Downtown Racine Corporation’s Main St. Committee is delighted to present a web-based, mobile-friendly update of a walking tour guide commissioned by the Racine Landmarks Commission in April 1990. The original printed brochure, which is now out of print, was brought back to life with new photos and updated text.
Enjoy your exploration of Downtown Racine’s beautifully preserved architecture and marvel as you learn about the amazing businesses that have occupied these historic buildings through the years. Here's just a sneak peek of what you'll learn on their historic tour:
The Judd Block was home to Southeastern Wisconsin's Earliest
Danish and German News Sources
The oldest brick business building still standing in the city, the Judd Block was originally built in the Federal Style, like many of the earliest buildings in Racine. The roof sloped upward, front and rear, from the cornice above the third story windows toward dual chimneys, which can still be seen on the south side. An attic story was added after the turn of the century, but the line between the older and the newer brick traces the rake of the original roof.
The Racine Advocate, which was published from 1842 to 1888, maintained its office here during the 1850s. The Racine Volksbiatt (also in the 1850s) and the Racine Correspondent (from 1883 to 1918), both German-language newspapers, were published in this building, as was Folks Avis, a Danish weekly (in the 1870s).
The McClurg Building Was a Sign of Luxe Living at the Turn of the Century
Red brick was rarely used for building during the early days of Racine because it had to be imported, and was therefore much more expensive than the brick made of local clays, which when fired, produced a cream-colored brick. Alexander McClurg obviously spent lavishly to construct this four-story block of red brick set off by quoins in white stone. The most striking feature on the exterior is the single-story, cast-iron front on Main Street. Tradition says that the brick and the cast iron were shipped from Buffalo, New York and that the street facade was cast by the Buffalo Eagle Iron Works Company.
Proudly built for the main offices of the Racine and Mississippi, Racine’s first railroad, the McClurg Building has been associated with a number of other “firsts” in the history of Racine: The city’s first public library was established here in 1897 and its first municipal court was held here at the turn of the century. The building housed the county’s first vaudeville theater and later the first local movie theater, as well as the area’s first Turkish bath. It also provided space for the first vocational school in the United States.
The Mrvicka Saloon Brought America's Biggest Beer Barons to Compete for Racine's Attention
Two saloons were built in the district by competing Milwaukee breweries, Pabst and Miller, to promote the sales of their beer. The first was built in 1897 by the Pabst Brewing Company for ML. Mrvicka. It has the complex design and the variety of textures typical of the Queen Anne Style. Its exterior is dominated by two wooden bay windows that overhang the sidewalk, their polygonal and pagoda roofs sweeping upward into spires. Between them is an open gabled parapet, topped with a wooden spire and decorated by an elaborate ornament under its apex.
The street front was remodeled in the 1920s to create a half-timbered facade for a well-known German restaurant called Richter’s, which operated here until the mid-1950s. The Richter’s sold the building to the Theo's family, who opened The Ivanhoe Dance Hall. This became a local hang out for the teenagers in town who would listen to live bands, socialize with friends, and of course dance. Through the late 60’s and into the early years of the ’80s, the building housed a wide variety of taverns and restaurants. The building then sat vacant for 16 years until Doug Nicholson opened The Ivanhoe Pub & Eatery in 2002.
The Shoop Building Plays Homage
to Medicine Marvels
This complex was built for Dr. Clarendon Shoop, who came to Racine about 1883, and began a patent medicine business about 1896. Dr. Shoop’s nostrums were widely advertised and were sent throughout the world. As his sales increased his buildings grew, and his business flourished until the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act. In 1910 a three-year-old firm, which had just changed its name to Western Printing and Lithographic Company, moved into a portion of the building.
It had been printing labels and literature for Dr. Shoop’s products, and so it rented a small amount of space in the basement to be close to one of its best customers. The demand for Dr. Shoop’s remedies was subsiding just as Western’s business was growing, and by 1914, when Dr. Shoop retired, Western took over the whole building and remained here until 1928, when it moved to a new plant on Mound Avenue.
The Racine Art Museum is Historic Hallowed Grounds for "Public Enemy No.1" John Dillenger
The Racine Art Museum, which opened at this location in 2003, is a striking contemporary reuse of two buildings that both date back to the American Civil War. Standing on the corner, the structure on the south most frequently housed a bank. However, a number of other businesses, organizations, and offices have occupied this spot since the mid-nineteenth century. In addition, a bank that occupied this site holds a special spot in American folklore.
A historic event––also important to American folklore––occurred on this site when a bank robbery was perpetrated by one of the most infamous figures of the Great Depression, the gangster John Dillinger (1903–1934), aka “Public Enemy No. 1.” At the time, the building on the south was the home of the American Bank and Trust Company of Racine. The robbery was only one of a series of similar crimes committed by Dillinger. Most of Dillinger’s major offenses were bank robberies in more than a half-dozen Midwestern states. Two years after Dillinger’s death, one of his former gang members was arrested in Tucson, Arizona and this machine gun was taken into custody. On its wooden stock, Dillinger signed his autograph with a wood-burning tool. The gun was returned to the Racine Police Department, where it has been on public display for many years.