From the 1930’s-1950’s, West Walnut St. between 3rd St. (now King Drive) and 12th St. was a thriving strip of Black-owned businesses that provided goods, services, and entertainment for the Bronzeville community. Those who were there fondly recall favorite spots such as Larry’s Frozen Custard (619 W. Walnut), Jones’ Chicken Shack (537 W. Walnut), the 700 Tap tavern (700 W. Walnut), the Regal Theater (704 W. Walnut), the Booker T. Washington YMCA (734 W. Walnut), along with churches, hair salons, record stores, pharmacies, Lapham Park, and Roosevelt Junior High School. In the 1950’s, young men would dress up on Saturday evenings for “Walnut Night,” a chance to cruise the street, show off, and try to impress with cars and sharp-looking clothes. The construction of Interstate-43 in the 1960’s split Walnut St. and obliterated some of its longtime businesses.
Regal Theater—704 W. Walnut St.
The Regal started life as the Rose Theater in 1916. In 1938 it was purchased by a partnership of, James Dorsey, a successful Black attorney, and Samuel Ludwig, a Jewish businessman, and got an extensive remodeling, befitting movie palaces of the time. On weekends the Regal was hopping—kids could spend the afternoon watching westerns and cartoons, while newer features played in the evenings. After the late movie there were often jitterbug dance contests and other “amateur night” entertainment by local talent.
Pete’s Fruit Market
In 2013, when a Walgreen’s store relocated from the corner of N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and North Ave., residents were hopeful that the city’s plan to attract a much-needed grocery store to the area would be realized. Hope turned to frustration when the property owner announced a change of plans. Instead of building a full-service food store, a Dollar Tree store would lease space at the site. Citizens mobilized, and with their input, the Common Council voted to deny a food dealer’s license to Dollar Tree, causing the national chain to withdraw. In 2016 the city announced that Pete’s Fruit Market would expand to a second location after years of success on Milwaukee’s south side. The new store celebrated its grand opening in September, 2017.
New York Times Article
52 Places for a Changed World: The 2022 list highlights places around the globe where travelers can be part of the solution.
Every January, the Times’ travel writers release a list of 52 special places to visit. The 2022 list—the second year of living under COVID-19 and travel restrictions—focused on “places where change is actually happening--where endangered wild lands are being preserved, threatened species are being protected, historical wrongs are being acknowledged, fragile communities are being bolstered — and where travelers can be part of the change.” Milwaukee’s Bronzeville is on that list, honoring the business entrepreneurs and developers that are fueling the neighborhood’s rebirth.
See the Bronzeville entry and the rest of the list.
Historic King Drive Business Improvement District
Also known as BID #8, the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District was created in 1992, with the passage of Milwaukee Common Council resolution file #920664. This resolution recognized this business district as “a vital and integral part of the City of Milwaukee.” Since its inception, the Historic King Drive BID has continued to attract and grow a diverse selection of both commercial and residential development.
Bronzeville Collective MKE
A commercial collective formed in 2016 by the “Bronzeville Babes” to promote locally made goods and artwork, with a focus on those items produced by creatives of color. This unique enterprise is located on the corner of N. Vel Phillips and W. North Avenues, and currently features items from around 30 black-, brown-, and queer-owned businesses.
Booker T Washington YMCA
Established in 1939 as a facility for hosting entertainment and sporting events in the Black community. It became a popular spot for both formal and informal dances, as well as basketball games and other social gatherings. It was located at 734 W. Walnut Street in the heart of the Bronzeville neighborhood, and operated for roughly 10 years.
America’s Black Holocaust Museum
Founded by James Cameron, the only survivor of a lynching in Marion, Indiana in 1930 when he was just 16 years old; Cameron opened the museum on Juneteenth Day, 1988, for the purpose of telling the story of the Black Holocaust in the United States. The original facility closed July 31, 2008 due to lack of funding. A foundation was set up in 2012 to honor Cameron’s work, and an online virtual museum launched Feb. 25, 2012. A new physical museum space was constructed as part of a Bronzeville redevelopment project and reopened in February, 2022.