granite has been expanded and renovated and still is used as a courthouse for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Pfister Hotel
424 East Wisconsin Avenue at northwest corner of Jefferson Street

Not many American cities can boast of a premier hotel that has its roots in the 19th century but Milwaukee can with the Pfister Hotel. Guido Pfister made his fortune tanning hides but his dream was to build a world-class hotel. He set the wheels turning but died before the hotel opened in 1893 and his son Charles put the finishing touches on the project. Henry Koch used rough-faced limestone and Cream City Brick to craft the Romanesque landmark on the outside and inside the Pfister was the first hotel in town to be fully wired with electricity. For more than a century it has been the type of guest house where celebrities and Presidents have signed the register. The cylindrical tower next door has provided even more four-diamond rated rooms.

Wells Building
324 East Wisconsin Avenue at northwest corner of Milwaukee Street

Daniel Wells was born in Maine and was a schoolteacher before entering the mercantile trade in Palmyra, Maine. At the age of 29 he migrated west to Milwaukee where he engaged in banking and lumbering and was appointed a probate judge in the fledgling town. By the 1850s he was representing Wisconsin in the United States Congress. After leaving Washington Wells actively developed railroads across the Upper Midwest and was rumored to be the richest man in Wisconsin. Henry Koch designed this 15-story commercial tower for Wells in 1901, a year before his death.The exterior ornamentation was stripped from the upper four floors of the Beaux Arts high-rise when the decorative elements began to deteriorate.  

Railway Exchange Building
229 East Wisconsin Avenue at southwest corner of Broadway Street

This is Milwaukee’s first modern steel-frame skyscraper. It was commissioned by Milwaukee businessman Henry Herman in 1899 and was known as the Herman Building in its infancy but the developer soon faded into anonymity as it assumed the name of one of its early tenants, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. One of the fathers of the modern skyscraper, William Le Baron Jenney, came from Chicago to design the 12-story tower in what came to be known as the Chicago Style. Early high-rises were fashioned in the image of a three-part classical Greek column with a base (the rusticated lower floors), the shaft (the orderly unadorned middle floors) and the capital (an ornate cornice, since removed). The Railway Exchange Building remained the home of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad until 1945.


McGeoch Building
322 East Michigan Street

Peter McGeoch was born in London, England to Scottish parents who were vacationing there in 1833. He left his well-to-do family farm for America where he became involved in the grain trade in Milwaukee. In 1862, he formed a partnership with Nelson VanKirk; they subsequently built the largest pork processing business in Wisconsin. He constructed this commercial building in 1895 to house printing and lithographic operations in the heart of what was then Milwaukee’s Printer’s Row. On November 27, 1895 McGeoch, suffering from health miseries, deafness and violent headaches, committed suicide. News of his will, which left only $25,000 to his wife out of an estimated million-dollar estate made the New York Times. His son Arthur Nye McGeoch took the lion’s share of the estate and moved all the family business interests into the then wooded wilderness of West Allis and began the development of that city that hosts the annual Wisconsin State Fair. 


Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company Home Office
605-623 North Broadway Street at northwest corner of Michigan Street

Northwestern Mutual was founded in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1857 but was writing policies out of Milwaukee by 1859. By 1870 the company was successful enough to settle into an exuberant mansard-crowned Victorian Gothic headquarters designed by go-to Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix. That building was outgrown by 1885 and Northwestern Mututal prepared to move onto the site of the former Newhall House, the town’s most famous hotel that had cost $275,000 to build and furnish in 1857. The six-story, 300-room guest house was billed as “the largest and finest hotel in the West” before it burned on January 10,1883, killing 78 guests. Solon Spencer Beman designed this Romanesque crowd pleaser in gray granite and Bedford limestone. Northwestern Mutual actually occupied only the second floor but the building was quickly filled up with tenants such as the Milwaukee Art School, the National Exchange Bank, Angus Smith and Company, the Lake Shore and Western Railway, and West and Meyers Insurance. Northwestern stayed until 1914 and sold this building to Milwaukee Mechanics Insurance Company in 1923.

Mackie Building (Chamber of Commerce Building)
225 East Michigan Street at southwest corner of Broadway Street

After Alexander Mitchell built his grand palace to commerce next door he realized his neighbors, the Chamber of Commerce, were making do in a substandard edifice. So he offered to tear it down and build a suitably complementary building for the Chamber. Edward Townsend Mix did the design honors for this ornate Victorian pile as he had for the attached Mithcell Building. At its core was a three-story, sunken trading room that was the world’s largest grain exchange when Milwaukee was America’s leading port for wheat. Completed in 1879, the centerpiece of the confection is a skylight surrounded by Wisconsin wild flowers and images of wheat.

Mitchell Building
207 East Michigan Street

Alexander Mitchell came from Scotland to Milwaukee in 1839 when he was 22 years old and embarked on a business career that would make him the most powerful man in Milwaukee. His rise started when he founded the Marine Bank of Wisconsin, which would evolve into the dominant financial institution in the state, and the Wisconsin Marine and Fire Insurance Company Bank. In 1867 he organized the the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad which would be famous - and enormously profitable - as the Milwaukee Road. When Mitchell got involved in selling insurance his Northwestern National Insurance became the leading marine and fire protection provider in the West. To house it all, Milwaukee’s go-to Victorian architect, Edward Townsend Mix, designed the town’s most exuberant example of a high-style French Second Empire style building, completed in 1876.


Iron Block Building
205 East Wisconsin Avenue at southeast corner of Water Street

In the mid-1800s cast iron enjoyed popularity as an inexpensive and fast way to provide commercial building with a stylish facade. This four-story buidling from 1861 is the only such iron-front structure remaining in Wisconsin. The decorative pieces of the one-time Excelsior Block were cast in New York and shipped to Milwaukee to be bolted together on site.


Faison Building
100 East Wisconsin Avenue at northwest corner of Water Street

One of the city’s early landmark towers, the 14-story Pabst Building stood here for 90 years. When it was brought down in deteriorating condition in 1981 it was the tallest building ever demolished in Wisconsin. This postmodern version of the German vernacular style attempted to mimic the Pabst Building when it was raised in 1989. The 37-story tower is faced with cream-colored Cordoba limestone quarried in Texas and set off with dark brown metals buttons as window spandrels.


Gimbels Department Store
101 West Wisconsin Avenue at Plankinton Avenue

Adam Gimbel, a young Bavarian immigrant, began his retailing career with the Palace of Trade in Vincennes, Indiana in 1842. He moved to Milwaukee in the 1880s to join his sons Jacob and Isaac at the department store they had started in 1887. The store grew to become the most popular in the booming town and Adam Gimbel, with eight sons, liked to joke he had “a surplus of capital and a surplus of Gimbels.” So he established one of America’s first multi-city department store chains. Nearing the age of 80 Gimbel opened a large department store in Philadelphia in 1894. His sons would build a landmark store in New York City in 1910 and originate the iconic Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gimbels would become the largest department store chain in the country. The original Milwaukee store would grow and transform into a Neoclassical temple of commerce on the edge of the Milwaukee River. The last of the Gimbel stores closed in 1987.

Empire Building/Riverside Theater
116 West Wisconsin Avenue

This was one of a legion of grand movie palaces constructed in America in the “Roaring Twenties.” Instead of a grandiose name, however, the Riverside got its name by fighting to keep the Milwaukee River out of the basement. The 2,500-seat theater inside the 12-story Empire Building was designed by local architects Charles Kirchoff and Thomas Rose and opened April 19, 1928 with a screening of the Chester Conklin and Alice White comedy, The Big Noise. Like most of its big-city cousins the Riverside followed a familiar pattern of decline and vacancy beginning in the 1970s but was one of the lucky ones and has been revived and restored.

Plankinton Arcade
161 West Wisconsin Avenue

In the 1800s it was not uncommon for fortunes made elsewhere to be funneled into constructing hotels. John Plankinton grew rich packing meat and built his hotel here in 1868. In 1915 the hotel was razed and rebuilt down the block. In its place William Holabird and Martin Roche from Chicago constructed a shopping palace of white glazed terra cotta in an Italian Gothic Revival style. Five more stories came along in 1924 and $70 million was poured into the building in the 1980s which now covers more than 300,000 square feet of shopping space.


Germania Building
135 West Wells Street at Plankinton Avenue

A young George Brumder found his first work in Milwaukee laying track for the town’s first street car tracks. After he married Brumder opened a bookstore to which he added a printing department as funds allowed. From this base Brumder built a publishing empire that eventually included most of the German-language newspapers in Milwaukee. German-trained architects Schnetzky & Liebert designed this eight-story Beaux Arts office building to contain Brumder’s burgeoning business empire in 1896. Those interests would soon include German papers in other states, the Germania National Bank, the Concordia Fire Insurance Company, and even ownership of baseball’s Boston Red Sox when they won the first World Series in 1903. At the time of its construction, this was the largest office building in the city of Milwaukee. After Brumder’s death in 1910 at the age of 70 his heirs abandoned the German language enterprises and eventually sold off this property as well.


Warner Building
212 West Wisconsin Avenue

This 12-story Art Moderne structure dressed in polished pink and black granite was constructed by Warner Brothers to screen its movies in 1931. Facing you as you approach on the east side is a large trompe l’oeil mural.  

Henry S. Reuss Federal Plaza
310 West Wisconsin Avenue

This post-modern vision in blue was constructed in 1983 with 14 floors and 700,000 square feet of office space.

Frontier Airlines Center
400 West Wisconsin Avenue at northwest corner of 4th Street

This convention and exhibition center was constructed in 1998, its exterior interpreting the Germanic architecture from a hundred years earlier.

The Hilton Milwaukee City Center
509 West Wisconsin Street

Walter Schroeder left school after the eighth grade to go to work as a clerk in the Office of the Milwaukee Register of Deeds for $.50 a week. A few months later he landed a job with the newspaper that printed the legal notices in town. Two years later the brash teenager offered to buy the paper but the owner fired him instead. Undaunted, Schroeder started a rival paper, aggressively lured away his former paper’s subscribers and soon owned both publications. His newspapering career was brief, however. At the age of 21 he entered the insurance game with his father and Chris. Schroeder & Son Co. would go on to become the largest general insurance agency in Wisconsin. While backing the Wisconsin Hotel financially in 1912 Schroeder was unimpressed with the management team and took over the operation himself. By the 1920s he had built upscale hotels around Wisconsin and capped his nine-hotel chain with this multi-million dollar Shroeder Hotel in 1928. It was the tallest hotel in the state at the time and boasted 811 rooms. Chicago architects Holabird & Roche provided an Art Deco design for the property that became a Hilton property in 1995. 

Wisconsin Tower
606 West Wisconsin Avenue

This Art Deco tower with setbacks at the top was the second tallest building in town when it was completed in 1930. It was originally called the Mariner Building after developer John W. Mariner but the tower was confused with another Mariner property downtown and was switched. Behind the striking brown marble entrance surrounded by a grillwork of birds and flowers the space opened into a Deco-inspired lobby executed in marble and featuring electronically controlled elevators not seen in Milwaukee before. All of the grillwork was designed by Edwin Weary, one of the architects of the 285-foot skyscraper that is sited on a slight rise giving it even more prominence.

Milwaukee Public Library
814 West Wisconsin Avenue

The first books were lent in Milwaukee in 1847 through a subscription library run by the Young Men’s Association for its members. The City took over in 1878 and after a peripatetic existence around town for two decades the library landed in this block-swallowing headquarters in 1898. A nationwide design competition attracted 74 entries but local architects George Bowman Ferry and Alfred C. Clas won the prized commission. Their Beaux Arts masterpiece was rendered in Indiana limestone with master craftsmen carving exterior decoration on site. The U-shaped form accommodated both the library and the city museum in separate wings, an arrangement that lasted until the 1960s when the museum got its own building. The library is topped with a central dome and a new “green roof” that was installed in 2009 using a watertight membrane, protective layer, insulation, a filter layer, soil and vegetation to create a roof system.

Court of Honor
Wisconsin Avenue

Wisconsin Avenue parts here to provide a sliver of space populated by memorials that include the Washington Monument, the work of R. H. Parker, erected in 1885; a memorial to Civil War Soldiers, designed by John S. Conway of Milwaukee and dedicated in 1898; a carnival shaft, designed in 1900 by Alfred C. Clas; and the Hiker memorial to Spanish-American War veterans, the most recent addition to the court, designed by A. Koenig, Evanston, Illinois, and dedicated in 1932.  

St. James Episcopal Church
833 West Wisconsin Avenue

St. James’ Episcopal Church was founded as a mission of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1857. The current Gothic-flavored meetignhouse was erected in 1867. A fire on New Year’s Eve left only the walls and bell tower. The church reopened on April 19, 1874

Calvary Presbyterian Church
935 West Wisconsin Avenue

This church was constructed in 1870 of a light yellow-colored brick made from a clay found around Milwaukee known as Cream City brick. The bricks have been painted red for so long it is known as the “Big Red Church.” Henry Koch designed the Gothic Revival building with a tall narrow steeple that was so delicately rendered a church elder derisively said a team of horses could pull it down. Suitably challenged, Koch rounded up a team of horses and rigged them to the steeple. Despite their best efforts the horses were unable to topple the spire.


Wisconsin Club
900 West Wisconsin Avenue

Alexander Mitchell, who reigned over every aspect of Milwaukee’s financial life in the 19th century, began building on this property in 1848 with a modest brick house. As Mitchell’s wealth grew he bought up the entire block and in 1859 the expanded house was given a fashionable Italianate make-over. In the 1870s Edward Townsend Mix transformed the Mitchell home into the French Second Empire mansion seen today. The property was vacant after Mitchell, whose grandson Billy Mitchell is considered the Father of the United States Air Force and who is the namesake of the Milwaukee airport, died in 1887 at the age of 70. In 1894 the Deutscher Club, which had organized three years earlier as a way to promote fellowship among Americans and the burgeoning German immigrant population, purchased the property for $100,000.

southeast corner of Wisconsin Club grounds

In his down time Alexander Mitchell could usually be found curling; he helped start the Milwaukee Curling Club in the 1840s that today is the longest continually operating curling club in the United States. In the warmer months he enjoyed looking after his gardens and greenhouses. This ornate wooden garden structure was erected in the 1870s with a foundation of stone matching the wrought iron fence. The fence itself cost $20,000 at a time when a good working man’s salary was a dollar a day.  A belvedere differs from a gazebo by having walls.


Milwaukee County Courthouse
901 North 9th Street

When the decision was made to build its third courthouse, Milwaukee County staged a nationwide design competition. Thirty-three entries came in and the winning design was from Albert Randolph Ross, a New York-based architect living on an island off the Maine coast. Ross’s monumental Neoclassical building, executed in Indiana limestone with eight types of marble inside, was completed on its hilltop perch in 1931. By then America was wearying of heavily decorated grand temples and no similar buildings would appear again on the Milwaukee streetscape. For his part Frank Lloyd Wright called his local courthouse “a million dollar rockpile.” Ten million dollars, actually.


St. Benedict the Moor
1015 North Ninth Street at northwest corner of State Street

The first church to serve the black community of Milwaukee was established in 1908. In addition to spiritual needs the Capuchin Franciscansprovided education and meals. This building was designed in 1923 by Edward Brielmaier.

Trinity Lutheran Church
1046 North Ninth Street at southeast corner of Highland Avenue

This German-influenced Victorian Gothic building is the home church of Lutheranism in Milwaukee. Designed by Fredrick Velguth and considered one of the finest examples of the style, it was constructed in 1878 of Cream City brick and trimmed in sandstone. There are three towers with spires, the largest of which is the north tower at 200 feet tall. The congregation was founded by immigrants from Pomerania, Germany in 1847.


Bradley Center
1000 North 4th Street at northwest corner of State Street

In 1901, while working for Milwaukee Electric, Lynne Bradley was tinkering with ways to regulate the speed of motors when he came up with an idea worth quitting over. Bradley obtained $1,000 seed money from his life-long friend Dr. Stanton Allen and co-founded the Allen-Bradley Company with his brother, Harry, in 1903. The business grew on its reputation for quality sensors and resistors. In 1985 Rockwell International purchased Allen-Bradley for $1.651 billion, the largest business acquisition in Wisconsin’s history. In 1986 Jane Bradley Pettit built the Bradley Center in honor of her father - the home of the Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette Golden Eagles and Milwaukee Admirals is the only major league arena financed by a single family.

Turner Hall
1034 North Fourth Street at northeast corner of State Street

Turners were members of German Turnverein associations founded by Frederick Ludwig Jahn in 1811 to prepare youth, both mentally and physically, for resistance to Napoleonic domination, and later for other anti-democratic forms of government. The First Turner societies in the United States were organized in 1848 by German immigrants and Milwaukee received a charter in 1855. This four-story, multi-use facility was constructed in 1882 on plans drawn by German immigrant Henry H. Koch. Koch used Cream City Brick for the hall that blends elements of the Queen Anne and romanesque styles. the interior includes a two-story ballroom, gymnasium, and a beer hall. Turner Hall is the only building in Milwaukee that currently holds the three following honorary architectural and historical designations: a National Landmark, a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places, and a local Historical Landmark. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
333 West State Street at southeast corner of 4th Street

The roots of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reach all the way back to Solomon Juneau, fur-trader turned town founder who published the Sentinel once a week beginning in 1837. The paper bounced along under various ownerships until it came into the hands of the Hearst Corporation in 1924 which managed the Sentinel until 1962 when it was closed after a strike. The rival morning paper, the Milwaukee Journal that Lucius Nieman had started in 1882, bought the Sentinel name and subscription lists. The newspaper began publication as the Journal Sentinel in 1995. The building came on line in 1924 from the pen of Chicago architect Frank D. Chase who selected pinkish-yellow Kasota limestone for the exterior. Quarried only in Minnesota the stone is denser than typical limestone and was a popular choice for building as it takes a polish as well as marble and deteriorates extremely little over time. 


Milwaukee County Historical Center
910 North Old World Third Street at northeast corner of Kilbourn Avenue

Charles Kirchhoff, Jr. and Thomas Leslie Rose added this splendid French Renaissance vault to the Milwaukee streetscape for the Second Ward Savings Bank in 1913. For the wedge-shaped building site they rounded off the southeast corner and paraded fluted limestone columns around the exterior. The structure is based on a foundation of VermontBarre granite. The Second Ward merged with the First Wisconsin National Bank of Milwaukee in 1928 and made it through the Depression. When the building was worn out in 1965 it was donated to Milwaukee County and re-opened as the Milwaukee County Historical Center a year later complete with 22-ton bank vaults and the gold leaf barley and hops that led folks to call it the “Brewer’s Bank.”

Kilbourn Avenue Bascule Bridge
Milwaukee River

All was nor peace and love among the three founders of the settlements that became Milwaukee. The rivalry for newcomers to build up the respective communities was so fierce between Solomon Juneau’s Solomon Juneautown on the east bank of the Milwaukee River andByron Kilbourn’s Kilbourntown on the west that Kilbourn arranged his street grids so they would never match the grids across the river. To this day the bridges cross the Milwaukee River at an angle. In May of 1845 hostilities reached such a fever pitch that bridges were dismantle and gunshots reverberated across the water. Now known as the “Bridge War,” the incident helped trigger the move to unification resulting in the town of Milwaukee. The most architecturally distinguished of the bridges that span the Milwaukee River is the Kilbourn Avenue Bridge that was constructed in 1929. Most of the Milwaukee’s east-west streets had bridged the river by the 1870s with functional wooden bridges. As they were replaced with iron and steel, functionality trumped aesthetics in construction. David Rose, mayor at the time of construction, championed the cause of beauty in bridge-building and Charles Malig outfitted the 151-foot drawbridge with four Neoclassical bridgehouse pylons and ornamental metal railings. 


Usinger’s Famous Sausage
1030 North Old World Third Street

Fred Usinger arrived in America in the 1870s with little more than his favorite sausage recipes from his time as an apprentice sausage maker in Frankfurt, Germany. By 1880 Usinger was running his own butcher shop here and the recipes are still unchanged.