West Side Commercial Historic District

Roughly, W. Wisconsin Ave., N. Third St., N. Plankinton Ave, and N. Second St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The downtown commercial shopping area of Milwaukee, west of the Milwaukee River


Plankinton Building

Also known as the Plankinton Arcade, this building is the heart of the West Side Commercial Historic District.

The Plankinton Arcade was built in 1916 for retail shops, a prototype shopping mall. The steel structure includes a 64' rotunda with a chandelier that covers a pediment-mounted statue of John Plankinton (below) centered in a fountain on the ground floor. The arcade is brightened with skylights that cover the entire arcade.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in September 2014




The development of Milwaukee stems back to the three separate communities, created by three separate founders on three different rivers. When the three founders decided one big town was better than three little towns, Juneautown (east of the Milwaukee River) and Kilbourntown (west of the Milwaukee River) became the central business district while Walker's Point, south of the Menomonee River, would become an industrial center.

East Town became the banking and financial center of Milwaukee and the heart of commodities trading. Wholesale businesses flourished on Water Street and commissions were a big part of the Third Ward on Broadway.Today, it is commemorated on the NRHP as East Side Commercial Historic District.

On the west side of the river, retailing and theater were the predominant businesses. The differences are still evident today, although the theater district has moved to the east side of the river. The Empire Building, home of the Riverside Theater, is on Wisconsin Avenue at the Milwaukee River, a perfect example. It is kitty -corner from John Plankinton's Arcade and directly across Wisconsin Avenue from the building that used to be Gimbel's - theater and retail, west of the river.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 22, 2000
Reference number
Architectural styles
American Movement: Early Commercial; Late 19th and 20th Century Revival; Victorian
Areas of significance
Commerce; Entertainment/Recreation; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Periods of significance
1900-1924; 1875-1899; 1925-1949
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 15
Non-contributing buildings: 6

Update Log 

  • October 3, 2014: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status and Added Photos