Dave Reid

Historic Preservation is a Good Thing

By - Feb 9th, 2009 10:12 am
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1550 N. Prospect Avenue

1550 N. Prospect Avenue

Historic preservation is a good thing, when for example it is used to restore City Hall or re-purpose the Grain Exchange because it adds value to Milwaukee.  Unfortunately, when in the name of historic preservation “creative lawyering” is used to save a high-priced view or a surface parking lot, it isn’t such a good thing.  These are just two of examples of how historic preservation laws have been distorted in attempts to stop development projects instead of saving historic structures.  I believe that the spirit of historic preservation regulations are to save significant structures when possible and to encourage their adaptive re-use so these buildings can be enjoyed long in to the future.

In the case of the Downer Avenue redevelopment residents attempted to utilize preservation laws to stop the construction of a parking garage and additional structures.  Although a parking garage isn’t an ideal use or especially impressive architecture, neither was what it replaced, a surface parking lot.  Related parts of the project involved restoration of multiple deteriorating buildings and enhancement of another previously altered structure.  It is fair to oppose the development project on its merits, but in the end the project will achieve many preservation goals that should be supported by the preservation movement.

The Transera project proposed the development of a 26-story condominium tower to be constructed behind the historic Goll Mansion.  It’s important to note that the new building would sit between two other high-rise buildings at least one of which, 1522 on the Lake, sits on land formerly occupied by a mansion.  This is important as the site is now more in context with high-rise development than it is a row of mansions and unlike previous high-rise development along Prospect Avenue this project intends to put the Goll Mansion back in to active use.  Further a recommended preservation technique used to rehabilitate a historic structure and insure its future viability is to integrate it with the development of a modern structure.  For example, the Villard Houses in New York City exemplify a great example mixing old with new with the result being the saving of a historic structure.

It is important to question these efforts because when actions are taken in the name of “historic preservation”, but aren’t truly about historic preservation, this takes away from legitimate preservation efforts.  And legitimate preservation is vitally important to the City of Milwaukee.  One of the great features of our city is its wonderful mix of old and new buildings because this creative re-use of existing structures ties our past to our future, adds character to our streets, creates a unique sense of place and maintains the urban fabric.  The unfortunate truth, is that it is often convenient to utilize historic preservation laws to save a view, slow progress, and protect the status quo.

Categories: Real Estate

3 thoughts on “Historic Preservation is a Good Thing”

  1. I couldn’t agree more – excellent posting.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    Thanks! It of course wold be one thing if the developer came in and wanted to knock down a building then I’d say an argument can be made regarding its merits and should it be preserved. But when historic preservation laws are used for other purposes it just hurts the movements efforts.

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