History of the Oakland/Locust Business District – 1960’s

Oakland Business District – 1960’s

By Cynthia Sommer

Our business district on Oakland Avenue was still a typical neighborhood main street shopping area in 1960, comparable to the stores active in 1930 (discussed in a previous MHNA newsletter).  Some names of places/activities did changed but there was still a variety of grocery stores, local meat markets, restaurants, specialty shops and gas stations anchoring the business district from Geneva Place to Linnwood Avenue

After the prohibition, Gilbert’s grocery became Gilbert’s liquor and Axel’s tavern became established, as both still functions today. Walgreen’s drugs left the area in the 30’s only to become an anchor store in the business district after the 60’s.   Motion pictures continued to be shown at the location of the Miramar Theatre until the late 40’s but under a new name, the Oakland Theatre.  From 1954 to 1969, Drama Inc. committed to the space and established the theatre as the home of the Milwaukee Rep.  The stage was filled for several years with many famous entertainers and well known plays.  The name of the theater was changed in 1954 to the Frederick C. Miller Theater, in honor of the brewery/civil leader in Milwaukee.

Two fondly remembered businesses that were well established by the 1940’s and provide attraction to the upper east side for many years was Kalt’s tavern (the current site of Oakland Trattoria) and Plotkin’s deli (NW corner of Oakland and Locust).  People were drawn from throughout the city to the good food, wide selection of beers and the German ambience of Kalt’s.  Or you could stop at Joe Plotkin’s for a corned beef sandwich to be remembered.  By 1960, Ben Franklin Variety store and Sentry Foods were established to provide the essentials for living.  Ben Franklin provided a friendly, life-before-the-mall experience and everything you might need from school supplies, kitchen wares, sewing material/supplies, to duplication of keys. And if your check bounced, your name would be posted at the cash register!  Several other local groceries/bakeries (Gahn’s meats, Rodin’s meats, Miller’s bakery, East Side Food Market, Schieble’s Market) still provided choices to the increasingly competitive supermarkets. Specialty stores in the district included Hansen’s furrier, La Petite gift shop, Riverside Shoe repair, Oakland Laundromat, Badger Paint and Hardware, Balfanz Florist, Oakland Tailoring, and Economy drugs.  Besides Kalt’s Tavern, people would eat at the Owl Café and Kaila’s Hollywood Restaurant. Several barber shops, beauty shops, dentists, a chiropractor, lawyer, plumber (Schmitt), electrical contractor (S & P), and a collection agency (Schmitz) added to the mix of businesses servicing the neighborhood.  In 1960, the Upper East Side was a vibrant, main street shopping district and a place to meet your neighbors.