Clio Logo
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.

  • The William Plankinton Mansion circa 1950
  • The John Plankinton Mansion serving as home to College of Music, circa 1926
  • People look at the demolition of the Elizabeth Plankinton mansion circa October 1980
  • The William Plankinton mansion circa 1920
  • Demolition of William Plankinton Mansion circa 1970
  • School of Speech classroom in John Plankinton mansion circa 1953
  • Demolition of John Plankinton mansion circa 1975
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.