Neighbors have worked on putting together a history of the neighborhood through library records, pictures, and oral history.
Their work on Martin Drive can be found on Wikipedia.
In gathering history about Martin Drive, an interesting fact kept popping back up over and over again — the Milwaukee County Zoo once occupied the space where Washington Park now stands, across the street from the business district on Vliet Street. And apparently, the zoo had incredibly lax security, remaining open 24 hours a day for anybody in the mood for some late night fauna-inspection.
In fact, Milwaukee purchased land in 1891 for a park to be called West Park, and key civic leaders immediately called for the park to include a zoo. West Park zoo came into existence in 1892, when a display of eight deer and an eagle was created in a park barn. By mid-1893 the zoo had built a bear den for two donated bears and a yard for three donated elk. In 1899 Milwaukee constructed its first animal building for the zoo. And on Sept. 20, 1900, West Park’s name was changed to Washington Park. By 1906, the Zoo had 75 animals. Some people who were involved in the 1910 founding of the Washington Park Zoological Society (WPZS) were involved in early animal purchases for the zoo. For example, Ald. Henry “Heine” Bulder started a campaign that resulted in the purchase of Princess Heine the elephant in 1907. Bulder was a founding member of the WPZS. And before the WPZS was chartered, three other similar groups donated animals: the Milwaukee Zoological Society, the Nineteenth Ward Zoo Club and the Citizens of the 22nd Ward. Read more about the Zoo here.
Check out this webpage -- you can listen to interviews of people who used to live in the area - the Thaneys. The Thaneys are grandchildren of Herman Militzer, a German immigrant who had converted the saloon on 43rd and Vliet into a grocery store back in prohibition times. So, what would a kindly grandfather do with produce that sat in the store a little too long? Why, give it to his rascally grandkids to feed wild animals, of course:
In pre-interviewing, Tom mentioned “feeding heads of cabbage to the hippos,” which unfortunately did not come out during the actual interview. However, that omission got my imagination churning on the endless of animal-produce combinations that must have occurred when the zoo was in Washington Park: badgers and beets, onions and ostriches, kohlrabi and koalas, tortoises and tomatillos…
The interview actually took place above the old Militzer grocery store (where Eat Cake! is located today), in an apartment the Thaneys’ grandparents once called home. Naturally, this sparked an avalanche of memories of their grandparents and the neighborhood:
Location: 4303 W Vliet Street
Let's picture the south side of Vliet Street between 46th and 47th Streets. For most of us, picturing 47th Street means looking at Highway 41. However, it was not that way before 1960. Lynne Granges provided us with a map of the businesses in that block now occupied by a county owned empty lot and a bridge. Jean Korky Kolpatek filled in personal details.
There were two gas stations, on at either end of the block between 46th and 47th Streets, serving as bookends to the other businesses. A Mr. Lorenz owned West Park Cleaners, which was just east of Frye's Tavern with residential units. Veronica was the name of one of Frye's several daughters. There was a fellow names Red Keith who worked in Red's Standard Oil Station on the east end of the block. At the other end was a Mobile Oil station. Try picturing an alley south of those businesses between 46th and 47th Streets. Lynn said the alley was very popular with the kids.
Halloween was a big deal in the 1930's, which is probably why we are still trying to make it a kid-safe holiday now. Let's get our mental camera focused on the building between 43rd and 44th Streets on the south side of Vliet Street. No mention was ever made about the apartment building facing 44th Street, which leads me to believe it was not there at the time. It was built in 1925.
The building that is Heritage West was Militzer's Grocery, which may have become Lee's IGA in later years. Bayer's Bakery aromas must still be smelled in the building where Eat Cake! is now located. Saffert Meat Market and Kreuser's Drug Store (Kreuser's became Martin's in the 1950's) completed the little neighborhood shopping area. Let's go back to Halloween. According to Jean, treats meant an apple from Militzer, a hot dog from Saffert's, a bun from Bayer's and a candy bar from Kreuser's. Today, Halloween continues to be important to Martin Drive Neighbors.
If you have any pictures or stories of the neighborhood, please e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Double click pictures to the right to enlarge)
The Martin Drive Neighborhood -- "of Old"
Before Highway 41