Postcard: Commission House District on Lower Broadway, Milwaukee

This postcard comes from near the early part of the last century. The postmark appears to be 1907 (and the rear has an undivided back entirely dedicated to the address, which was required by law prior to 1907.) Postcards of this era featured colorized photos, and you can see the original photo shown in this postcard on the Milwaukee Public Library site.

This view is of Broadway in the Third Ward. The perspective is looking NNW from what is now the Broadway Condominiums on the southeast corner of Broadway and Buffalo Streets. Four tall buildings are seen in the distance on the right half of the postcard. From left to right they are the Pabst Building (built in 1892), City Hall (built in 1895), the Chamber of Commerce Building (or Mackie Building) (built in 1880), and the Railway Exchange Building (built in 1901). Of the four tall structures seen towering in the distance, three still stand today in downtown Milwaukee.

The Third Ward was very important to Milwaukee’s early success. In 1856, when the first railroad from Milwaukee reached the Mississippi River, Milwaukee wholesalers did more business than those in Chicago because Milwaukee was 90 miles closer by steamship to the east coast. By the late 19th Century, the highest concentration of wholesalers in the city was located in the Third Ward due to its location adjacent to the harbor, rivers, and railroads. By the end of the century, as railways competed with Great Lakes shipping, trade would start shifting to Chicago due to the expansion of rail systems to the south.

The Third Ward District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1984 registration notes that seventy-one buildings are contained within the roughly-twelve-block boundaries of the historic district, almost all of which are multi-story warehouses or industrial structures built between 1892 and 1928.

That first date is important because 1892 is when the Third Ward suffered an enormous and destructive fire. On October 28, 1892, a fire fueled by strong winds of up to 50 mph spread throughout the Third Ward. A small fire started in the Union Oil Co. warehouse on the west side of Water Street, north of Buffalo. Although it was thought to have been quickly brought under control, a fire broke out in a neighboring factory (the Bub and Kipp factory, which was located where Commission Row is now) an hour later. Before morning, three firefighters were dead, two women had died of apparent shock, 215 railroad cars were consumed, and 81 large brick buildings and 359 wood-frame structures were destroyed. 1,900 people, mostly Irish families, were left without homes.

Following the fire in 1892, Milwaukee rapidly replaced the lost buildings. Although many of the buildings lost were residential, the redevelopment focused on warehouses to take advantage of the easy water and rail shipping lines; as a result, the population of the Third Ward never recovered to its pre-fire totals. Today, 30% of the buildings remaining in the area date from the 1890s rebuilding period, and 98% of all buildings remaining in the district were built before the Crash of 1929.

Commission Row, featured in this postcard, was built by the Ludington Estate in 1894-95. As noted, it was built on the site of the Bub and Kipp factory, which was the second building destroyed in the Third Ward fire.

Just to the north, you’ll see a four-story cream-colored building that abutts Commission row. That was one of the few Third Ward buildings that escaped destruction in the 1892 fire and is the oldest manufacturing building in the district. The Jewett & Sherman Co. mill was built in 1875. By the 1940s, it was used as a commission house, then for offices and a restaurant. Today, The Wicked Hop is housed in this building.

The block to the north of the Jewett & Sherman (between the Third Ward and downtown) has changed considerably. The old buildings you see in the postcard were razed in the 1960s to make way for the elevated I-794 freeway. Today, you’ll also find the Milwaukee Public Market on that block, with the area under the freeway used for parking.

On a personal note, this view has a special meaning for my wife and me. We owned a pet boutique, Metropawlis, that was housed in small portion on the north end of this building from 2005 to 2009.



PLUS code of location where photo was taken: 23MV+G5 Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Approximate Google Earth view today:,-87.90748611,179.08811139a,61.45211348d,35y,-29.71403003h,70.00204432t,359.99999879r/data=CiUaIxIdCgAZFtnO91OERUAhZDvfTw36VcAqBzIzTVYrRzUYASAB

Approximate Google Street View today:

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