Milwaukee Exposition Building

Click the image to learn more. The Milwaukee Exposition Building, shown here around 1885, hosted events until it was destroyed in a fire in 1905.

Preceded by the city’s oldest skating rink,[1] the Milwaukee Exposition Building opened at what is now 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. in 1881.[2] Walter Holbrook of E.T. Mix Co. Architects[3] designed the building, which was constructed with Milwaukee brick in the modified Queen Anne style.[4] It was constructed entirely with private funds[5]—when a worker’s strike stalled construction, John Plankinton wrote a $70,000 check to meet their demands.[6] Milwaukeeans regarded it as the city’s crown jewel and the best exposition center in the nation.[7] The Exposition Building was destroyed by fire during a skat card tournament on June 4, 1905,[8] the cause of which was never determined.[9] After a legal battle for the land,[10] it was replaced by the Milwaukee Auditorium.

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Milwaukee County Historical Society, “Exposition Building, 1881-1905: Historical Note,” Milwaukee County Historical Society website, July 25, 2011, accessed January 14, 2014.
  2. ^ Elmer Epenetus Barton, Industrial History of Milwaukee: The Commercial, Manufacturing and Railway Metropolis of the Northwest (Milwaukee: E. E. Barton, 1886), 69.
  3. ^ John Hoving, “Father of Auditorium Was 1881 Exposition,” The Milwaukee Journal, April 19, 1950, accessed January 14, 2014,,2230114; Larry Widen, Entertainment in Early Milwaukee (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007), accessed January 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Elmer Epenetus Barton, Industrial History of Milwaukee, the Commercial, Manufacturing, and Railway Metropolis of the North-West (Milwaukee: E.E. Barton, 1886) accessed January 18, 2014, 69.
  5. ^ William George Bruce, History of Milwaukee, City and County, vol. I (Milwaukee: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company) accessed January 14, 2014, 423.
  6. ^ “Good for the Convention,” The Milwaukee Journal, December 5, 1891, accessed January 15, 2014,,5259639.
  7. ^ William George Bruce, History of Milwaukee, 423.
  8. ^ Betty Twinning, “Recall Famous Events at Old Exposition Bldg,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, April 8, 1950, accessed January 15, 2014,,5595415; Hoving, “Father of Auditorium Was 1881 Exposition.”
  9. ^ Hoving, “Father of Auditorium was 1881 Exposition.”
  10. ^ Bruce, History of Milwaukee, City and County, 425.

For Further Reading

Bruce, William George. History of Milwaukee, City and County. Vol. 1. Milwaukee: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.

“Good for the Convention.” The Milwaukee Journal. December 5, 1891.

Hoving, John. “Father of Auditorium Was 1881 Exposition.” The Milwaukee Journal. April 19, 1950.


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