You don’t need me to tell you that Bay View is a happening part of Milwaukee these days; just about every local and national publication has said so. And from the Kinnickinnic River in the north to St Francis in the south, KK Ave is the main thoroughfare through town. Take a stroll down this main street and you’ll pass some of the best restaurants in town, offbeat and interesting shops, and beautiful old houses and churches.

All photos by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd unless otherwise noted.

But a conspicuous eyesore in a prominent corner lot catches passerby’s eyes: a large, empty, red-brick, one-story building at 2737 S Kinnickinnc Ave and Herman St. Take a closer look, and you’ll see plastic sheeting taped haphazardly over every window, wire conduit hanging out of holes drilled into the brickwork, crumbling masonry, and a bunch of faded “Bella’s Fat Cat” restaurant signs.

As a 2014 transplant to beautiful Bay View I had to know: what is the story behind this classic Milwaukee shop front, and why is it still empty as the rest of KK barrels forward into renaissance? And what’s a “Bella Fat Cat”?

Photo of 2737 S Kinnickinnic Ave from the late 1920s. Taken from Greg Schultz’s Facebook post.

Built in 1927 by the Meredity Brothers for a sum of $19,000 ($267,000 today), the earliest record I could find of tenants for this “commercial vernacular” building were from a late 1920s photo:

  • Alvo Drug Company on the corner spot
  • An “A&P” Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company grocery store
  • Bay View Clothes Store, which seems pretty self-explanatory

1929 advertisement of Alvo Drug Co. Image taken from Greg Schultz’s Facebook post.

Alvo Drug Company was involved in the community, to the point that they even advertised their KK location in the 1929 Bay View High School “Oracle” yearbook.

Advertisement for Brodsky Better Drug Stores in the September 12, 1947 Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, provided by Lisa Ann.

The corner spot proved to be the right location for a neighborhood pharmacy in the coming decades: the 1938 Bell Telephone Company yellow pages list a phone number at 2737 S KK Ave for “J.W. Pharmacy”, and an advertisement from the September 12, 1947 Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle shows the building having been taken over by north-side Brodsky Better Drug Store.

Advertisement for Bay View Pharmacy (1974) and a 1990s photo of Gull Pharmacy. Taken from Greg Schultz’s Facebook post.

By 1974 it had turned over to the simple Bay View Pharmacy, and as far as can be found, it ended its fateful run drug dealing in the neighborhood as Gull Pharmacy in the 90’s.

In the new millennium independent neighborhood pharmacies were a thing of the past, while turkey burgers and custard were the wave of the future. Mike and Kim Schmidt decided to open their second Bella’s Fat Cat location (the first being on Brady Street), which ushered 2737 S KK into its most recent incarnation.

The family restaurant seems to have done well enough for a few years, but looks were deceiving. In 2010, both Bella’s locations were shuttered due to unpaid taxes and 2737 was repossessed by Park Bank because of an unpaid loan.

The closings must’ve moved quickly, as 7 years later there still remain signs up in the windows for Bella’s. But that was all that moved quickly for 2737. In 2012 there was promise of new life: Shirley Konopski and Tim Olson started making repairs on the slowly-dilapidating building with the hopes of leasing to a Mexican restaurant.

Mockup of Ciervo Blanco restaurant. Originally from OnMilwaukee.

But Ciervo Blanco, the “upscale Mexican…with a focus on local ingredients”, never materialized. And so today the building sits, interior renovation seemingly stopped mid-stride, as viewed through the drooping plastic sheeting on a streetside window. Supposedly the building is for lease through Moore Real Estate, but there’s no information about it on their website.

Though Bay View residents and politicians discuss daily about the vibrancy of new businesses sprouting up all over town, 2737 S KK Ave still sits vacant, looming over the area’s busiest street and the annual Bay View Bash block party. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs for a building that opened its doors to local families for nearly a century, curing and causing both toothaches and smiles.

14 thoughts on “What’s That Building: 2737 S Kinnickinnic Ave

  1. When I lived on brasy street in 2004 there was absolutely a Bella’s Fat Cat right across from the hardware store. It was then turned into “the burger joint” and then maybe a Cousins? Not sure wheat it is now. Maybe still a Cousins!

    1. If this is the place I’m thinking of, was there a bank across the street? I remember as a child (1950’s) doing the same. What a wonderful walk down the past. My grandparents owned Gabby’s beer depot just south of there.

  2. It started on Brady and then moved to Oakland and then was shut down and then was a cheese shop on Oakland and is now Sals Pizza

  3. SCHROEDER’S 5 and Dime occupied a large portion of the building. The entrance was mid-way down the KK side, at least during the 1960’s.

  4. There were two Bella’s locations on the East Side. The original location was on Brady St. Another one opened on Oakland a few years later.

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