Postcard: “Downtown” View of Milwaukee, Wis.

Here is a great, undated postcard of Milwaukee from the air. You can see many of downtown’s oldest buildings here. This view is from the 1930s or 1940s. The postcard contains the Centre Building (barely visible near 2nd and Wisconsin), which was built in 1931, but is missing the two-story Art Moderne parking garage Gimbels constructed in 1947 on the corner of Michigan and Plankinton.

On the top right is the City Hall (1895 to present).

Below and to the left of City Hall (with two large vertical signs) is the First Wisconsin National Bank Building (1914 to present). Below that is the distinctive Pabst Building (1892 to 1981). To the east (right) of the Pabst, the tall, white building with two wings is the Bankers Building, constructed in 1929 and still standing today as the Drury Plaza Hotel. South of the Pabst, along the east (right) side of the river, is a block of small buildings that were razed between 1959 to 1961 to make way for the Marine Bank building, including the Mack Block Building, National Exchange Bank, and Bradley Building.

On the right side of the postcard, midway from top to bottom, you can see a tall, thin, red building–that’s the Railway Exchange Building that still stands on Broadway and Wisconsin. Just south of the Railway Exchange building and north of Michigan Street is the Loyalty Building, built in 1886 as the second headquarters of Northwestern Mutual Life.

To the south of that, across Michigan (and right above label “‘Downtown’ View of Milwaukee, Wis.”) is the Chamber of Commerce Building or Mackie Building. You can see its distinctive tower. The ornate building was built in 1880 and still stands. To the left of that, the red building is the Mitchell Building (1878 to present).

A block south of that, to the left of the postcard label, is the Button Block building on Clybourn (once known as Huron St). It was built in 1892 and still stands today. It has had a number of clubs and restaurants on the first floor, from Park Avenue to Brett Favre’s Steakhouse. Today, it is the Homewood Suites.

Across the river you can see the buildings that comprised Gimbels–the northern part along Wisconsin Avenue built in 1923 and the southern portion along Michigan Avenue in 1920. Both still stand today. Peeking over Gimbels, on the north side of Wisconsin between Plankinton and the river, you can see the Empire Building, built in 1928. That still exists and houses the Riverside Theater.

The large, white, block-long building to the west (left) of Gimbels is the Plankinton Arcade. This is how it looked after 1925, when an additional five floors were added to the original two-story building. In the same block, south of the Plankinton Arcade, you can see two buildings that no longer exist. On the corner of Michigan And Plankinton, the large, red, eight-story building is the Plankinton Hotel (1917 to 1980). (I actually got to see a portion of this come down while visiting downtown with my folks.) And along 2nd Street, to the north of the surface parking lot, is the 11-story Hotel Antlers.

A block north of the Plankinton Arcade, you can see eight-story, five-sided Brumder Building or Germania Building. It has a bit of an odd shape to match the block it’s on and features four distinctive covered domes in the shape of Kaiser helmets on its roof. It was originally named the Germania Building, but they changed the name during WWII in honor of the owner, George Brumder (and to obscure the German reference). That was built in 1896 and still stands today.

Above the Germania Building, you can see another building that still stands today. The reddish/brown, nine-story Chalet At The River Building. It was built as a six-story building in 1908, and the top three floors added in 1913. To the left of that is a white building called the Century Building. It was built in 1925 and had Radio Doctors on the first floor from 1961 to 1991.

And, finally, in far upper left corner, you see the Milwaukee Auditorium (now known as the Miller High Life Theatre.) In 1950, the Milwaukee Arena would be built to the east of the Auditorium.


Approximate Google Earth View today:,-87.90949003,213.44860423a,471.22914979d,35y,-25.72727653h,67.59908915t,0r

Postcard: Whaleback Steamer Christopher Columbus, Chicago to Milwaukee

This is not a Milwaukee building, but it’s interesting nonetheless. This undated postcard shows the Christopher Columbus whaleback steamer. SS Christopher Columbus was the only whaleback ship ever built for passenger service, the longest whaleback ever built (at 362 feet), and reportedly also the largest vessel on the Great Lakes when she was launched.

The World’s Fair Steamship Company ordered the boat to ferry passengers to the Columbia Exposition (hence the name of the boat.) She was elegantly furnished. Her grand saloon and skylighted promenade deck contained several fountains and a large aquarium filled with trout and other fish of the lakes. The cabins and public spaces were fitted out with oak paneling, velvet carpets, etched glass windows, leather furniture, and marble. Shops and restaurants were provided for the passengers.

The ship was built for speed, making the six-mile run from Chicago’s downtown to the Jackson Park site of the Exposition in under 20 minutes. She had an estimated capacity of 4,000–5,000 passengers on her four decks, but it was reported that she carried 7,000 on her maiden voyage. The Columbus carried between 1.7 and 2.0 million passengers during the exposition, with only one fatality, a crew member. After the exposition ended the Columbus entered passenger service.

The boat had at least four accidents. In June 1895, on just the second day of its summer ferry season, the Christopher Columbus suffered an explosion caused by a steam pipe becoming disconnected while she was underway, enveloping the ship in a cloud of blistering steam. The accident happened, it was reported, while racing with a rival ship, the Virginia of the Goodrich Line, from Milwaukee to Chicago, although its captain denied the claim. Thirteen people were injured.

In 1896, she struck the Buffalo Street swing bridge in Milwaukee. Swing bridges open by spinning horizontally from a pier in the middle of the river. The bridge was three-quarters open and had 75 people on it to watch the boat pass when the accident happened. The bridge was displaced three feet, and had it moved another six inches, it would have fallen into the river. The City attempted to stop the boat from navigating so far upriver but eventually realized it didn’t have the authority because the river was under control of the war department.

In June 1905, as the Christopher Columbus was being towed out of the Chicago River, she collided with the schooner Ralph Campbell. It suffered no damage.

And in 1917, the boat had its most serious accident. Recent floods made the Milwaukee River unusual treacherous, causing the ship to collide with a water tower. The tower topped and flooded the Columbus’ decks with about 25,000 gallons of water. The collision killed 15, 16 or 18 passengers, by various accounts. Milwaukee police estimated 20,000 Milwaukeeans flocked to the river the following day to watch “the grewsome search for bodies.”

She was scrapped in 1936.


Postcard: Grand Ave. Bascule Bridge, Milwaukee

This postcard, postmarked 1907, shows a boat passing the Grand Avenue (now Wisconsin Avenue) Bascule bridge. (A bascule bridge is just a fancy name for a drawbridge).

This bridge would have been fairly new at the time this image was captured. A swing bridge, which pivoted horizontally from a piling in the center of the river, was replaced with this bridge in 1902. The old swing bridge was moved six blocks north to Chestnut Street, which is now called Juneau Avenue. In 1901, the city received four bids to build this bridge, ranging from $84,700 to $103,486 for an “ornamental structure.” (Those figures would be equal to $2.5M to $3.1M today.)

Just over the bow of the ship, you can see the J. C. Iversen building. John C. Iversen established his picture-framing business in 1867 on Spring Street (later Grand Avenue). The business prospered and expanded in 1879 to this five-story building you see here on E. Water Street (now N. Water Street).

On the left, you see the old four-story Gimbel’s building that was razed to make way for the new eight-story building in the 1920s. (At the top, you can see the last two letters of the Gimbel’s name.)

In the center is, of course, City Hall. To the right is the Pabst Building and Mack Block Building, across from each other on what is now Wisconsin Avenue.

I think the only thing visible in this image that still stands is city hall.



PLUS Code: 23PQ+XW Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Postcard: Riverfront, South from Wells Street Bridge, Milwaukee, Wis.

Postmarked 1940, this postcard shows the Milwaukee River looking south from the Wells Street Bridge.

On the far left is the 8-story Manufacturers Home Building, built in 1909. It was converted to apartments in 1997 and is currently known as “City Hall Square.” This building was home to the Central Continuation School, which eventually evolved into the Milwaukee Area Technical College. A 1919 publication noted that the school for girls was located here and could accommodate “about 5000 girls.” In the 1920s, the school moved to new facilities on 6th and State Streets where MATC is still located today.

Across Mason Street is the 16-story First Wisconsin National Bank, built in 1914. The building was home for the First Wisconsin Bank until the 42-story tower opened on East Wisconsin Ave in 1973.

The four-story neo-classic building nest to that is Marshall & Ilsley Bank, built in 1913. An additional two stories were added in 1930. The building was demolished in 1981 to make room for the 100 East Wisconsin building.

South of that, on Wisconsin Ave, is Milwaukee’s first skyscraper, the Pabst Building (1892 to 1981).



PLUS Code: 23RQ+47 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Bowling History of Windup Lanes

From the West Allis Star of APRIL 29, 1954

Carl Ray Jr is one of the bowlers memorialized in the Milwaukee Bowling Hall of Fame. He recently passed away in December 2019. At the age of 18 he was in the All Star League and at 22 became the manager of the Windup Lanes. The above article states that he started his first Tournament of Champions in 1954 at the Windup Lanes.

Postcard: Lake Park and Drive, Milwaukee

Today’s Lake Park is hardly recognizable in this postcard. It’s difficult to imagine the park with so few trees, isn’t it? This image depicts the park around 1900, after the Lion Bridges were complete but before other park facilities were added in the first decade of the 20th century.

The roadway pictured on the left portion of the postcard is now a pedestrian trail called the Oak Leaf Trail. The road in the upper right portion is today the Lake Park Road that leads to the Lake Park Bistro parking lot. The two “Lion Bridges” on either side of the lighthouse were constructed in 1896-97. In 1964, the bridges were narrowed and closed to vehicles. Today, that fountain between the bridges is gone, but you can still see the semicircular chain fence that remains.

The lighthouse is the North Point Lighthouse. The original lighthouse was built in 1855 but had to be abandoned because of bluff erosion. This lighthouse was built 100 feet further inland and began use in 1888. In 1907, the lighthouse began operating locally after Congress ceased funding due to trees and city lights obscuring the beacon.

The image shows the lighthouse at its 1888 height of 39 feet. In 1912, a new steel structure with the old iron tower attached on top raised the beacon to 74 feet from the ground. That is the lighthouse you can visit today. The U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned it in 1994.

Although the postcard is undated, it has a divided back, which means it was printed after 1907, but the image seems to reflect how Lake Park looked roughly a decade earlier. There are no trees growing to obscure the lighthouse. Also, by 1899, a horse barn (not pictured) was opened. In 1903 a 6-hole golf course was created just north of the lighthouse (also not pictured) and the pavilion (which today houses Lake Park Bistro) opened beyond that first bend of the roadway. Lake Park’s famous grand staircase, leading from landfill at the shore to the pavilion would come later, in 1908.

Lake Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. He was the landscape architect responsible for Central Park in New York City and the grounds of Chicago’s Columbia Exposition.

At the time of this postcard, the bluff fell directly into the lake. Since then, landfill has been used to extend the shore for Lincoln Memorial Drive and the parks on Milwaukee’s lakeshore.

Roughly where those ships rest at the dock is where the Milwaukee Gun Club once had a shooting range on land created by the landfill. The gun club received a license for the land in 1928, but for five decades the county fought to evict the club, seeking to use the space for general park activity. The club agreed to move, then renigged on the promise, and finally went to court to try to keep the land. In 1992, after losing their case, the gun club finally agreed to abandon the site. Today, a rugby field is located approximately at this spot along the lakefront.



PLUS Code for North Point lighthouse: 348H+7C Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Approximate Google Earth view today:,-87.86961156,215.67551459a,406.4992602d,35y,27.93091114h,86.94008376t,360r

Postcard: Whaleback Steamer “Christopher Columbus” passing Buffalo St. Bridge

This undated postcard shows the Christopher Columbus passing the Buffalo St Bridge. Neither the boat nor the bridge exist any longer. This photo likely comes from the 1920s or early 1930s.

SS Christopher Columbus was the only whaleback ship ever built for passenger service. The ship was the longest whaleback ever built, and reportedly also the largest vessel on the Great Lakes when she was launched. She served as an excursion liner on the Great Lakes between 1893 and 1933 and began life shuttling visitors from downtown Chicago to the World’s Columbian Exposition. The ship could carry 4,000 to 5,000 passengers on her four decks, but it was reported that she carried 7,000 on her maiden voyage. She was scrapped in 1936.

The bridge at Buffalo Street was originally a swing bridge that pivoted on a center pier. In 1896, the Christopher Columbus hit the bridge, severely damaging the bridge. The draw bridge pictured here replaced the swing bridge in 1914. (That poor ship had its problems–in 1917, it collided with a water tower near Michigan Street in Milwaukee, sending the tower crashing onto the ship and killing passengers.)

The Buffalo Street bridge was removed in the late 1970s after the construction of the bridge over the river at St. Paul Avenue.



PLUS Code: 23MQ+MM Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Postcard: E. Water St. & City Hall, Milwaukee, Wis.

The postmark on this one is difficult to read but appears to be from 1909. This shot looks north on Water Street from the Iron Block building on Wisconsin. The only building in this photo that is still standing today is City Hall.

The postcard calls the street “East Water Street.” Today, this stretch of street is known as North Water Street, but prior to the 1930s, this was called East Water Street to differentiate it from West Water Street (now called Plankinton Avenue) which ran parallel to the river on the west.

The scene depicted was where Milwaukee was originally founded. Solomon Juneau’s cabin and trading post were located here in the early 19th Century.

To the left are the bottom floors of the Pabst Building (1892 to 1981).

Just beyond that is the Matthews Bros building. Matthews Bros. was considered one of Milwaukee’s most celebrated furniture manufacturers. It was founded by brothers Eschines and Alonzo Matthews. They moved from Ohio to Milwaukee in 1856 and occupied many addresses before arriving at this spot. In 1857, Matthews Bros was founded on East Water between Biddle and Martin (now known as Kilbourn and State). Three years later they moved to a new location on East Water between Biddle and Oneida (Kilbourn and Wells). In 1863, the brothers relocated to a store on the west side of this block on East Water. In 1870, the firm built a manufacturing plant on 4th and Wisconsin that still stands today. In 1874, Matthews Bros moved their showroom from Water Street to Broadway, before finally arriving at this lovely building (401, 409 and 411 East Water Street) in 1879. This building was erected by the Philip Best Brewing Company. It was later occupied by Waldheim & Co. Furniture.

The Marshall & Ilsley Bank is not yet constructed on the west side of the street. That happened in 1913. And at the end of the block on the west side, the First Wisconsin National Bank would be built in 1914.

The focus on the shot is, of course, Milwaukee City Hall. Built in 1895, it was the tallest building in the world until 1899 (when NYC’s Park Row Building eclipsed it). It remained the tallest building in Milwaukee for 78 years. The upper part of the tower was rebuilt after a fire in October 1929.

City Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2005.



PLUS Code for City Hall: 23RR+G4 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Approximate Google Earth View today:,-87.909298,190.90933456a,63.58584328d,35y,-26.85735666h,80.8908923t,0r/data=ClYaVBJOCiUweDg4MDUxOWE3NGMxMDRhODc6MHg3YzMyZWMyMDNlODJmOWRhGZ9VZkrrhEVAIYYRDDEo-lXAKhNJcm9uIEJsb2NrIEJ1aWxkaW5nGAIgAQ

Approximate Google Street View today:

Postcard: The Wisconsin Tower, Milwaukee, WI

This undated postcard shows the Wisconsin Tower, originally known as the Mariner Building, which still stands on the northwest corner of 6th and Wisconsin.

The 22-story art-deco office tower was built in 1930. The original name came from the developer, John W. Mariner, who died a few months before the building was completed. Upon completion, it was the second tallest building in Milwaukee. The name changed to the Wisconsin Tower in 1939. The building was converted to condominiums in 2005.

Generations knew this building because the west side was used for large billboards that spanned many floors. Here is an early shot with several advertisements on the side of the building:

You can’t see it in this postcard, but the building featured a 50-foot steel mast for a revolving beacon light and radio towers on the roof. There have been rumors that the tower was intended as mooring for blimps, but apparently there is no proof of this. The tower was originally enclosed in glass and used as an airplane beacon. You can see the tower enclosed in glass in this old photo on the MPL website:

The 4-story building to the left, Central Market Apartments, was built in 1918 with a grocery market on the first floor and apartments above. It still stands today.

And to the left of that are the Norman Apartments, built in 1888 and demolished by fire in 1991.



PLUS Code: 23QJ+M7 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Postcard: Y.M.C.A. Building, Milwaukee

This postcard is undated but seems to be from the first decade of the 20th Century. We can ascertain the date because to the south of this YMCA building, which was built in 1887, the organization expanded by constructing a taller building in 1909. And beyond that, the Maryland Hotel was completed in 1910. Both YMCA buildings were demolished in 1966, and the Hotel Maryland came down in 1984.

This shot is of the west side of 4th Street between Wisconsin and Michigan Avenues. Today, this is an open parking lot on the north, and on the south is a parking structure with a skywalk to the old Boston Store building across the street.

In 1887, when this building opened, the Milwaukee YMCA was among the first in the nation to offer dormitories. The Milwaukee Y started separating men and boys, and this building became the “Boys building” when the larger extension was built for men next door.

The building on the right has signs for “Nase, Kraus & Koken,” a company that made wallpaper. This building was razed to make way for the New Hotel Randolph, which opened in 1927.

In 1981, the city’s Redevelopment Authority named this block a prime development site. In 1984 the city acquired the Randolph, and four months later, it closed the hotel and evicted its remaining tenants. On July 21, 1985, the building was imploded, and for over 35 years this “prime redevelopment site” has remained empty, operating as a surface parking lot.



PLUS Code: 23QM+7G Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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