Michael Horne
House Confidential

Tim Sullivan’s $5 Million Mansion

This Beaux Arts mansion has been owned by such plutocrats as Herman Uihlein, Peter Buffett and now Tim Sullivan.

By - Mar 22nd, 2013 05:38 pm
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Tim Sullivan House

Tim Sullivan House. Photo by Brad Blavat.

It is a sure sign of financial success when you can buy a house on just one year’s salary. And the $5 million that Tim Sullivan paid for this Beaux Arts pile in 2007 was pretty much his income that year as president of Bucyrus, Inc. [Now Caterpillar Inc]. It remains the highest-priced single-family real estate transaction in the metro area.

It was also the Milwaukee area’s first million-dollar home sale when Peter and Mary Buffett bought it in 1989, seventy years after it was built at a cost of $500,000 for Herman A. Uihlein and his wife Claudia Holt Uihlein. The home was built between the years of 1917 and 1919 by craftsmen including Cyril Colnik, the iron worker, and the Matthews Brothers woodworkers. The imported stone was brought to the site oversized, lest it be chipped in transit. Workers completed the elaborate carvings on-site. It is listed on the local, state and national registers of historic places.

The Buffett stay was brief and memorable, lasting until the couple’s divorce in 1993. Buffett converted the attic into a studio, and composed incidental music for the motion picture “Dances With Wolves” there.

During that time the home was showing its age, and the mechanical systems were positively antiquated. The servant intercom had been out of service for decades (isn’t that always the case?), the boiler in the sub-basement was the size of a foundry and the red tile roof leaked. An inspection of the non-functioning central vacuum system’s canister yielded only a few depression-era chewing gum and bon bon wrappers, instead of the expected rubies and emeralds that might have been scattered by careless Uihleins.

The kitchen was remarkably small and institutional; old ice boxes remained in place. Really, the only charming thing about the service wing was the butler’s pantry with its nickel sink and view of Lake Michigan.

The outdoor, gas-fired heater used to dry firewood was abandoned as a costly extravagance by Buffett, showing that even the son of a billionaire has to economize somewhere along the line.

The next owner, Kailas Rao, spent millions doing a complete renovation of the entire structure, adding fountains and reflecting pools to its landscape, now nestled behind an imposing gated entry. He also gave the house its first modern kitchen, and a 27-seat basement theater — a McMansion touch in a real mansion. Link to interior photos.

Rao also had the home outfitted with a red rug bearing the seal of the President of the United States of America, figuring it might induce Bill Clinton to come by to see the changes since he visited the home as a presidential candidate during the Buffett years.

Tim and Vivian Sullivan therefore moved into a substantially reconstructed dwelling when they bought the place. Their only noticeable improvement has been the installation of two unsightly rooftop air conditioning units, added, with village approval, in 2011. Alas, the home flooded twice in the July 2010 storms. Even a home perched on an 80 foot bluff can suffer from the caprices of the Whitefish Bay stormwater management infrastructure.

WAS ONCE A RESORT

It’s been a long time since anybody went to Whitefish Bay to have fun, but from 1888 to 1915 this was the site of the Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort. The lakeside setting and wide-open spaces were an attraction for thousands, particularly in the summer months. They made their way to this place by a rail line laid in 1888 that ran there from what is now the Beans and Barley store at the intersection of E. North and N. Farwell avenues. For decades you could take a train right to the door, while today it’s better than a quarter mile to the nearest bus stop. It was a popular ride for early bicyclists, with the ageless allure of beer.

Thirsty crowds in 1905-1908 could sail to the resort on the Robert C. Pringle, a 100-foot wooden excursion boat. The resort shut down in 1914, the buildings were razed, and the land subdivided in 1915 when the Uihleins started building their home, designed by Kirchhoff and Rose. Mrs. Uihlein sold it in 1946 when it was assessed at $90,000. It was the residence for five priests and two monks thereafter, coming into the possession of Grant Beutner in the late 1970s, and was for about a decade the home of the Beutner family including son, Jeff Beutner, now the Shepherd Express restaurant critic, and his real estate agent sister Nancy Beutner Meeks.

There are now 10 bedrooms and six baths among the 23 rooms in the home, which has 13,717 sq. ft., some 10,000 sq ft more than the residence of Rocky Marcoux, featured last week. The 5-acre property is valued at $1,138,600 and the improvements at $4,400,400 for a total valuation of $5,539,000. Taxes on the property are $126,727.55 and have been paid in full.

ABOUT TIM SULLIVAN

In 2011 Bucyrus Corp was purchased by Caterpillar Corp. and CEO Tim Sullivan, then 57, finally found himself out of a job. But a guy like Sullivan doesn’t go from making $20,000 a day to spending the day in bed, so he has since made himself useful to governors by sitting on boards and commissions. He has served on the Council of Workforce Development, the Office of Business Development, the Council of Workforce Investment, the boards of NML, and Geberac among many other affiliations. Geberac alone granted him $113,000 in free stock over the past two years, which can help pay most of his property tax bill.

Sullivan most recently received headlines, including one here at Urban Milwaukee, regarding his contention that a “skills gap” in the metro area is making it hard for companies to hire skilled labor. While at Bucyrus he went and built a factory in Texas where average wages for welders are lower than in Wisconsin, and he got a potful of government money that he does not like to talk about. Critics offer facts that contradict Sullivan’s theory:  the skills are here, but the wages paid are too low. [Read our story,  “The World According to Tim Sullivan”]

THE RUNDOWN

  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • Subdivision:  Pabst Whitefish Bay Resort
  • Neighborhood: No neighborhood. The property is located in the Village of Whitefish Bay.
  • Walkscore: 46 out of 100 “Car-Dependent” A few amenities are within walking distance. Jack Pandl’s Whitefish Bay Inn is .15 miles away.
  • Street Smart Walkscore: 49 out of 100, still “Somewhat Walkable.”
  • Size: 13,717 square feet
  • Year Built: 1917-1919
  • Assessed Value: $5,539,000
  • Property Taxes: $126,727

How Milwaukee is it? It is a 5.69 mile walk to Milwaukee City Hall. The freeway route is 7.99 miles.

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