30: The Empire Building and the Riverside

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Previously the site of the Old Empire Hotel and Tavern, the twelve story structural steel building was constructed in 1928 at the northeast corner of West Wisconsin and North Plankinton. The building was designed by Charles Kirchoff Jr. and Thomas Leslie Rose also responsible the former Second Street Bank currently home to the Milwaukee County Historical Society. The crowning occupant of the multi-use building is the Riverside Theater initially intended for movies and vaudeville shows. At the time of construction, West Wisconsin Avenue was a flourishing entertainment district with shopping in the John Plankinton Arcade and numerous movies houses and theaters lining the downtown thoroughfare. Like so many of Milwaukee’s theaters, the Riverside was nearly destroyed by fire in 1966, and later threatened with demolition. In 1982 after the residing theater group decided against renewing their lease, real estate developers had their eye on the property for a shopping mall or parking structure. A grassroots campaign to “Save the Riverside” ensued, and with the generous help of Joseph Zilber, the theater was restored and reopened in 1984. Since 2005, the Riverside has been utilized as an amazing concert venue thanks to the Pabst Theater Foundation. Along with the Pabst Theater and Turner Hall, both of which had themselves been threatened with demolition, the Riverside continues to be visited by a new generation of patrons following to the successful campaigns for their restoration and adaptive reuse.

2 Responses

  1. Angela White

    I love this web site it always interest me to learn of things that were here before my time,keep up the good work!

  2. Jacob D.

    I just discovered this blog through a train of links a couple days ago while looking for some historical information, and I love it! This is truly a wealth of great, accessible information you’ve put together here, and I’ve now got answers to many of my historical questions regarding several buildings in Milwaukee. Thanks!

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