21: Holton Street State Bank
Riverwest’s first commercial district was centered along Clarke Street at the foot of St. Casimir. One block north, Center Street would rise as Riverwest’s thriving commercial district in the 1920s. A noticeable aesthetic difference exists between Center and Clarke Street dating their time of fruition. Two story wood frame buildings stand at the sidewalks edge along Clarke Street, the storefronts now converted for residential use. Center Street continues to stand with early twentieth century storefronts many have found new uses, some remain vacant. Clarke Street remained comparable to Center prior to the introduction of the streetcar; Holton and Center was a major transfer stop. At the northeast intersection of Holton and Center Street stood the lifeblood of the Center Street commercial district, the Holton Street State Bank.
The Holton Street State Bank was originally founded in 1921 in a former tavern. The building that currently stands at 500 East Center Street was constructed in 1927. The exterior is composed of pressed brick and mottled terra cotta. The bank operated on the first floor, the vaults and safe deposit facilities in the basement, and offices occupied on the second floor. The bank lobby was lined with marble.
Though the Holton Street State Bank was a derivative of the Marine State Bank, the board consisted of local merchants. Holton Street State Bank was the mainstay of Center Street, and when it almost closed during the Great Depression, neighborhood efforts kept it open. Following the Great Depression, it was the industrial manufacturing located north of Keefe that salvaged Riverwest’s economy and kept the neighborhood afloat. As Center Street came to fruition with the advent of the streetcar so it came to decline with the demands of the car culture. The 1950s marked Riverwest’s economic decline as automobiles destroyed the streetcar shopping district, and super markets put the corner grocery stores out of business.
Holton Street Bank closed in 1961, and as the corner stone of the shopping district, its closure had a major impact on Center Street. The bank had been purchased wholly in 1960 by the Marine State Bank, and later donated to the United Way. In the mid-1960s, the former bank emerged with a new lot in life as the Boys & Girls Club until 1972. In the wake of rising activism and community organizing amidst Riverwest’s Latino population, the former bank building began serving a new generation. In March of 1973, the Community Independent Learning Program established itself in the building. The CILP, an alternative high school organized by the Advocate Education Program at the UWM School of Education, was one of several organizations reaching out to the young Latino population. A daycare, El Centro del Nino, shared the building at 500 East Center Street. The Community Independent Learning Program remained in the building until the mid 1980s. As the buildings cornice implies, the former bank and alternative high school later became the Center for Children Head Start. As to the buildings current use or fate, that remains unclear to me. One can only hope that 500 East Center Street can once again be adapted to serve yet another generation in Riverwest.
Much of the information above was pieced together from Tom Tolan’s Riverwest: A Community History; a great narrative of an ever evolving Riverwest. The rest was acquired from the usual suspects aka Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives.