There were two different Plankinton House hotels in downtown Milwaukee. The first was torn down to make way for a landmark building that still stands. The other was razed to make way for a mall parking structure.

These keys welcomed hundreds of travelers to Milwaukee’s downtown Plankinton House hotel over the years. (Private Collection)

photo by Tyler Yomantas

John Plankinton made his fortune in meat, but it was his regal 400-room hotel at Plankinton and Spring (later West Wisconsin Ave) that made him a familiar name to travelers from all over the world. The hotel opened in 1867 and, with expansions in 1876 and 1882, it became the city’s premiere luxury hotel. The modern grandeur of the Plankinton made the Newhall House, previously the city’s finest, look rustic by comparison. The original Plankinton House was razed in 1915 to make way for the Plankinton Arcade, which still stands today as a part of the Shops at Grand Avenue.

With the construction of the arcade, the hotel was relocated a block to the south, to the corner of Plankinton and Michigan. Although now surpassed by Wisconsin Avenue’s Hotel Pfister as the finest hostelry in the city, the eight-story, 250-room Plankinton reboot offered a kind of low-key luxury that maintained a steady patronage for the next several decades. The house decline in the post-war years with the rest of downtown and was finally sold off to the Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority in 1980. The city demolished the hotel to make way for a parking structure for the mall. “In the Sky Room,” the Milwaukee Journal wrote in an article just before it was to be razed, “the appreciator of such things will find stacks of glass-section partitions… in azure, turquoise, and cream. Left laying against the wall, they suggest the sadness of once-valued objects removed from their human service.”

These keys date to the 1930s and 1960s and would have been used by guests for rooms on the fourth and eighth floors.

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Antique Milwaukee is a new web Milwaukee Magazine web series that takes a closer look at objects and curiosities from around town that have a story to tell. We’ll reveal a piece of Milwaukee’s history through a new artifact in each installment.