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Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena (MECCA)

The MECCA, pictured here in the foreground, opened in 1974 and served as Milwaukee's main convention center until it was replaced in 1998. The arena to the right of the convention center is still in use and currently known as the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
The Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena (MECCA) stood in Milwaukee’s Civic Center district on West Kilbourn Avenue for 24 years. It opened in 1974 adjoining the Auditorium/Arena complex and was replaced with the larger, more modern Midwest Express Center (now the WISCONSIN CENTER) in 1998. The efforts to construct the convention center began… Read More

Milwaukee Exposition Building

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, the Milwaukee Exposition Building opened at what is now 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. in 1881. Walter Holbrook of E.T. Mix Co. Architects designed the building, which was constructed with Milwaukee brick in the modified Queen Anne style. It was constructed entirely with private funds—when a worker’s strike stalled… Read More

Milwaukee Mile

The Milwaukee Mile continues to be a popular venue for racing enthusiasts. This photograph from 2009 captures the Mile hosting the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Built as a horse track in 1876, the Milwaukee Mile hosted its first automobile race in 1903. Known as the oldest continuously operated motor speedway in the world, the Milwaukee Mile is on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair Park, located in West Allis since 1891. The track held open wheel championship races under… Read More

Milwaukee Theatre

This photograph of the building that became the Milwaukee Theatre also illustrates the streetcar tracks of Milwaukee in the early 20th century.
The Milwaukee Auditorium opened in 1909 at 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., replacing the Exposition Building. Operating under a public-private partnership, it became Milwaukee’s major public spectator facility. The main hall originally accommodated more than 8,000 people. It served as a venue for events including religious revivals, the arts, sport, and sociability. In 1912, after a… Read More

Missing Milwaukee

T.A. Chapman's department store, pictured here in 1955, was a prominent structure along Wisconsin Avenue from 1885 until it was torn down in 1982.
Milwaukee’s history is refracted through its built environment. The style, construction, and decorations of buildings tell us about the priorities of the builders and how they were used—a direct reflection of the lives and work of their occupants. Some nineteenth-century buildings survive in twenty-first century Milwaukee. People who walk, ride, or drive by them, or… Read More

Natural Disasters

In 1947, a January blizzard brought sixteen inches of snowfall to Milwaukee and crippled the city. Pictured here the day after the storm, Teutonia Avenue is only partially plowed and snow drifts are piled high along the sidewalks.
While some disasters have become inextricably associated with a particular U.S. city—the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, the Chicago Fire of 1871, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900—Milwaukee has no such association. The city and the surrounding area have, for the most part, been spared from major loss of life or property destruction related to natural… Read More

Natural History

By the early twentieth century, nearly all of the natural woodlands in Milwaukee, as seen here flanking the Milwaukee River, were gone.
In the 1850s, the Milwaukee area’s rapidly increasing human population altered the environment in profound, unprecedented ways. Not that the region had previously been devoid of humans, or that the environment had never before been altered. Far from it. Evidence shows that the area had seen frequent if not continuous human habitation for at least… Read More

Newhall House Fire

This sketch of the Newhall House Fire dramatizes the rescue operation, illustrating the crowd gathered to watch and firefighters carrying ladders and holding safety nets for people trying to escape the flames.
The deadliest fire in Milwaukee history occurred at the Newhall House hotel on January 10, 1883 on the corner of Michigan Street and Broadway. Firemen who battled previous fires at the hotel, one of Wisconsin’s largest, dubbed it a “tinder-box.” The inferno originated in the opulent structure’s wooden elevator shaft and took over twenty-six hours… Read More

Pabst Theater

Hand stringing 33,000 inches of Austrian lead crystal for a chandelier in the Pabst Theater.
Brewer Frederick Pabst ordered the construction of the Pabst Theater in 1895 after fire destroyed the Stadt Theater. Located at 144 E. Wells St., the 1,339-seat venue hosts a variety of performing arts events. A visual reminder of the Milwaukee’s German influence, the Pabst Theater became a city landmark in 1967 and was listed on… Read More

Polish Flat

Photograph of a Milwaukee Polish flat owned by Joseph Knapinski, pictured here in 1939.
Known as a “raised cottage” in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, in Milwaukee the same house form became associated with Polish neighborhoods and was tagged with the name Polish Flat. “Raised cottage” offers an apt description of the process that produced these houses. A 1911 Milwaukee housing study reported that in the late nineteenth century,… Read More

Pollution

The numerous tanneries and other industrial facilities  located on the banks of the Milwaukee River during the 19th and 20th centuries contributed to the water's pollution.
Pollution—of the water, air, and land—is an unfortunate but constant feature of Milwaukee’s history. Much of the city’s pollution has been the result of commerce and industry. However, the growth in Milwaukee’s population also contributed to the problem, particularly in terms of contamination from sewage and wastewater. While the worst of Milwaukee’s pollution problems seem… Read More

Public Housing

The Garden Homes housing development was the first municipally-sponsored public housing project in the United States. This 1922 aerial photograph provides a view of the neatly laid out homes just before they were completed in 1923.
While Milwaukee had a visionary public housing mission in the first half of the twentieth century, the vision diminished as market forces and racial politics came to the fore after World War II. Milwaukee’s first two public housing projects were built for the working class. Garden Homes, completed in 1923, included both single-family homes and… Read More

Railroad Stations

This elevated photograph provides a view of Milwaukee's first railroad depot around 1865. Passenger trains arrived here until the Reed Street depot was built in 1866.
Milwaukee’s first railroad, the Milwaukee and Waukesha Railroad, formed in 1847. It became operational in 1850, when the first tracks were laid to Elm Grove, Wisconsin, and reached Waukesha in 1851. Their first station, located at Second Street and St. Paul Avenue, near the current Amtrak station, was a small, two-room, building of a utilitarian,… Read More

RiverWalk

The North Avenue Dam, in place since 1891, was partially removed in 1994 and fully removed in 1997 to help improve the river’s water quality. A pedestrian bridge is now in place near the former dam site, which connects the two sides of the RiverWalk.
The RiverWalk is a pedestrian walkway along the MILWAUKEE RIVER in DOWNTOWN Milwaukee. SOCIALIST city planners first envisioned the RiverWalk in the early 20th century, and a segment was built outside the Gimbels Department Store in the late 1920s. In the 1980s, Mayor HENRY MAIER revived the idea and pushed for a connected system of… Read More

State Forests, Parks, and Trails

This colorful mural on Pierce Street marks an entry point to the Hank Aaron Trail.
Despite its urban location, Milwaukee is a beneficiary of Wisconsin’s investment in protecting natural areas. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources manages the state’s forests, parks, and trails. Three are housed in Milwaukee County: Hank Aaron State Trail, Havenwoods State Forest, and Lakeshore State Park. Winding through an area once home to Native Americans and,… Read More

Subcontinental Divide

This map from the U.S. Geological Survey illustrates where the Subcontinental Divide runs through southeastern Wisconsin.
A ridge created by the thawing Wisconsin glacier 10,000 years ago traverses eastern Waukesha County from north to south near the Milwaukee County line. It is a small segment of the Great Lakes Basin boundary, which encompasses all of Michigan and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and the Canadian… Read More

Third Ward Fire of 1892

The fire in the Third Ward in 1892 demolished more than 440 buildings and displaced 2,500 people from the neighborhood.
At about 5:40 p.m. on Friday, October 28, 1892, spontaneous combustion in the Union Oil and Paint Company building on the Milwaukee River at Water Street, south of St. Paul Avenue, caused a fire. Strong winds swirling from the west and northwest pushed the fire east to Lake Michigan and south to Erie Street. By… Read More

US Bank Center

Photograph of the U.S. Bank Center from Lakefront Park taken in 1985.
The US Bank Center was constructed as the home of the First Wisconsin National Bank. In 1969 the company unveiled plans to move from its headquarters at 735 N. Water Street to a new downtown headquarters building at 777 E. Wisconsin Avenue. When finished in 1973, the surpassed Milwaukee’s CITY HALL as the tallest in… Read More

Viaducts

The old Wisconsin Avenue viaduct in 1988, showing the structures that originally surrounded it.
Milwaukee’s topography of rivers, valleys, and high bluffs created significant transportation challenges. Engineers in Milwaukee constructed bridges to allow vehicles and pedestrians to cross over waterways, while viaducts directed traffic across changes in terrain. During the late nineteenth century, innovations in iron and steel construction allowed viaducts to cover greater distances with multiple spans and… Read More

Water

Photograph of a Union Steamboat Company vessel in Milwaukee Harbor, circa 1885.
The history of Milwaukee is anything but dry. Water, in fact, runs through it like a river, constituting an element so critical that imagining the community without it is virtually impossible. Whether for transportation, industry, recreation, sanitation, or simply as the backdrop for daily life, water is the fluid medium in which Milwaukee evolved from… Read More