SOUTHGATE CENTER
South 27th Street / US 41 and West Morgan Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Brewtown's first suburban-style shopping plaza was envisaged by malting maven Curtis R. Froedtert and was built under the auspices of Froedtert Enterprises, Incorporated. SOUTHGATE CENTER was developed on a 32 acre plot, located 4 miles southwest of the center city, at -what was- the southern boundary of the Milwaukee city limits.

Designed by Milwaukee's Grasshold & Johnson firm, the original SOUTHGATE consisted of two oblong store blocks. These encompassed approximately 104,500 leasable square feet and housed twenty inline stores. Thirteen of these opened for business September 20, 1951.

Open-air in format, the 3 million dollar SOUTHGATE consisted of a single retail level with a 9,000 square foot upper level of office suites. Inline stores also had basements. Among the shopping center's charter tenants were Krambo Foods, Walgreen Drug, a W.T. Grant variety store and S.S. Kresge 5 & 10.

An expansion of store space was announced in February 1953. Gimbels-Milwaukee would build its first suburban store at SOUTHGATE, which would be the first branch in the entire 4-division Gimbels chain. The store would be constructed on the north end of the shopping hub and consist of 3 levels and approximately 206,000 square feet.

At the same time, a southward SOUTHGATE expansion was in the works.  Krambo Foods planned a 2-level (40,000 square foot) grocery to replace their existing (18,000 square foot) store. The new Krambo, which was part of a 53,000 square foot addition, was reputedly the largest supermarket in the Midwest.

Gimbels' grand opening was held October 1, 1954, Krambo's took place November 9 of the same year. With the completion of the north and south expansions, SOUTHGATE CENTER encompassed approximately 363,500 leasable square feet and housed twenty-five stores and services.

The Krambo chain was acquired by the Cincinnati-based Kroger Company in June 1955. The twenty-five Krambo stores retained their original nameplate until 1962, when a Kroger-Krambo brand appeared. This was phased out in 1963, with all former Krambo stores, including the SOUTHGATE location, being rebranded by Kroger.

Gimbels-Milwaukee acquired the Milwaukee-based Ed Schuster & Company in  April 1962. Stores operated under the official heading of Gimbels-Schusters until July 1969, when the Schusters co-branding was abandoned.

Meanwhile, the third addition to SOUTHGATE CENTER was built in its rear parking area. The United Artists Southgate Theatre opened for business July 3, 1964. 

The first taste of commercial competition for SOUTHGATE came in 1960, with the completion of POINT LOOMIS CENTER, a 272,000 square foot, open-air mall. This was located on a parcel directly south of SOUTHGATE. BROOKFIELD SQUARE {8.5 miles northwest, in Brookfield} came along in 1967. The most formidable rival, SOUTHRIDGE MALL {3.5 miles southwest, in Greendale and Greenfield}, opened in 1970.

A 1.8 million dollar renovation of SOUTHGATE was underway by the end of the year. Approximately 30,000 square feet were added, with most of this in a thin strip of selling space added to the east-facing front of the complex.

Twenty new stores debuted at the grand re-opening of SOUTHGATE MALL, which was held August 4, 1971. The venue now encompassed approximately 400,000 leasable square feet and housed fifty-four stores and services.

Froedtern Enterprises sold the center in June 1978, with the buyer being a New York operative of Holland's Sarakreek Holdings. Gimbels, which had gone through a Gimbels-Schusters stint between April 1962 and July 1969, was shuttered in August 1986. The building re-opened, as a Milwaukee-based Boston Store, August 1, 1987.

However, SOUTHGATE MALL had been in a downward spiral since the mid-1970s. Sarakreek Holdings struggled to keep tenant spaces occupied. In October 1990, a face lift renovation and "strategic repositioning" of the property were announced. A 70,000 square foot, junior anchor space was to be leased by Youngstown Ohio's Phar-Mor Drug chain.

Walgreen Drug, a 1951 charter tenant, filed a lawsuit in February 1991, citing an exclusivity clause in the lease it had signed in 1971. This forbade the owner of the mall from leasing space to any other pharmacy or store including one. In September 1991, a decision was handed down. Walgreen's won.

The renovation of SOUTHGATE had proceeded as the lawsuit was being decided. In September 1991, the mall was rededicated. It had a rebuilt facade and Main Entrance, as well as updated lighting, restrooms and landscaping. The dark 1970s interior decor had been brightened with a brilliant blue, sandstone and burgundy color palette.

A new megaplex, the Cinemark Movies 10, was constructed in the northwest corner of the mall site, replacing the old single-screen venue. The first features were shown on April 16, 1993.

Still, SOUTHGATE MALL was in decline. The Boston Store shut down January 24, 1994. However, in mid-1995, two potential tenants were being courted to fill the vacant anchor; Minnesota's Media Play (which would lease 50,300 square feet) and Maryland's Trak Auto (who were to occupy 21,700).

These deals had fallen through by December 1995. The vacant anchor space would never be retenanted. To add insult to injury, Woolworth's shuttered their store in January 1994. A prospective tenant was courted for a section of the vacant area. This deal fell through, as well.

The shopping center was sold for a second time in October 1998. Atlanta-based JDN Realty acquired the seventy-percent-vacant structure and immediately announced a demalling renovation. Wal-Mart would build a 1-level (140,000 square foot) store and Walgreen Drug would relocate into a freestanding unit on the north end of the site.

Demolition commenced in June 1999. Only the south store block, megaplex cinema and a small southeast outparcel were left standing. The south store block, originally housing the second Krambo location, was given a new facade.

Wal-Mart held its grand opening, at the new SOUTHGATE MARKETPLACE, on January 24, 2001. The store was expanded and re-opened, as a SuperCenter, in June 2009.

Sources:

"In 1951, Southgate Changed Shopping" / John Gurda / Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel / December 5, 1999
preservenet.cornell.edu/publications/Longstreth Branch Store.doc
http://www.retrocom.com (Retro Milwaukee)
The Milwaukee Journal
www.businessjournals.com
Wikipedia
www.cinematreasures.org


FAIR USE OF SOUTHGATE CENTER GRAPHICS AND IMAGES:

The graphics and renderings from The Milwaukee Journal illustrate a key moment in the mall's history that is described in the article. The images are of lower resolution than the originals (copies made would be of inferior quality). The images are not replaceable with free-use or public-domain images. The use of the images does not limit the copyright owners' rights to distribute the images in any way. The images are being used for non-profit, informational purposes only and their use is not believed to detract from the original images in any way.