Our Kenosha History: Fish, Art, Coffee, and More

Our Kenosha History: Fish, Art, Coffee, and More

This past summer, Harborside Common Grounds, 5159 Sixth Avenue, closed its doors after 22 years. With such a prime spot overlooking our harbor, we can safely assume this location has a long, rich history. Enjoy this deep dive into this prime Downtown location which I have given the moniker of the “Ansorge building” based on the owner when it was built in 1928.

Early Kenosha History

Downtown grew quickly in the late nineteenth century. A great fire in 1860 destroyed most of Downtown but gave the area a reset which may have helped more than hindered in the end. A mass fire at the Allen Tannery in 1890, just west of the Fish Market Building also led to structural improvements throughout the city.

The Kenosha harbor was so prosperous in the late 19th century, it was included right with Chicago and Milwaukee as the “big three” harbors along the southwestern side of Lake Michigan. The harbor was rich with imports and exports, of both products and people.

In 1898, a mysterious agent named D. N. Meidel provided services for the public via steamship on the site now home to the Ansorge building.

From the Kenosha Evening News, July 18, 1989

The ship, the T.S. Faxton left the Kenosha harbor every Sunday morning at 9:45 am for a round trip to Milwaukee. Riders would be charged fifty cents. Meidel also offered daily service to Chicago which left O’Donnell’s Dock Mondays – Saturdays at 5 pm.  The Faxton is said to have been built in 1874 and could carry 500-800 passengers, depending on cargo.

An illustration of the T.S. Faxton ship by Howard Pyle

In the early part of the 20th century, Downtown Kenosha was a very different place than today. The streets were filled with streetcars, pedestrians, automobiles, and the occasional horse. Factories employed hundreds of local citizens. Businesses were abundant in the neighborhood. Pike’s Creek extended into the city and gave us two additional bridges which are no longer necessary today – in the 5200-5400 block of Sixth Avenue (directly south of the Ansorge property) and on 52nd Street near Sheridan Road. These areas were filled in with land in 1959 and Pike Creek had been diverted via drainage lines under our city streets.

The area of town which is now a perfect view overlooking our beautiful harbor at 52nd and Sixth Ave was at one time a small peninsula bursting with businesses, and the intersection was then known as Grand Avenue and North Main Street.

With the area being surrounded by industry, it is a safe bet the area is much cleaner these days. Along the harbor right behind where the Ansorge building stands today was originally a signal station, followed by an early location of O’Donnell’s Coal Dock. The neighborhood was quite industrious, with huge nearby factories like Allen Tannery, Bode Brothers furniture, Bain Wagon Company and others employing hundreds of citizens and the constant traffic on the numerous docks on the harbor. The neighborhood brought in travelers (some with good intentions, others without) staying at the Schlitz Hotel across the street. Local “soda shops” owned by Stanley Nadiez  (5120 Sixth) and John Shimanauskas (5152 Sixth) during prohibition were both raided and found guilty of illegally selling alcohol.

Looking south on Main Street (Sixth Avenue), we can see the Kenosha Upholstering Company on the left. Photo courtesy of UW-Wisconsin-Madison archives

In 1920 we finally have substantial proof of a structure at this location. It was the home of Kenosha Upholstering Company. The two-story gable roof building provided both fine products for your home and offered the best in slip covers and other fabrics to protect your furniture.

Kenosha Evening News, September 18, 1920

The store only appears to have stayed in this location for about a year, moving to 372 Main Street (5923 Sixth Ave), where it remained a successful downtown business for several decades.

Coming to Kenosha

William Ansorge (1870-1945) was born in Oconto, Wisconsin and opened a hotel in Ferry County, Washington (which is now a registered landmark – look up the Ansorge Hotel) before coming to Kenosha.

In 1921, Ansorge was traveling from Manitowoc to New Orleans and stopped off in Kenosha. Although he did continue on his journey, Ansorge and his wife Elizabeth couldn’t resist the charm of Kenosha and decided to return to launch a business on the north end of the Sixth Avenue bridge.

As early as 1911, the Kenosha port has been well known for it’s fine Michigan fruit. The Hill Steamship Company helped to make Kenosha, along with Milwaukee and Chicago, an essential stop for its trade. William Ansorge started to build his empire selling the highly desired Michigan fruits in his small market in the early 1920’s.

In the fall of 1923  Ansorge opened his Ansorge Fish Market in the same building which formerly housed the upholstery company.

In the 1920’s, it wasn’t uncommon to see ten fishing boats a day bring their daily catch to the Kenosha harbor. The wholesale departments on site would then ship some of the inventory to nearby Chicago, Milwaukee and Evanston, and keep a supply for local Kenoshans.

Brothers Walter (1887-1974), Clifford (1891-1974), and Lloyd (1893 – 1970) Chambers were men bred for the water. They were raised in Door County and spent countless days in their youth on the great lake learning and loving their craft.

In 1922, Walter and Clifford, aka Captain Cliff, came to Kenosha with the hopes of taking advantage of Kenosha’s lucrative harbor.

Within two years, the younger brother Lloyd joined them. Lloyd and Clifford were the seamen of the family, the two would regularly take to the seas for their daily catch, while Walter was more of the business side – looking for the proper opportunity to launch a successful family business.

By 1925, the Chambers brothers joined William Ansorge to create Ansorge and Chambers Fish Market.  Besides selling fish fresh from the depths of Lake Michigan every day, saltwater fish were also handled. Lobsters and oysters were par to the daily supply and frogs were one of their special delicacies.

In addition to the freshest fish available, Ansorge, now known as “Fish Shanty Bill”, also proudly continued to provide the finest and freshest produce, with boatloads of grapes, peaches, pears, damson plums, and apples coming in regularly. On occasion, bear and reindeer meat was also available for purchase.

For the holiday season in the mid-1920’s, the fish market was the perfect place to get the best Christmas trees around, selected and directly shipped from Vermont.

1928: Kenosha Fisheries opens

In early 1927, Ansorge & Chambers announce plans to erect a new building on the present site, two stories high (three on the harbor side) with ground dimensions of 60 by 40 feet. The first floor will be occupied by Ansorge and Chambers and the upstairs will be made into apartment flats.

Kenosha Evening News, November 16, 1928

The new Chicago commercial style cream brick building officially opened on Friday, November 16, 1928 and was given the umbrella name Kenosha Fisheries. Over the next few years, this generic term will be helpful, as numerous owners will come and go and the surrounding area became a fish market district of sorts.

Although the Chambers Brothers were involved with Ansorge in the past and later on will return to the story of this building, they were nowhere to be found at the grand opening.

A Kenosha News story celebrating the grand opening of this new modern masterpiece centers only on the Ansorge side of the former partnership.

“With the formal opening of the Kenosha Fisheries, the dream of such an institution for the people of Kenosha and for Mr. Ansorge will have been realized” it reads.

It wasn’t all just food to take home and cook. There was also the Cafeteria and Paris Grill on site with unusual and palatable special seafood, chicken, and meat dishes.

With four departments, the Kenosha Fisheries was the only organization of its kind along this part of Lake Michigan. Ansorge enlisted the assistance of his wife Elizabeth, Chester Bernard (grill room, cafeteria), and Charles Deffry (1870-1938) in meat, grocery, and fruits to make it’s opening a success.

Kenosha Evening News, November 28, 1928

“The wholesale department is equipped in the most modern way,” the aforementioned Kenosha News story continues. “Including the latest 10-ton ice machine. Fresh oysters arrive in carloads. Fish from the lake taken in at our own docks. Nine boats arrive daily with fish.”

In 1929, the Chambers Brothers are listed as operating a fish market at 509 51st Place. The hotel (today the Wyndham Garden) wasn’t built until 1971, and the area was a small neighborhood of roads, businesses, and residences. 51st Place (then Cedar Street) continued east to the harbor and Water Street shot southwest from an angle where 51st met the harbor to Main Street just north of the fish market building.

This 1924 map of the area has the Ansorge building lot in the bottom right corner (#10). Blocks 80 & 86 are now where the Wyndham Garden Hotel is today, and, for reference, block #1 is currently Captain Mikes.

The revolving door of fish market owners

In September 1931, the Chambers Brothers announced that they have purchased the building formerly owned and occupied by the Kenosha Fisheries.

The property which was formerly occupied by the Chambers Bros at 509 51st Place had been sold to the Dunnebacke company.  A successful fish market district arises with the Ansorge Fish Company being at this location circa 1935.

The Chambers Brothers remain in control the Ansorge building until 1935, when William Fenner (1897-1981) took over. Fenner continued to deliver high quality fresh and frozen fish, as well as other food items, at wholesale and retail prices under the Fenner Fish Market banner.

Kenosha Evening News, December 21, 1939

A Michigan Fruit Company stand operated just north of the building in the mid-1930’s, and numerous other fish markets existed in this immediate vicinity.

Ted’s Fish Market sat just north of this building in the mid-1930’s.

Riverside Fish Market sat in an unusual location at 5201 Sixth Ave in the late-1930’s (it is suspected that this business sat on the harbor level and not at the street level). This location became The Little Silver Fish Market until the Ansorge Fish Market moved in in 1943.

William Fenner would continue to operate his fish market out of 5159 Sixth Ave until Walter Nesgood, a Highland Park native, showed interest in both Kenosha and the Ansorge building.

Nesgood was in his mid-20’s and recent married to Rita when he opened Walter’s Fish and Seafood in 1946 in this location. The Nesgood family would reside in one of the upper flats and Walter’s would last until 1960, when Nesgood sells the business to begin a 25-year career at American Motors/Chrysler.

Art and violence

Casmir Pawlowski was a longtime resident of one of the upper flats dating back to at least 1943.  In the late 1950s he began to operate Sixth Avenue Studios, a photography studio, out of the Ansorge building.

What began as a calm April evening turned violent when Pawlowski’s sins returned to haunt him.

On Wednesday, April 29, 1959, Pawlowski was shot in his studio by 22-year-old Roland Thomas, of 4905 26th Ave.

It appears that Thomas recently became aware of an affair Pawlowski had with his then 16-year-old wife Inez Flakes Thomas. Inez recently admitted the intimacies with the photographer over the past year and a half and Roland proceeded to strike her 10 to 12 times with a belt before bringing her to the studio with the intentions of confronting Pawloski and extorting money from him. Roland was unemployed at the time and the couple where residing in their parents’ home.

Inez Thomas, from Kenosha Evening News, April 30, 1959

The two arrived around 10pm, and tensions flared at the scene when they confronted Pawlowski. Thomas pulled out his .22 caliber revolver and Pawlowski turned to run when he was shot in the chin and left arm by a single bullet fired by Thomas.

Pawlowski said he felt the warm blood running down his arm as he ran past the couple and out the door. He then ran around to the north side of the building and down a flight of steps to a side door – the door was locked, so he ran to the rear of the building, smashing a window and crawling in, where he was able to alert the upstairs residents. Wally Nesgood tended to his injuries while his wife Rita called the police.

Pawlowski recovered from his injuries, but all three were faced with serious charges. When the police searched his studio, they found three pornographic books and three negatives of an obscene nature. Pawlowski was also charged with having sexual intercourse with a minor and adultery. Roland and Inez Thomas face conspiracy to commit extortion charges. Roland also was charged with a misdemeanor of pointing a gun, and Inez with adultery.

Roland Thomas. Kenosha Evening News, April 30, 1959

For the final sentencing, all three of the accused were handed three years probation for their various charges.

The 58-year-old Pawlowski continued to operate Sixth Avenue Studios into 1960, but not much can be found about him after that.

Kenosha Evening News January 11, 1961

In November, 1960, Haubrich’s Slip Cover and Drapery Company, formerly at 803 43rd St, relocated to the Ansorge building. By late 1961, it changes ownership and name to Marie’s Slip Covers and Draperies. But it will not last long. Perhaps the co-existence of fabrics and a fish market under the same roof didn’t pan out so well.

Kenosha Evening News
September 26, 1963

Throughout the 1960’s, the fish market was thriving at the Ansorge building. The building had returned to its roots, with new owner Charles Cornell calling his business Lakeside Fisheries until 1970, when the 50-year fish market district officially closes at 5159 Sixth Avenue. Lakeside Fisheries moves to 3016 75th St and is renamed Lakeside Foods.

While Kenosha Fisheries operated through the 1960’s, other businesses came and went including the short lived (and poorly named) Keno Karmel Korn in 1963 and Jot’s Repair Shop in 1964-65.

In late 1966, a fresh new tenant with some staying power shared the location with Cornell’s business. Brothers Salvatore (aka Emil,1917-1996), John (1924-1985), and Robert (aka Ruby, 1926-1997) Puntillo of Kenosha, and Frank Pontillo (1931-1985) of Naha, Okinawa opened World Wide Arts. Frank’s last name was misspelled when he joined the Army years earlier and he never changed it back. The brothers were among Kenosha’s most widely travelled families.

Prior to opening World Wide Arts, Emil had made 25 trips around the world and developed a habit of bringing home paintings and all sorts of art objects from other countries.

“Things really accumulated at home, and people began coming to the house to buy the art objects Emil brought back,” Frank told Kenosha News in 1970.

Kenosha Evening News
October 9, 1969

From Oriental paintings, to South American snake skins, to Russian pottery or African baskets, everything in the store is indigenous to the country where it was purchased.

Emil said he travels into the ‘real places’ in the back country to find his treasures.

“I go into the little Indian villages in South America and buy from the potters,” he said in 1970.

Photo taken 2022 by Jason Hedman

On an interesting side note, the nine-ton battlefield rock currently located in Veterans Memorial Park was selected by Frank Pontillo in Okinawa and shipped halfway across the world, in a year-long journey. Pontillo, with Capt. Earl W. Glines, selected a boulder in the area of Buckner Bay and Suicide Cliff, the scene of one of the bloodiest engagements in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.  It arrived in Kenosha in November, 1970, and now rests inside the fountain overlooking the downtown harbor.

In addition to exhibiting fabulous pieces from around the world, World Wide Arts also showcased local talent. They worked with the Kenosha Art Association with Art Show displays. As the years progressed, they served the public with custom framing and other art-related services.

The neighborhood goes artsy

I will digress for a moment to step away from the Ansorge building and fill you in about the neighborhood at this time. The Harbor West experiment is too interesting to not share.

Throughout the 1960’s the neighborhood north of the Ansorge building was known to the locals as the “dark street” – it carried a tattoo shop, numerous taverns, and deserted storefronts, leaving a blight on the once prospering neighborhood.

In February 1971, local artist John Goray made a valiant attempt to change the culture of the area by opening the first of numerous art shops along upper Sixth Avenue. Goray has given this neighborhood a new title – Harbor West – and with it the artists hope to bring back some of the friendliness and charm to the street they once knew.

Over the next year, several art galleries, antique shops, and other new businesses opened in the empty storefronts. A few of them include, on the east side: Gift Tree/The Bird Cage, 5023 Sixth Ave; Harborside Antiques, 5031 Sixth Ave; Artists Gallery, 5033 Sixth Ave; and The Blue Mushroom, 5035 Sixth Ave; and on the west side: New Morning Glory, 5036 Sixth Ave; and The Quest, 5106 Sixth Ave. These smaller businesses were hoping to profit from the recent grand opening of the Holiday Inn Hotel at 5125 Sixth Ave.

The Fall Art Festival on Sixth Ave, September 1971. Photo – Kenosha Evening News

On Saturday, September 18, 1971, a  Fall Art Festival was held with all the new businesses participating. Sixth Avenue was closed off to accommodate the crowds and merchants at the event. A sidewalk cafe and strolling musicians added to the atmosphere.

The newly re-opened Vogue Theater, located about 1/2 mile west at 1820 52nd St, embraced the Harbor West art district concept and began showing foreign and other films which cater to this community, with advance tickets being available for purchase at all the Harbor West galleries.

But it did not last long. By the end of 1972, the Harbor West experiment had failed.

“Kenosha is not an art city,” Judy Arnold, manager of New Morning Glory, told the Kenosha News in 1972. “People came and looked. We were a good place to show off to out-of-town visitors, but they didn’t support us in any other way.”

The previous year’s Fall Festival may have seemed like a success, but it wasn’t going to return in 1972. Goray said that although nine local shops were included in the Festival, one restaurant in the area complained to the city about the barricades in the road, resulting in a sour note over the celebration.

World Wide Arts in 1972
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society

World Wide Arts lived through the Harbor West experiment, but in 1979, the business left downtown after 13 years. That summer, they relocated to 4829 26th Ave. They remained in that location for another decade, celebrating their 25th total year in business in 1989.

Health and wellness comes to Downtown

Kenosha Evening News
January 30, 1981

The Kenosha Visiting Nurse Association (KVNA) was previously located at 1708 57th Street. In 1980 they moved into the Ansorge building. The KVNA remained there for 17 years, progressing from just the lower level on one side, to both sides, to eventually moving offices to the upper apartments.

Kenosha Evening News
December 3, 1981

In 1981, Southport Rigging and Supply opened their shop in the very lower level of the building, with the large bay doors in the rear giving easy access to the water. At the time, they catered more toward the maritime clientele, offering windsurfing sales, lessons, rentals, and  sporting and camping goods. By 1983, Southport Rigging relocated to 6201 22nd Ave. and in 1987 to their most recent location at 2926 75th Street.

“I had the back office with windows overlooking the harbor at the time” former KVNA president Debra Hertzberg told us. “We watched the huge ships come in, they would approach the building when they attempted to turn around in the harbor – they got so close to my window I felt like I could reach out and touch the ship!”

“Through the years, we watched the auto plant come down, and the HarborPark condos come up, it was an amazing transformation to see,” Hertzberg added.

In June of 1983, Hospice Alliance began working with KVNA and using office space within the building.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, KVNA continued to serve the community from the Ansorge building. But by 1997, they were looking to grow and saw an opportunity with the construction of a new office building directly to the west.

Debra Hertzberg, President of the Kenosha Visiting Nurse Association
Kenosha News, July 8, 1996

“Because of a very generous donor, we had the wonderful opportunity to expand to the whole third floor of the brand new HarborView Office Center,” Hertzberg said.

New things are brewing

Kenosha News
September 6, 2000

In September 2000, Bobbi Duczak opened her coffee shop, Harborside Common Grounds, in the Ansorge building.  By the next summer, an outdoor deck was added, which is essential with that gorgeous harbor view.

In the early days of the coffee shop, Bobbi Duczak already knew the keys to success. In 2004, she told State Line Business Monthly that to be successful you need to be flexible, always expect the unexpected and you need to have patience, patience, and more patience.

Kenosha News
September 9, 2001

Within the first few years, Harborside Common Grounds began a long relationship with Lemon Street Gallery and ArtSpace. Every three months, the local art gallery would rotate a collection of works from the finest local artists.

For 22 years, Harborside Common Grounds had become the place to meet friends, to hear the hot gossip around Kenosha, countless first dates, weekly bicycle ride meet-ups, business meetings, gardening group meetings, and even a wedding or two.

Kenosha News
February 15, 2003

When they closed on August 31, 2022, the businesses and customers of Downtown Kenosha felt a deep sense of sadness. Being in this location for 22 years, Harborside Common Grounds is the longest running business in this location since William Ansorge opened his fish market in 1928.

Current and past employees of Harborside Common Grounds join to celebrate 22 years of the iconic coffee shop in August 2022. Photo by Donny Stancato

However, the building didn’t stay dark for long. Just two days after its closure, it was announced that Anna Pitts, with the help of her sister Natalie, as well as Joan Spair and Jon and Frank Olson will soon be opening Anna’s on the Lake.

Photo taken November 3, 2022 by Jason Hedman


By Jason Hedman
Featured image at top of page courtesy of Bobbi Duczak.
Special thanks to Debra Hertzberg and Kathy Bassinger for assistance with this piece.
Jason Hedman is a Downtown Kenosha resident, local historian,
artist (Jason Hedman Art), podcast co-host (Ktown Connects) and occasional writer.

Comments? Complaints? Corrections? Email jasonhedmanart@yahoo.com