Written by Dave Fidlin
Photos by Jen Schildgen & Light Photography
Nestled in the heart of the string of Northshore suburban communities near Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay has forged a distinct identity throughout its 131 years.
Nestled in the heart of the string of North Shore suburban communities near Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay has forged a distinct identity throughout its 131 years, best represented by its historic homes, pedestrian-friendly amenities and bustling shopping corridor.
Throughout its existence, Whitefish Bay—bordering Shorewood, Glendale and Fox Point—has boasted a number of disparate, prominent names, including beer baron Captain Frederick Pabst and Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
There are a number of features within this community of about 14,000 residents that prompt people to live, work, and play within its confines, Village Manager Paul Boening said.
Over the decades, a variety of factors—from the village’s simple layout to the overall culture within the community—have led to the quaint, small town feel that has been one of Whitefish Bay’s hallmarks from the get-go.
“Each individual block embodies that sense of a tight, close-knit community,” Boening said. “There are sidewalks everywhere, which makes it very maneuverable. It’s so popular that there are days where there are so many kids biking to school, it almost looks like a bike race. Something as simple as having sidewalks around the community just shows that sense of connectedness.”
Whitefish Bay’s storied history, and how it came to be what it is today, came to light near the turn of the 20th Century. Frederick Pabst, the namesake of the venerable brewery, shelled out $30,000 in 1889 to acquire land in the present-day community for a resort, noting the area’s unique location along Lake Michigan.
Today, Boening said that same sense of awe is felt throughout the community, as longtime residents boast about the place they call home and newcomers revel in the landscape.
“The lake is a major resource, not just for the aesthetic appeal,” Boening said. “It’s called one of the Great Lakes for a reason. It is a big deal to be located along the shores of it.”
Today’s 2.4-square-mile Whitefish Bay coalesced in 1892, when a concerted effort was made to incorporate and gain independence from the Town of Milwaukee. One of the key reasons behind the cessation from the now-defunct township was a desire for a local school system.
Education has long been one of Whitefish Bay’s draws, as evidenced by the abundance of public, private, and parochial schools throughout the village. The Whitefish Bay School District routinely ranks as one of Wisconsin’s top-performing public school systems in standardized tests and other metrics.
In last year’s red-hot housing market, the median home on the market within Whitefish Bay was listed at $457,000, while median home sale prices were in the range of $576,000. By virtue of the community’s compactness, most lots within the village are less than a quarter of an acre in size.
Because of the strong school system and the various community amenities, Boening said families frequently will stay within the village, beginning their journey in a starter home and continuing onward to larger properties in their later years.
“There’s a lot of movement within the community, which says a lot,” Boening said. “When residents call, they’ll state why, and then they’ll mention how long they’ve lived in the village. It’s like a sense of pride. They’re happy to say, ‘I’ve lived in Whitefish Bay for 40 years.’ It’s something that’s happened more often than people would realize.”
Whitefish Bay boasts a number of parks, including its crown jewel, Klode Park, which is situated along the bluffs of Lake Michigan and provides some of the best views of the body of water. Klode Park has been such a draw over the years that it has been featured in commercials and continues to be a wedding hot spot.
Several green spaces within Whitefish Bay pay homage to one of the village’s most visible residents, Craig Counsell, who has been the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager since 2015. Counsell, whose career as a professional baseball player ran from 1995-2011, capped off with a five-season stint with the Brewers.
Counsell grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from the local high school before venturing out on his post-graduation pursuits that ultimately led to his longtime career in Major League Baseball.
“He’s the hometown guy,” Boening said. “He still makes his home here and is a part of the community. The baseball field that the high school utilizes is Craig Counsel Field. Our entire Little League park is Craig Counsel Park, so you’ve got two different spots in the village that have the same namesake, so that says a lot of what the community thinks of him.”
Beyond the residential neighborhoods, Whitefish Bay has carved out a niche with its Silver Spring Drive business corridor, represented through a local Business Improvement District (BID) known as the Merchants of Whitefish Bay.
In addition to promoting the businesses, many run by local entrepreneurs and shopkeepers, the BID holds a variety of special events, including the springtime Green Day in the Bay, which entered its 12th year in 2023 and promotes environmental awareness.
“The commercial district offers the same features as the residential areas, with sidewalks throughout the Silver Spring district,” Boening said. “We might not have a bustling business district that’s going to have a lot of late night activity, but we have a very good mix of businesses, including some of the iconic ones like Winke’s.”
Winke’s, a toy and variety store, opened in the 1960s and has continued carrying many of the same product lines in its more than half a century of existence. The business is in its third generation of ownership.
“Our family loves the legacy our parents have built in Milwaukee with a local, family-owned and operated corner store,” Terry Stuhlmacher, one of the current owners, wrote on the “About Us” page of the business’ website.
Other notable, standalone attractions in and near Whitefish Bay include Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn, which has roots stretching back to 1915 and has been noted for fine cuisine such as beef rouladen and filet mignon.
Residents and visitors alike also have an abundance of entertainment options with the other businesses and attractions north of Whitefish Bay.
Fox Point boasts residential architecture direct from Frank Lloyd Wright, as evidenced by the Albert and Edith Adelman House, which the renewed builder constructed in the village in 1948.
The Mary Nohl House—now more formally known as the Mary Nohl Art Environment—has been a longtime attraction in one of Fox Point’s beachfront neighborhoods. The property is adorned with various pieces of Nohl’s signature folk art.
In the warm weathered months, the open-air Fox Point Farmers’ Market has been a mainstay within the village for about two decades on Saturday mornings. The market is held in the parking lot of North Shore Congregational Church and features a variety of vendors and special events.
Further north, toward the county line, is the Bayside Garden Center, within the village of the same name. The longtime business laid its roots in the 1950s as a small flower stand and has since grown into a full-service business that draws customers from all over the region.
With a plethora of entertainment, outdoor activities, restaurants, and more, Whitefish Bay and surrounding areas have plenty to offer residents and visitors year round.