History ~ A Timeline

The history of The Shops of Grand Avenue is as rich as the City it serves.


John Plankinton, founder and owner of the Plankinton Meat Packing Company, erected the Plankinton House Hotel on what is now the corner of Wisconsin and Plankinton Avenues.


The hotel was razed and rebuilt to the south of where the original structure stood. In its place, the Plankinton Arcade was built as an entertainment center with bowling and billiards. Fashioned in 15th century Italian Gothic style, it featured white glazed terra cotta, ornamental iron and grillwork, wide arcades on two levels, glass skylit roof and a central rotunda.


Floors 3-7 were added on a donut design surrounding the central skylight with 192,000 square feet of office space. In the later 1920s, the west side of the arcade was filled in to accommodate a W.T. Grant Store, and shortly thereafter, the east arcade was closed.


Some renovations took place, including refurbishing the terra cotta and adding a continuous bronze colored fascia on the exterior.


The Milwaukee Redevelopment Corporation purchased the Plankinton Building to incorporate it into The Grand Avenue development. Extensive renovations were done to the arcade’s first and second levels, including restoration of the original ornamental work.


The Shops of Grand Avenue opened as an urban shopping plaza. Its name comes from the bustling merchant street of the 19th century, Grand Avenue, the present Wisconsin Avenue. A main portion of The Shops of Grand Avenue is housed in the former Plankinton Arcade and is connected to surrounding buildings by second story retail skywalks.

History of Milwaukee

Milwaukee is an Indian word meaning “beautiful land” or “gathering place by the waters.” Both translations seem to fit our City, which has evolved from a place of quiet, pristine beauty to one of the hippest, most dynamic cities in the country.


Milwaukee was founded when Solomon Juneau, a French Canadian, permanently settled at the present site of Mitchell Park to run his father-in-law’s trading post. The land was naturally divided by the Milwaukee and Menomonee Rivers into three sections. Solomon moved to the eastern section between the Milwaukee River and the lake, and developed this area for new settlers.
Meanwhile, Byron Kilbourn developed the section west of the river, while George Walker established his claim south of the river’s junctions in an area that became known as Walker’s Point.
Milwaukee thus began as three separate villages due to the water barriers and the independent development efforts of these three individuals.


As the city grew and its functioning as a single unit became more and more apparent, Juneautown, Kilbourntown and Walker’s Point were incorporated into the entity of Milwaukee. Total population was 10,000.


Milwaukee’s desirable location at the edge of rich farmlands with access to the Great Lakes shipping channels made its rapid economic development possible. By 1865, the city was the world’s largest primary of exporter of wheat.


Milwaukee began to take on a German flavor as a wave of immigrants flocked to the city. They brought with them the art of brewing beer, and by 1856, there were more than two dozen breweries in Milwaukee. Other European groups followed, including a substantial population of Polish immigrants.


Major agricultural processing industries, such as flour milling, meat packing, tanning, brewing and shoe manufacturing were all established in the city.


Heavy manufacturing began in Milwaukee in the late 1860’s and expanded dramatically in the last 20 years of the 19th century.


In the first decade of the 20th century, machine shops, iron mills and implement firms were three of Milwaukee’s top industries.


Under Mayor Dan Hoan, Milwaukee won a number of awards as the healthiest and safest major city in America.


Milwaukee got its first major league baseball team, and in 1957 the Braves won the World Series. The team left for Atlanta in 1965, but major league baseball returned to the city in 1970 with the Brewers.


After two world wars and the Depression left Milwaukee in a state of decay, efforts were made to revitalize the city. A movement also began to preserve historical buildings, and though much of the city was renovated during the 60s and 70s, there are still many reminders of its past.

Downtown Thru the Eras
Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Tour

Daily Walking Tours June 1 – October 13 at 10am

Meets in front of the T.J. Maxx entrance in the Plankinton Building

This tour of our most prestigious downtown buildings takes you from the historic Plankinton Building to the modern Milwaukee Art Museum.

Click here for details on the walking tours.