Monday, January 29, 2007

Southgate Shopping Center

Milwaukee, Wisconsin - 1966

I just love this vintage snapshot of the Southgate Shopping Center (aka Southgate Mall), Milwaukee’s first shopping center, along with its very groovy entrance and movie theater signs.

Here's a bit of opening day background from a 1999 Milwaukee-Journal article on the malls' eventual demise (you can read the whole thing here):
"After two years of work, Southgate was ready for those customers. The $5 million center was an open air marketplace, not a mall; its 20 stores shared a single roof and a canopied sidewalk. The complex covered 105,000 square feet of retail space, and the rest of the 30 acre site provided parking for 2,000 cars.

Milwaukeeans found Southgate irresistible. The center opened on Sept.20, 1951 a weekday and the developers were pleasantly surprised when more than 60,000 people showed up for their 'family party!' The entertainment was vintage Milwaukee: Polish and Italian folk dancers, polka bands on the blacktop. A visit from Alice in Dairyland a world champion flagpole stander and, of course, fireworks.

...The addition of a Gimbels department store in 1954 gave Southgate a genuine anchor. Krambo grocery store, Milwaukee's largest, opened on the south end in the next year, and the center became a regional magnet."
Mall history: 1951 - 1990s (dead)
Current website: n/a
Previous entries: none

(Study image courtesy and © The Wisconsin Historical Society)


Blogger hushpuppy said...

What a great photo! I remember visiting Southgate around 1980 and the Gimbels store, in all its 1950's glory, seemed frozen in time.

Speaking of Gimbels, Southgate was Gimbels' first suburban store. Interesting that it came before branches in New York, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh.

Tue Jan 30, 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger Nicholas M. DiMaio said...

This mall's name almost made me think it was Taubman's Southridge. That was in Wisconsin too, right?

Tue Jan 30, 12:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Southridge was originally Taubman, so yes.

SouthGATE, on the other hand, was on S. 27th street in Milwaukee. By 1980 (when you said you went there, Hushpuppy), I believe the mall would have been enclosed, as they did a complete overhaul of the original strip mall, building out another side of shop space and just adding entrances, using the narrow canopy as the 'mall'.

The Gimbles location at Southgate was Boston Store for a very short time, maybe a year or two before they realized it was unprofitable. By that time, the mall was starting to really empty out, mostly due to age, and the areas around the mall wasn't the safest to be around in the city by then, (early 1990s)

They closed the mall in the late 1990s and today in its place, guessed it, Wal-Mart, though just a regular store, not a 'Supercenter'.

Another much smaller mall next door, Point Loomis Center, was next door. This never really was much of any 'mall' and was torn down a few years back for a Jewel/Osco.

Tue Jan 30, 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

That? That is a big sign. If I was a little kid going to that mall I'd always be afraid whenever the car would pass by it that it would fall on our car, crushing us all.

Yeah, I was a bit afraid of big signs growing up. I can't think of any examples right now though.

Tue Jan 30, 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous JZ said...

I need to set a couple things straight...
I live 5 minutes from Southgate. It still has the original, southernmost side which was connected by a crosswalk. It has Famous Footwear, a ladies healthclub, 99 cent store, etc. WalMart is indeed where the actual heart of the mall was. It is still a shopping area, still referred to as Southgate, and still has a movie theater and a Walgreens across the lot.
We did not lose the "mall" due to it being in an "unsafe neighborhood!" It is a VERY busy shopping area on a VERY busy street known for it's various stores, restaurants and businesses. Boston Store was there for quite a while also.
Point Loomis is also still there, although not an 'inside mall' and is NOT a Jewel/Osco! It is an Office Max anchor with a RadioShack, Edward Jones, Blockbuster, etc. Michael's is across the lot in a strip mall with HOBO, and a couple of other stores.

Wed Jan 31, 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger hushpuppy said...

Speaking of Point Loomis, I have a question. I was in Milwaukee last week and went to the library to look up some long-dead relatives in old city directories. I also wanted to read the Milwukee Journal for 12/9/61, the day the Gimbels purchase of Schuster's was announced. It was interesting reading, but the ads from back then were fun too.

In 1961, Gimbels had 3 stores: Downtown, Southridge, and Mayfair.

Schuster's had recently closed their Vliet Street store and had 4 stores: Third Street, Mitchell Street, Packard Plaza, and Capitol Court (where my Aunt Rose used to take me), with Madison under construction.

Boston Store had 3 stores: Downtown, Bay Shore, and Point Loomis. I had never heard of their Point Loomis store before and now wonder, from reading Matt's and jz posts, if it was located near Southridge.

Yes, I suppose I should be spending my days doing more important things, but I was staying downtown anyway, and it was snowing outside and the library seemed like a good place to spend the afternoon until my train left. It's a breathtakingly beautiful old building, BTW.

Wed Jan 31, 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Thank you for straightening things out, jz. Someone else had told me what I knew about the area. I personally have never lived in Milwaukee, I've only been down there for festivals, the State Fair, and the various shopping malls in and around the city.

Wed Jan 31, 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous didi said...


Wed Jan 31, 10:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Here's more great coverage of Southgate in its early days.

I also disagree with the "safety" of the area; in recent years the Southgate cinemas have become a haven for gang activity after dark and in fact the safest area might be the Omega Family Restaurant in the front of the parking lot, given the large number of Police who eat there.

Thu Feb 01, 03:09:00 AM  
Anonymous tkaye said...

If I didn't know better, I'd say that sign was the box the shopping center came in!

Thu Feb 01, 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger metalmorphasis said...

"Time Stand Still Southgate"
We need more photos like that one, so I can find my way to Kresge's in my dreams, and buy one of those little green turtles, as I did when I was a kid, one last time!
Time does go too fast!..Life is but a dream.

Sat Mar 03, 02:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That link was in Keith's post, Bill. In fact, he quoted the article.

Wed Mar 14, 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Retro-Dave said...

I updated the Southgate photo page if interested.


Sun Sep 23, 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Stevie said...

Thank you for the great memories posted by everyone and also for all of the great photos of Southgate! Does anyone have any photos and/or memories of Capitol Court? Also, does anyone have a recipie for Woolworth's "Icebox
Cheesecake"? It would be greatly appreciated!!!! Thank you again!

Thu Jan 10, 07:45:00 PM  
Anonymous metalmorphasis said...

"Fantastic Shots!"
More pics please!
If I ever come across a "time machine",Southgate will indeed be one of my stops!

Thu Jan 31, 02:08:00 AM  
Blogger Lola said...

Does anyone recall the various names of the disco that was at the back of Point Loomis Shopping Center. During the late 70's and 80's there was a disco. I guess I must be getting really old, because I can only remember the more recent names that the disco went by. They were:
Beneath The Streets

The disco went by several other names prior to Spatz, anyone know what the names were?


Fri Apr 24, 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger mdemos said...

I grew up and have lived in the Milwaukee area all my life (nearly 50 years) and remember Southgate, Gimbels, and almost everything else everyone mentions VERY well(Though, sorry "Lola", I unfortunately can't help you with your disco name search. I only remember the "Spatz" and "Studebaker's" names that you recall. I wonder though, if by chance you remember the "Mainstream" record (and cd) shop that was next door for a number of years?) Anyway, thanks for the memories, everyone!

Now, I have a question for you, "hushpuppy". Loved your story about how you spent your (snowy) day at the Milwaukee Public Library (and you're right, it's quite an impressive old building!), and the information you passed along about Schuster's and Gimbels (I actually worked at the Packard Plaza (Cudahy) store during my college days in the late 70's/early 80's). But one thing you mentioned has me scratching my head, specifically your statement:

"In 1961, Gimbels had 3 stores: Downtown, Southridge, and Mayfair."

Was this something you picked up in the paper (Milwaukee Journal) you read that day, or did you get that elsewhere. The reason I ask, is because there could not have been a "Southridge" Gimbels store in 1961, if memory serves.....Yes, eventually there was a Gimbels store in the Southridge Mall (Greendale, WI), but that particular Mall was not opened until 1970, so that particular store would not have been there until sometime around that year. Is it possible that actually was the "Southgate" location back in 1961 (along with the other Gimbels locations mentioned at "Mayfair" and "Downtown")?

It's possible I could be mistaken, and so am curious as to whether or not you can shed any additional light on this......

Fri Jun 19, 07:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The disco was "he and she" I saw Styx there -snuck in when I was 16 I thing (1974)

Fri Jun 26, 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Styx did not play in Milwaukee until 1981 and it wasn't at any disco on the southside. It was at the Arena.

Wed Dec 30, 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Hope said...

I don't remember if it was at Southgate or Point Loomis but I remember my dad taking us kids during the summer during their sidewalk days and him buying us a waffle sandwich filled with a slab of neopolitan ice cream. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Tue Dec 28, 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger patricia said...

please help! i remember SANTA arriving at SOUTHGATE in a helicoper when i was a kid. Does anyone else remember this? have a photo? know the date? anything to help me. I would love to have a picutre of this event. I also remember santa's villiage in the back with "real" deer (supposedly reindeer). some of my best memeories.

Mon Jan 24, 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I remember Southgate and Point Lomis Malls as a young boy growing up in Milwaukee. We lived on St Francis Avenue off 44th and Morgan and often went down to the malls either with our folks or later on bicycles. I recall the large old sign vividly and the theatre marquee with the three balls on top. The movie theatre was in back and I can still see Mash, Fiddler on the Roof, and if I am not mistaken even Deep Throat advertised. I recall the Gimbels,the All in One Hobby Shop where I got model rockets, and of course Santa's village. The old building stood for a long time in the back parking lot and you could still see the paved over tracks from the small railroad that ran around the building. Point loomis had a JC Penneys back then, a Khols food store, and a Disco downstairs on the other end. I would love to see old photos if anyone has them posted.

Sun Apr 10, 12:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the very early 60's there was a Boston Store and Penny's at Point Loomis.

Wed May 16, 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite memory is of the original movie theatre. It may have been the original I-max format it was so big. Watching the opening sequence it Star Wars with the Imperial Star Destroyer coming right over the top f my 7 year old head is a memory I will never forget...or the line for Return of The Jedi that went all the way around the south end of the mall grounds to the entrance sign.

Fri Sep 20, 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger MisterPaul711 said...

WOW! What memories... Southgate, Point Loomis, and Packard Plaza in Cudahy, and I grew up in St. Francis.

Packard Plaza had JC Penny's, Gimbel's, and a Sears that pretty much just sold paint, tools, and garden equipment, and if not mistaken you could also pick up catalog orders at the Sears.

Point Loomis... They had a JC Penny's, Minnesota Fabrics, Ben Franklin, Lee Wards, and a pickup station for both Sears and JC Penny catalog orders (each having their own little store front); then in the late 1970's or early 1980's there was a Handy Andy. Mom did a lot of sewing and crafts, and we went to Point Loomis on an almost weekly basis. I remember it as an open mall or partially open mall, then sometime in the late 1970's early 1980's it was fully enclosed.

Southgate... I remember the Woolworth's, the waterfall/ fish pond near the center of the mall... along the south wall of the east branch, the All in One hobby shop (mine and my brothers favorite stop), They had the little bookstore next to the Gimbel's, and the Gimble's... stuck in time. The mall stopped at the foyer that lead to the doors of the Gimbel's; and the foyer was just lined with windows on both sides. I also remember the carpet motif that lead down the mall, carpet squares that made up squares (picture Flor carpet tiles) in red, green, blue, and yellow, that was before a renovation. in the 1980's Gimbel's was taken over by Boston Store, and the Boston Store remained until almost the end of the mall's days.

In some respects I do miss Point Loomis and Southgate. Just too bad that the area became a little unsafe (crime ridden)

Wed Jan 29, 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live very near this area and have lived here for around three years. I agree with the others that it is hard to see how this is an "unsafe" area. I am sure it has declined incredibly from the 50's and 60s, but it is a very busy, diverse shopping area. 27th Street was just totally redone, and there are businesses like Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Jimmy John's that have opened in the last few years. I have taken my kids to the theater several times. It's not the rich suburban crowd, but I sure don't see the "gang activity." I have seen a few people panhandling around the area, but if this area scares you, you haven't spent much time in a big city.

Thu Jan 15, 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mexicans ruined the whole area. It's very unsafe now

Sat Mar 14, 10:15:00 AM  

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