By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 23, 2020 at 12:02 PM Photography: Wisconsin Historical Society

Forty years on, folks still talk about and folks still get angry about it.

On Oct. 11, 1980, the 1886 Elizabeth Plankinton Mansion was demolished two days before permits were issued, by a demolition man gone rogue who fired up his bulldozer on a Saturday morning just days before the Common Council was scheduled to vote on the future of the mansion.

To mark the anniversary, Eric Kowalik has created a seven-minute documentary film about the home and its destruction.

Begun in 1886 and completed two years later at a cost of $100,000 – just shy of $3 million today – the mansion was built at 1432 Grand Ave. (later 1492 W. Wisconsin Ave.) by Milwaukee meat packer John Plankinton as a wedding gift to his 33-year-old daughter.

A stunning Romanesque Revival turreted home designed by Edward Townsend Mix, it was the first in the city to boast a furnace and the largest mansion on what was then mansion row.

John and his son had mansions across the street.

The problem is, Elizabeth was jilted three weeks before her wedding and, heartbroken, couldn’t live in the house that she reportedly entered exactly one time and never again. It sat empty until she sold it in 1896.

In 1910, it was purchased by the Knights of Columbus, who occupied it as a clubhouse until 1978.

It had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

When Marquette University bought the land – though the city owned the home – it planned to raze it to make way for a new student union, triggering protests and lawsuits. But in the end, the house came down and the site sat empty for a decade before that student union was built.

One upside of the destruction, says Kowalik in the film, was that it led to the creation of the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission in 1981 to prevent the same thing happening again.

“The mansion was the last of the great mansions on Milwaukee's Grand Avenue,” says Kowalik, who works at Marquette's Raynor Memorial Libraries. “There was a lot of controversy around the demolition as the city had voted to preserve the mansion, but the demolition began anyway. The demolition led to the creation of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) which tries to balance keeping historic buildings around while not trying to stifle progress.

“I think the story highlights how a community handles – or mishandles – the historic buildings of the past and is a relevant topic today with the ongoing developments in Downtown and other areas of the city.”

You can watch the entire video here. Try not to get too angry (it’s not easy).

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 an episode of TV's "Party of Five," 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 OnMilwaukee.com 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.