History of Oakland Shopping District in the 1930’s
By Cynthia Sommer
As you shop or stop for a meal on Oakland Avenue, it is interesting to think about the kind of stores that served the neighborhood in days gone by. A survey of the 1930 City Directory documents the many stores that were in business – some stores from that year are still with us, some are modified and many are different. Miramar Theatre, Riverside and Walgreen’s are names from 1930 that we still see on Oakland Avenue. However, the 1930’s Walgreen’s Drugs was much smaller, was located on the NE corner of Oakland and Locust (Locust Street prior to 1930’s was named Folsom Place) and had a competitor in Economy Drugs down the street. Gilbert’s liquor used to be Gilbert’s grocery (remember prohibition didn’t end until 1933). An auto repair garage named Riverside Park Garage was located north of Newberry Boulevard and was not the same as the current Riverside Automotive.
The rise of the automobile in the 1920-30’s was reflected in the Oakland Street businesses. New cars were sold at the Schwenger-Hand Auto dealership and four auto repair shops on Oakland Avenue (RiversidePark, Steffen-Crowder, Money Auto and Marshall’s) serviced them. Two Standard Oil filling stations anchored the business district – one located near Geneva Street (Caesar’s Pizza corner) and another at Linnwood and Oakland Avenue (Bella Fat Cat’s corner).
Two national grocery chains (Piggly Wiggly and National Tea Co), as well as several local food and grocery shops (Oakland Avenue Market, Riverside Food Market, Oakwood Food Shop and Delicatessen, Benson’s Bakery, Gahn meats, Boehler’s meats, and Flaehan’s fruits) met the needs of the neighborhood. Two hardware stores (Winkee’s and Badger) and a dry good store (Haessel’s) provided the other essentials for daily living. Service businesses included two barbers, a beauty shop (Cecile’s), a tailor, a carpenter, a plumber, a contractor and a loan association. Above some of the shops were offices for three physician and five dentists. The business district even had several specialty shops – Riverside Bootery, Schiller’s Flower Shop, Riverside Novelty (gift) Shop, Milbrod’s Art Shop and Studio, Jung Jewelers, Gabriel’s Radio Laboratories, Wilkinson’s confectionery and the always popular Kettler’s Kollege Kandies. Residents could also enjoy a meal at three restaurants (Owl Coffee Pot; Economon; Buben & Brochmann) or stop for a movie at the Miramar theatre. Residents living in several homes and apartments along Oakland Avenue added to the other neighbors living in the area.
The many businesses suggest a picture of a thriving, growing community. The importance of the MilwaukeeRiver to the neighborhood is evident in the name of “Riverside” for several businesses. While the shops were smaller, they provided the neighbors with choices and many of their needs. It appears that the business district allowed for a walkable community and life style.