Note: This is the debut of a recurring series about the history of Kenosha’s downtown buildings and commercial areas.
While this article dissects the 5500 block of Sixth Avenue, we’ll actually begin with the 5400 block, only because that block has only had a few structures on it.
The first was the Halliday House Hotel, built in 1843 on the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 55th Street. The Halliday House, the first brick building in Kenosha and once the most-palatial hotel in Wisconsin, burned on Jan. 31, 1871 in a blaze that killed seven people, including four children.
It was built by Charles Durkee and was originally known as the Durkee House. The building had been in use for a little more than 22 years prior to the fire.
The building that replaced the Halliday House was also plagued by fire. Bode Brothers furniture and home furnishing store was built on the same corner in 1912 and burned to the ground on Super Bowl Sunday in January 1986.
The site is now known as Harbor Park Parcel A and remains undeveloped.
On the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 55th Street is 5501, a 2,948 square-foot building constructed in 1919 with commercial space downstairs and an apartment upstairs.
It housed various restaurants from 1919 to 1937 and a tavern in the late 1930s. Sometime in the early 1940s the space was taken over by the Federal Labor Union Local 1856 for Simmons Company employees. Later, it was occupied by the United Furniture Workers of America AFL-CIO Local 456, whose offices remained until the early 1960s.
Dr. Meyer Cohen’s dentistry practice was in the lower portion of the building from about 1964 to 1974. The Remnant Church of God was there for a few years in the mid-1970s, followed by Acme Business Services for most of the 1980s, and the building was vacant for all of the 1990s.
Trolley Dogs opened on the site in September 2003.
5503-07 is a 4,310-square feet, single building with adjacent commercial space and four upstairs apartments that dates to 1876.
Various saloons occupied the 5503 space between 1899 and 1920. During Prohibition, the saloon transitioned to a soft drink parlor, then a barber shop and a restaurant in the late 1930s.
After sitting vacant for about 15 years, Personal Finance, later Beneficial Finance, took over 5503 in the early 1950s and remained until the early 1980s. A video store, a used clothing store, two different churches and a mortgage company followed until Sandy’s Popper renovated and moved into the space in 2008.
5507, currently the home of The Shoe Soldier Headquarters, was occupied by Lencioni Confections from about 1908 to 1921. Then arrived Fonte & DiCello Groceries in the late 1920s, the original home of the Federal Labor Union from 1937 to 1943, a cigar store in the mid-1940s, a toy store in the mid-1950s, Fashion Drapery from 1964 to 1969 (before they moved across the street to 5500 Sixth Avenue), a karate school, a driving school, a boat and yacht service, a television repair shop, an acupuncture operation and several other businesses before Sandy’s Popper expanded into the space from around 2010 until 2020.
5509, currently the home of Perfect 10 Salon & Spa, is a 2,680 square-foot building constructed in 1905 with downstairs commercial space and one upstairs apartment.
De Berge Wallpaper and Paints occupied the space between 1905 and 1912, followed by a couple of dry goods stores in the mid-1910s and Cornwell Paints from 1921 to 1931.
The space became a series of taverns starting around 1937 until the late-1990s. The two long-running drinking establishments were Gordon’s Tavern (about 1937 to 1962) and Jesse’s Bar (about 1969 to 1997).
Several businesses rotated in and out after 1999 before Perfect 10 opened in the mid-2000s.
The current Century Pub occupies two buildings: 5511-13 on the north and 5515 on the south.
5511-13 was constructed in 1916 with an upstairs apartment. It has sat vacant for long periods of time, but over the decades, it housed various soft drink establishments and restaurants through the late-1930s, a cigar store in the 1950s, a discount house in the 1960s and the Inasmuch Coffee House in the late-1970s.
5515, constructed in 1927, housed a tailor and a barber in the late 1930s before it became a series of taverns during World War II.
Gordon’s Tavern (1943-59) was first, followed by Ed Fechner’s Supper Bar & Restaurant (1960), the Main Bar (1961-64), Bill & Mike’s Tavern (1966-77), Bill’s Tap (1979) and Kelly’s Bar (1987).
Sometime after 1987, the 5511-13 portion was combined with the 1927 building at 5515 and became a series of pubs, including the 6th Avenue Lounge in the mid-1990s, the Hollywood Spirit Bar from about 2000 to 2005, the Brat Stop II in 2006, Muggshots Bar in 2010 and currently the Century Pub.
5519 and 5523-25, current home to Fec’s Place, is also two separate buildings.
5519 with square footage of 3,168, was built in 1940. 5523-25, a 3,320 square foot building dates to 1868. 5519 housed various restaurants from the 1940s to the 1960s (including DeRango’s Pizza in 1963). The building sat vacant for most of the 1970s and 1980s before being combined with 5523 in the late 1980s.
The 5523 building housed several soda fountains during Prohibition, followed by a series of taverns from about 1937 to the present.
The long-running establishments at this address were Buratti’s Tavern from about 1939 to 1954, The Pad Recreation Center from about 1970 to 1976, Gentleman Jim’s Tavern from 1979 to 1987 and the current Fec’s Place beginning around 1989.
The oldest building on the block is the current Rose Professional Building at 5527-29.
The 2,926 square-foot building was constructed during the Civil War in 1863. According to current building owner Terry Rose, a third floor burned off in a fire (date unknown). In 1906, the upper floors were known as the Hotel Dania (operated as the European Hotel around 1921). Both hotels were most likely single-room occupancy facilities for recently-arrived immigrants.
Dr. Harold Rose, Terry’s grandfather, purchased the entire building in 1913 after moving to Kenosha from Chicago. Dr. Rose first launched his practice across the street in the First National Building in 1916 before moving into the upper portion of his own building in 1923. About that time, the building became known as the Central Building, a name that stuck until about 1939 when it was dropped.
Dr. Rose kept his office on the upper level for decades between 1923 and 1957, with the Uhen Music Company and later Puntillo Tailors occupying the lower level.
Rose’s son, William Rose, launched a law practice in the building in 1940 and practiced there until 1994. In the 1980s, Williams’s son, Terry Rose, took over the building and renamed it the Rose Professional Building. Terry and his son, Christopher, now Rose & Rose Attorneys, share the legal offices, making them the third and fourth generation of the family to work in the building.
Almost as old as the Rose Professional Building is 5531-35, which opened in 1866 as the Stern Block with multiple commercial spaces on the street level and office space upstairs.
At 7,050 square feet, it’s the largest building on the block. Not much is known about the building occupants prior to 1906.
Jacob Stern, who built both this building and the building that houses Sandy’s Popper, operated a clothing store upstairs for a time around 1906 with Frandsen’s Saloon downstairs.
Clothier David Stern took over his father’s business and moved it downstairs to 5531 as Stern’s Men Furnishings around 1937. Stern remained in business almost 30 years before closing in about 1966. Terrien’s School of Dance followed from 1967 to 1975 and the Paraphernalia Square Mini Mall in 1976.
In the south commercial space at 5535, Jacobson Brothers wholesale liquor operated in the years prior to Prohibition, followed by a soda fountain and then Wisconsin Unique Cleaners & Dryers in the late-1920s and early-1930s.
By 1937, the space became one of Kenosha’s longest-operating bars, the Ruby Tavern (later Ruby’s Restaurant & Bar), which operated until about 1972.
Both 5531 and 5535 sat vacant for the rest of the 1970s, all of the 1980s and a better part of the 1990s.
A bike shop opened in 5531 in the late 1990s, Just for Kicks Soccer Gear in the mid-2000s and Coco’s Consignment Shop in about 2015. Rave on Music & Video operated at 5535 from about 1998 to 2010.
Today, it’s now Salon Pure on the north end and To & From Gift Shop on the south. Upstairs are the Kay Grove Apartments and some office space.
The second-biggest building on the block at 5,976 square feet is also one of Kenosha’s icons, the old Mayer Drugs building at 5537.
Built in 1910 with five upstairs apartments and an additional commercial space around the corner (which now houses Trecroci Realty), the drug store operated for more than 70 years (first as Williams Drugs from 1916 to 1921 and Mayer Drugs from 1923 to 1987). The iconic Mayer Drug sign remains on the roof of the building.
The corner space at 5537 seems to be jinxed.
QPS Staffing Services occupied the space between 1995 and 1998, followed by a variety of cafes, including Kristi’s (2000-09), Mo’s (2010-14) and Char’s (2015-19). Robin’s Nest Cakery moved in from 56th Street (and before that around the corner on Seventh Avenue) but closed in 2020.