By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 24, 2024 at 10:01 AM

A few days ago, Ron Michalowski posted a question to the Milwaukee History Lovers group on Facebook about an early name for South 15th Place on Milwaukee's Near South Side.

"I'm studying my 1890 map of Milwaukee city and ran across an area marked Accomodation on the spot which is now Washington and Cesar Chavez, looking for input as to what this may have been, a hotel or immigrant center. Any info available?"

Having spent the first seven years of my Milwaukee life living two doors off that street – and visiting the same house numerous times throughout my childhood – the question piqued my curiosity.

A number of folks posted informative and interesting responses, including maps and the fact that Accommodation Street was also, at times, called Bismarck Avenue and, later, American Avenue.

As unusual a name as Accommodation Street was, I also think the other two are odd, considering how narrow the street is. The street hardly feels like an "Avenue," something that is iterated by the fact that for nearly a century it's been designated a "Place."

Also of note is the fact that for a time, the street was called both Accommodation Street and Bismarck/American, depending on how far north or south you were. (As well as the fact that many maps and sources misspelled both Accommodation and Bismarck.)

To help sort this all out, I reached out to Yance Marti, an engineer in the City of Milwaukee Central Drafting & Records department, who has helped answer similar questions in the past, and who has written books on Milwaukee history.

Even he can't be 100 percent sure of the reason behind the initial name, though if anyone can make an educated guess, it's the knowledgeable Marti.

"The original names of streets are often chosen by a developer who creates a subdivision of land," he says. "In this case Charles Quentin had a big chunk of land that he wanted to subdivide back in the 1850s and sell off the lots. On the subdivision plat, it was named Accommodation Street probably because they were not very imaginative and it didn't line up with any other streets that were already named!

"So because nobody could make up their mind, they accommodated with Accomodation Street."

It's possible, too, that Michalowski was onto something and that the name referred to some sort of physical accommodations, such as homes, but we don't really know what the developers had in mind.

However, commenter E. Ward, who often shares great information in the group, added this very likely explanation.

"Looking into this further, an 'accommodation street' is defined as 'a street of small shops and businesses catering to local residents.' It sounds like the precursor to a strip mall or local strip of shops. I'm finding 'accommodation streets' listed everywhere from Cincinnati to San Francisco, so this was most likely a very common type of street and this was one in Milwaukee."

The street is almost entirely residential but perhaps the developers intended it to become what neighboring 16th Street (now Cesar Chavez Drive) would turn into: a commercial strip.

Marti also explains a bit more about the variety of names for the street and how they came to pass.

"Later on, as the area developed D. C. Rogers and George Burnham had a lot of land south of Greenfield Avenue that they subdivided into lots and sold off," he says. "They named their street in the same location as Bismark Street. They didn't have spellcheck back then.

"By April 3, 1890, the Common Council decided that this being America, the name of Bismark didn't fit so they changed that name to American Avenue and to be consistent changed Accommodation to American Avenue, as well."

All of this vanished, of course, when the city undertook a big street name and numbering change in 1930 and the entire length of the street was changed to South 15th Place.

Interesting side note is that Arthur Bremer, infamous for his attempt to assassinate presidental candidate George Wallace, grew up on South 15th Place.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.