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Walker’s Point

The (re)making of a neighborhood

Apr. 1, 2015
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Team Nerd Letterpress - Photo by Dave Zylstra

Over the past several years there have been a lot of changes in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. New restaurants and businesses are replacing many of the vacant, rundown buildings. This area was once dominated by manufacturing and industry, drawing waves of German, Polish and, more recently, Hispanic immigrants to work the plentiful blue-collar jobs. With the factory preeminence diminished, many of the unused industrial and warehouse spaces are being repurposed for a new generation. Walker’s Point’s boundaries are fairly fluid, but the neighborhood commonly is defined by the Milwaukee River to the north, the expressway to the west, Beecher Street to the south and by Lake Michigan or the inner harbor to the east.

“We are a neighborhood of craft industries and makers,” says Joaquin Altoro, vice president of the Walker’s Point Association. “In truth, the maker history goes so far back here that it is part of the DNA of the neighborhood, even today.”

Perhaps that is why so many food and beverage makers have settled into the area. Urban cheese factory, Clock Shadow Creamery (138 W. Bruce St.), opened three years ago and has the distinct honor of being Milwaukee’s first cheese producer. Purple Door Ice Cream (205 S. Second St.) moved into its new digs in 2014 and creates some of the most uniquely delicious ice cream you’ll find anywhere—brandy old fashioned ice cream anyone? Both of these businesses go out of their way to work with local farmers and other area producers, following green and sustainable practices.

If craft beer or spirits are more your thing, Walker’s Point has plenty of places to whet your whistle. One of Milwaukee’s newest breweries, Brenner Brewing Company (706 S. Fifth St.), not only makes delicious beer, but also supports the local arts and music scene and offers space in the same building as the brewery for artists’ use. Milwaukee Brewing Company and Central Standard Craft Distillery (613 S. Second St.) are separate businesses but share a building. Interestingly, the head distiller for Central Standard used to be a brewer for Milwaukee Brewing Company. The well-established Great Lakes Distillery (616 W. Virginia St.) is perhaps the best-known distiller in the state.

But, in Walker’s Point it’s not just about the food and beverage makers. “So many of these buildings may look like they aren’t in use, but if you go in there are all sorts of small makers in there,” says Altoro. One of these is Team Nerd Letterpress (830 S. Fifth Street), which uses antique lead and wood type and hand-carved linoleum block to create cool, funky posters. There are a whole host of other artists, metal workers and jewelry makers throughout the area. “All of these little shops add to the sense of community and the spirit of what’s happening here in Walker’s Point,” Altoro suggests.

Destination Dining

In the 1980s and 1990s the restaurants in Walker’s Point almost exclusively served Mexican food, and were clustered around Fifth and National, in what some called “Milwaukee’s Latin Quarter.” Many of those restaurants remain, but over the past decade other types of restaurants began to move into the area. It started with places like Chez Jacques (1022 S. First St.), La Merenda (125 E. National Ave.) and Crazy Water (839 S. Second St.). Now, the First and Second street corridor has become the place to be. In the past four years more than 15 new restaurants have opened up along these streets. “It’s amazing to see the surge of new restaurants,” says Altoro. “It’s becoming a real dining destination which will lead to further business development.”

Even in these new restaurants the Walker’s Point maker mentality comes through. Braise (1101 S. Second St.), has made a deep connection with area farmers to establish an RSA, or Restaurant Supported Agriculture, to ensure the quality and freshness of their ingredients and those of the restaurants that join with them. Engine Company No. 3 (217 W. National Ave.) employs a butcher on staff to make all of their own breakfast sausage and bacon in house. Meraki (939 S. Second St.), one of the newest restaurants on the block, is beginning to package their own version of kimchi (Korean-style fermented cabbage) for sale.

What's Next ?

There are many steps to follow in rejuvenating a neighborhood. Now that people have a reason to come, they’ll need reasons to stay. The WPA is hard at work making plans to develop green spaces and temporary and permanent art installations, as well as organizing street festivals, biking events and a dining week. “We want people to be engaged and to know that this is a walkable, safe neighborhood,” says Altoro, adding, “We weren’t always this great neighborhood people see today. It took a long time to get here, but we made it together.”

For more information about Walker’s Point and the Walker’s Point Association, visit walkerspoint.ning.com.

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