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Curious about what’s in the former Gimbels building?

History of ASQ Center

The ASQ Center, 600 N. Plankinton Avenue, is home to ASQ, as well as 10 other tenants. Historically, the ASQ Center is known in Milwaukee as the “Gimbels building,” having housed the famous Gimbels department store from the late 1890s until 1986.

After Gimbels closed, the building was home to Marshal Field’s from 1988 to 1997. After a major renovation in the late 1990s, the building became the ASQ Center and how houses ASQ headquarters.

History of Gimbels in Milwaukee

Gimbels founder Adam Gimbel opened his first store in Vincennes, Indiana, in 1842, but the company moved its operations to Milwaukee 1887, opening a store on the corner on Wisconsin and Plankinton Avenues. Gimbel settled on Milwaukee because of the city’s potential as a railroad terminal–though it was ultimately built in Chicago–and its busy downtown.

Over the next 30 years, the store on the corner of Plankinton and Wisconsin grew to include six connected buildings. The building now called the ASQ Center (600-648 N Plankinton) was built in 1901, with additions in 1919, 1923 (the year a neoclassical façade was added on the side of the RiverWalk) and 1984. The building is on the National and State Register of Historic Buildings.

Gimbels, which grew to 53 stores nationwide at its peak in 1965, was known for great service and innovation. It was the first store in Milwaukee to offer electric elevators, automatic cash and parcel service, motorized package delivery and charge account system. It was also famous for its beautiful window and holiday displays, extensive staff training, quality and selection of products.

ASQ and the Transformation of the ASQ Center

ASQ–then called the American Society for Quality Control, or ASQC–was chartered in New York state in 1946 and moved headquarters to downtown Milwaukee in 1956. Celebrating our 75th anniversary in 2021, ASQ is the leading membership association to help quality professionals achieve their career goals and drive excellence through quality in their organizations and industries. ASQ provides expertise, knowledge, networks, and solutions to a global membership of over 55,000 individuals spanning more than 130 countries.

Milwaukee was an attractive headquarters for the organization thanks to the city’s affordability, a solid manufacturing base critical to the quality industry, and proximity to printing facilities. When ASQ was looking at new office space in the 1990s, it considered 22 cities and 47 sites before deciding to continue in Milwaukee as its permanent home. In 1999, ASQ announced that it would move its headquarters into 105,000 square feet in the 600 N. Plankinton building.

ASQ’s commitment to the building helped the developer secure a $49 million loan to redevelop the entire building, which had been unoccupied after Gimbels department store and the next tenant, Marshall Fields, had closed. Thanks to this commitment, ASQ secured naming rights, hence the ASQ Center. ASQ headquarters have been housed in the building since 2001.

Building Trivia:
• ASQ Center style: Classic Revival and Chicago Commercial
• Building architects: Daniel Burnham and Herman J. Esser
• Façade architect: Herman J. Esser. The façade is modeled after Selfridges Department Store in London
• Renovation architect: Kahler-Slater


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