Before most means of transport converged on the newly renovated and renamed Intermodal Station on St. Paul Avenue in 2007, many were scattered at different locations.
If I wanted to visit friends in Madison, Badger Bus was on 7th Street. When I’d head to Chicago on record and book store explorations in the 1980s, I could catch the Trailways on 12th and Wells, the Amtrak on St. Paul or, most commonly, the Greyhound from its station on 7th and Michigan, across from Badger.
Since that consolidation, Badger Bus became an ambulance depot, the Trailways station was razed and the old Greyhound terminal has been silent, used mostly for storage.
I recently got a peek inside and was transported back to the days of meeting a friend there upon the arrival of the Wisconsin Coach Lines bus from Waukesha or returning at night from those Windy City trips.
The station opened in 1965 – along with its adjacent 450-car parking ramp – the first completed phase of a larger development that filled the entire western half of the block between Wisconsin Avenue and Michigan 6th and 7th (now James Lovell) Streets.
In 1910, the entire block was pretty much filled with the kind of mixed uses that defined Milwaukee and other American cities at that time.
There were four row houses on 7th Street moving north from Michigan, as well as a trio of detached houses on Michigan nearer to 6th Street. Two more houses were back to back mid-block, one facing 6th, the other facing 7th.
In the middle of 7th Street was the Wisconsin Storage Co,’s two-story warehouse and just north of that was another house and an auto repair shop.
Wisconsin Avenue was lined with buildings, including a retail building on 6th, with an International Order of Odd Fellows hall upstairs and then a row of three-story retail buildings to the west. In between was a stretch of two-story retail.
The block was home to the Friendship Club’s meeting and dance hall, the Majestic Flower Shop, Western Auto Supply, Goodwin Radio Store and on the corner of 7th, a Schlitz palm garden tavern.
Things changed over the years, however, as the houses on Michigan were replaced with a retail building and later, by the 1950s, much of the development along 6th Street had been razed for parking.
“Much of the area with of North 6th and south of West Wisconsin Avenue now is in parking lots, as is most of the site of the (new) building,” wrote the Journal in July 1963.
“Most of the structures in the area are older buildings. Some of the blocks in the area are considered among better downtown building sites because they have high ground and not former marsh land as is found closer to the river.”
The new development
In December 1962, media reports announced the construction of a new 22-story office building and bus terminal on the block.
“The building will be known as the ‘Greyhound Building,’ according to Henry Sender, Nashville, Tenn., executive vice-president of Bloomfield Building Industries, Inc., which plans to build and operate the building,” wrote the Sentinel.
Greyhound had first arrived in Milwaukee in 1931 with a terminal at the North Shore Depot on 6th Street between Michigan and Clybourn.
By January 1963, the city had seen and publicly backed the plan, which was presented to them by engineer James H. Ragon, who worked at the Memphis architectural firm of Robert Lee Hall and Associates.
The 252-foot-tall International Style tower project was to cost $3.5 million.
By July, the “contemporary tower” was estimated to cost $6 million, including the $1 million that Bloomfield paid Greyhound for the site, which the bus company had owned since 1955.
“Under the contract between the two firms, Greyhound plans to shift its bus operations from the Public Service Building to the new terminal early next year,” wrote the Journal. “Besides the station, the bus firm will have a variety of offices including a tour office, city sales office and driver superintendent’s office. Greyhound will occupy about 50,000 square feet in the building.
“A restaurant will be operated by Greyhound Post Houses, a subsidiary that operates nearly 130 restaurants throughout the country. The terminal will have several floors of parking about it. Other floors of parking will be in the tower part of the structure, which will have an exterior of pre-cast concrete panels. Shops and stores will be on the ground floor of the tower.”
On July 15, 1963, Mayor Henry Maier and other dignitaries took part in a groundbreaking at the site and then retired to the Schroeder Hotel (now the Hilton City Center) for lunch.
The following day’s paper noted that the cost of the building was now $6-8 million and that a $3.5 million mortgage was being secured from Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.
Construction – which began on Oct. 7 with demolition of the existing buildings (including the beloved Avenue Bar) and excavation – was to take about 18 months. A September article opined the terminal would be ready by late spring of 1964 and the tower later the following year.
If local media coverage is any indication, Milwaukeeans were extremely interested in the progress.
The project was one of a number of construction works taking place or being discussed for Downtown at the time, including, among others, building the IBM Building on Van Buren and Wisconsin, the new Milwaukee Road station, The Pfister’s tower addition and the M&I Bank Building on Water and Mason, as well as the re-cladding of the facade of the building at 310 E. Wisconsin.
There was also a plan afoot – unbuilt, ultimately – to build a large hotel across from Central Library on 8th and Wisconsin (the site of the Continental Bank/Wells Fargo building, now the 735 West Apartments). Soon, the Ramada Inn that is currently being deconstructed on Michigan Street for the Iron District would also be added.
In December, the Journal ran a photo of the excavation work underway at the station and tower site, and in February both papers had images of foundation prep, including the sinking of pilings.
By July 1964 – the terminal had not opened as planned that spring – foundation work had reached street level and columns for the first floor were being erected.
An interesting photo, depicting “a rural mailbox sits on Wisconsin Avenue to take mail for the builders working on the Greyhound Building,” ran in the Journal that September, and in November, the Sentinel ran an illustrated article of the crane being used for construction.
“This is about the half-way point of the building which is to reach 22 stories high,” wrote the paper, under the headline, “Skyhook crane speeds building of skyscraper.”
Crews were, “Working on a schedule that calls for hauling 20,000 sf of concrete forms, 40 tons of reinforcing steel and 450 cubic yards of concrete into place every week,” the paper said, noting that the self-climbing crane they were using cost about $90,000. A similar but smaller crane was being used on construction of The Pfister tower at the same time.
That winter brought a variety of problems, including cold weather, that delayed construction early in 1965.
In December 1964, the owners of the Norman Apartments across the street filed suit in circuit court seeking $10,000 damages from Bloomfield, claiming that the 700-odd pilings – between 80 and 126 feet deep – driven for the new building had caused vibrations that damaged the foundations across the street.
Construction continued, however, and in February 1965, nearly a year after the projected completion, the Greyhound terminal opened, first with a private showing for about 50 dignitaries, then with a ribbon cutting.
The new bus terminal
“Lady Greyhound lay listlessly on a table as the crowd filed by, her droopy eyes indicating it had been a long day in Milwaukee,” wrote the Sentinel on Feb. 12 of the previous day’s ribbon cutting. The event drew about 500 people.
“Neither the receptionists fussing over her nor a German band playing to one side did much to flutter Lady’s eyelids.
“But this was really no occasion for a dog, even a greyhound that once starred with Steve Allen on television. It was an event for people – a special showing of the sparkling new Greyhound bus terminal. While Lady Greyhound drooped, the people drank cocktails, munched food, talked and examined the new station.”
“I think we can reasonably hope that this development will spark other developments in this area,” said the mayor.
The Journal added that Maier, “Remarked that private investment in the depot, and adjacent office building was the type needed to renew Milwaukee. He said it was the kind of enterprise that showed confidence in the city.”
An open house for the public took place on Saturday, Feb. 13 and the first buses were expected to roll in and out just after midnight.
According to Greyhound officials more than 200 buses would arrive at and depart the 57,349-square-foot station each day, including those operated by tenants like Wisconsin Coach Lines and Peoria-Rockford Bus. Co.
Greyhound planned to run tours, too, to everything from New Orleans’ Mardi Gras to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and the Indianapolis 500. There were buses to Arlington Park, Sportsman’s Park and other Chicago area race tracks, as well as to ski slopes around the state in winter.
According to the Journal, Central Greyhound Lines President E. F. Freeman, who came up from Fort Worth for the occasion, “Said Milwaukee’s downtown freeway and a growing package delivery service were major considerations in deciding to build the new depot here.
“The most modern in the line’s territory, the terminal includes a travel bureau, modern baggage handling equipment, a snack bar and bus service areas.”
Incidentally, at this point, newspapers called the development a $9 million one.
The parking structure was also soon complete and being utilized by area businesses, including nearby movie theaters, as customer parking.
In April, the tower was still a floor and a half away from topping out, according to the Sentinel, noting workers from Southern Builders, “Expect to finish 20th floor within three weeks, barring bad weather and then two-story penthouse for elevators and other mechanicals will be the final phase of concrete frame construction.”
The Public Service Building attempted to make lemonade of Greyhound’s departure by replacing the bus depot’s interior turnaround with a drive-in utility bill pay station.
By January 1966, finishing work on the tower was underway and the building was nearing completion. In February, in Milwaukee for a massive homecoming celebration, astronaut James Lovell Jr. took part in a parade down the avenue, passing the building and other recent structures, like the Marine Bank (now Chase Tower), and remarked, “your city is growing prettier every day.”
Interestingly, a nearly identical building designed by Hall – but 430 feet and 37 stories tall – was completed in Memphis in 1965. That building, 100 North Main, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
It, too, had a large sign perched on top for many years.
Hall also designed a Clark Tower – named for a different Clark and of a different design – in Memphis.
The Memphis building has been vacant for many years as a variety of developers have attempted apartment and other projects there.
But the developers were feeling less optimistic. With Greyhound still a million dollars in debt on the place and Bloomfield even deeper, the latter offered to sell the building to Milwaukee County, which was known to be in need of more space and considering building a courthouse addition over the new north-south freeway.
Bloomfield cited “rental lag” and “financing” as reasons for its offer to sell for $6 million. Only about two floors of the building’s office space had been leased by early April and the owners were getting antsy.
Although later that month the U.S. Forestry Service leased five floors of the building to house its local staff and also staff from a Derby, Pennsylvania office that it would absorb, Bloomfield was still ready to move on.
The County, however, was less than enthused.
“The offer received a cool response,” the Sentinel wrote, noting that the County might be more interested if the building were closer to the courthouse.
Milwaukeeans were concerned that the image was of a moribund Downtown. Officials, however, suggested that the desire to sell didn’t indicate an overall lack of demand for office space, but conceded that Downtown’s market demand was hotter east of the river.
In July, Bloomfield had a buyer – Chicago real estate broker Alfred J. Miller – for an undisclosed price that was said to be lower than the $6 million the seller sought.
By September, the building had opened to tenants and the forestry office moved from its previous home at 710 N. 6th St.
Miller didn’t last long, however, and in July 1967 Milwaukee transplant Emory Clark – founder of Clark Oil – bought the building and was feeling optimistic.
“We already have had several inquiries from substantial and well situated new tenants to Milwaukee on renting space,” Clark told the Sentinel.
“It is a tangible expression of the great pride which I have in my adopted city. I hope other business and financial leaders will be encouraged to show similar confidence in Milwaukee’s future.”
Later, Clark would move his headquarters there from 8530 W. National Ave.
Clark was born in Waycross, Georgia in 1905, and after his father died, moved to Gary, Indiana in the 1920s with his mother and brothers, coming to Milwaukee in 1932 after a stint in Chicago.
He opened a gas station in West Allis, where he hired his brother Joe Clark, who would later help pioneer Milwaukee’s passion for frozen custard via his Clark Frozen Custard and, later, Dutchland Dairy.
Amazingly, Clark would grow that single station into Clark Oil and Refining Corporation with more than 1,800 stations in 10 Midwest states, generating total sales of more than $1 billion.
In 1969, Clark revived an earlier idea by a different developer to build a 252-room hotel next to the Greyhound Tower and that building is now home to the Double Tree. Clark leased that building to a Memphis company that operated it as the Downtowner Motor Inn.
Clark sold his interest in the business that bears his name in 1981 and died of cancer three years later.
In 2001, the Clark Building got what was Downtown’s largest solar array atop its parking structure and six years later, Greyhound closed its terminal, moving over to the Intermodal not far away.
In 2017, tenants in the building – then assessed at $12.4 million – included a street-level restaurant, the Wisconsin Justice Department (which has since moved), Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office, Ameritech, law firms, Eye Care Specialists and, perhaps ironically, multiple floors of Milwaukee County offices.
That’s the year J. Jeffers & Co. bought it for $16.2 million from Zilber Property Group.
The Clark today
When the great office exodus occurred at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the purchase three years earlier of the 22-story class B office building might’ve looked, in retrospect, like a bad idea.
But developer Jeffers knows better and now he’s got 231,000 square feet to work in a spot that’s got big potential.
Right across 6th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, kitty-corner to the northeast, is an expanding Wisconsin Center convention facility. Directly across Michigan Street to the south and southwest, site prep has begun on the Iron District soccer stadium, concert venue, hotel and residential units. Just across 6th Street, Milwaukee Tool has its new headquarters.
A block away there will soon be a Kohl’s Department Store and hundreds of workers in Fiserv’s new office in Hub 640, and in between sits a giant parcel that the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development is actively seeking to develop.
Though there’s no plan yet that Jeffers will talk about – his team says they’re looking at a variety of potential options – there’s a lot of floor space in what is currently called The Clark that could remain offices or be converted into apartments or even a hotel.
At the back, on Michigan Street, is the former Greyhound station, which could easily house a large restaurant, brewery or retail store, or could be divided into smaller spaces.
When I went inside, I saw the spots where the buses loaded and unloaded, the baggage room and bus repair shop in the back, as well as the drivers’ lounge and locker room below.
The glazed brick is still there, as is the dispatchers bay out in the bus loading area. There are a few offices in back and relatively recently renovated public restrooms.
Though it’s currently full of stuff being stored by a tenant, it’s easy to see a future in here, and it was easy to feel the past: the remember walking to the counter to buy a ticket, going out the doors to get on the bus.
I could almost hear the announcer saying “Goerke’s Corners,” in my mind.
In the tower, the building’s lobby has been renovated and there are tenants in some of the office, though it is by no means full.
In September, the elevator penthouse 22 stories up got a brand new 40-foot tall Miller Lite sign, as well as some steel bracing below.
I went up to the roof for some panoramic video and photos of the city, but we also climbed the steep ladder up to the top of the penthouse where we could see and touch the sign’s weighty support beams.
Nearby was a panel with a variety of controls dating back to when the old rooftop sign rotated.
On the fascinatingly retro panel with its buttons and knobs and switches and indicator lights and meters is an odometer, showing the number of hours the old sign spent rotating: 80,564, or 3,356.8 days, or nearly 10 years.