The land and mansions of the Plankinton Estate were crucial to the development of the current campus of Marquette University. Marquette bought the three mansions belonging to John Plankinton, a leader of the meatpacking industry in Milwaukee, in 1918. The two mansions previously used by John and his son William were used for various academic purposes for several decades, while the Knights of Columbus used the mansion that was the former of John’s daughter, Elizabeth Plankinton, as a clubhouse.
Elizabeth Plankinton's mansion was the last remaining piece of the Plankinton Estate, but it was demolished in October 1980 to create more space for the university. Many organizations and people fought to keep the mansion as a monument to the history of Grand Avenue, but in the end it proved to be fruitless. Today the Alumni Memorial Union stands where the mansion once stood.
In the 1870s and 1880s, what
was once Spring Street and would later become Wisconsin Avenue was transformed
into Grand Avenue thanks to a number of mansions built there by the Milwaukee
social and economic elite. Three of these mansions belonged to John Plankinton,
a leader in the meatpacking industry in Milwaukee. The Estate consisted of land
located between 15th and 16th Streets and between Grand and
Clybour Avenues. In 1918, the entire estate was bought by Marquette, which used
the land to construct a number of new buildings: the Old Gymnasium (1922) Cramer
Hall (1933) home to College of Health Scienes, and Haggerty Hall (1941), the
home of the College of Engineering. The John and William Plankinton
Mansions housed various academic
departments and clinics, while Elizabeth’s mansion was leased the Knights of
Columbus, who used it as a clubhouse. However, due to the cost of upkeep and
the need for better, more modern buildings, the William and John Plankinton
mansions were demolished in the early 1970s.
The Elizabeth Plankinton mansion was the last to be
demolished. Seeing it as valuable part of Milwaukee's history, organizations
like the Wisconsin Heritages, Inc., students and alumni of Marquette, concerned
citizens Milwaukee began to campaign for the preservation of the venerable
mansion. When the lease for the mansion was up in 1978, they successfully
delayed the demolition while they tried to find donors to save the mansion.
However, as the October, 1980, deadline loomed and preservationists made a
last-ditch effort, Marquette began to demolish the mansion several days before
it was scheduled to be torn down. This was seen by some as a dirty way to keep
the public and city council from finding a last ditch effort to save the
mansion even though it was a forgone conclusion at that time. A decade later, the
Alumni Memorial Union was erected in its place.
Jablonsky, Thomas J. Milwaukee's Jesuit University: Marquette, 1881-1981. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette UP, 2007. Print.
Marquette University Special Archives and University Archives.