Michael Horne
House Confidential

Gregory Thornton’s Urban Apartment

He's got a place in the 23 story Prospect Towers, but is it named after Armstrong, Ellington or maybe Billie Holiday?

By - Jun 21st, 2013 04:45 pm
Prospect Towers.

Prospect Towers. Photo by Balistreri.

School’s out, so if Superintendent Gregory E. Thornton owns an actual home somewhere (in Pennsylvania perhaps?), maybe that’s where he’ll spend the summer. If not, Dr. T. will probably hang at his rental apartment in the 23-story Prospect Towers, 1626 N. Prospect Ave. The building was announced to the public in 1963, in a newspaper article that said “Lakeside apartment to be state’s tallest.” It was described as being a 200 unit “luxury type” building which was going to set back Joe Zilber some $4 million.

Towne Realty made quite a come-on for the building in a series of brochures filled with breathless prose and roseate visions: “As you proudly point out Prospect Towers as your home, your friends and acquaintances can’t help but envy your unique living situation in this elegant and proud apartment building.” Zilber and his partners also proposed “a beauty parlor, a barber shop, restaurant and cocktail lounge” for the first floor of the building. Apartments included 40 two-bedroom, 1,400 sq. ft. lakeside units (the “Holiday”), 120 one-bedroom 900 sq. ft. units (the “Ellington” and  the “Fitzgerald”] and 40 studios of 500 sq. ft. [the “Armstrong”]. Towne Realty apparently hadn’t notice the onset of rock’n’roll (the Presley?) and stuck with a jazz theme for its apartments.

Let’s hope Thornton used some of his $265,000 salary to snap up a “Holiday” so he can watch the sun rise over the lake on these lazy summer days. Rents for such a unit start at $2,350 per month — up from $300 a month when the place opened in 1964. The “Armstrong” back then cost $135 a month, and came furnished! The city assessor at the time figured the building would draw $552,000 in annual rents at that time, calculating the structure’s market value at $4,130,000.

Well, that was then. Today the land is valued at $1,632,000 and the improvements at $19,505,000 for a total of $21,137,000. This figure is based on a series of calculations that the assessor makes when using the Income method of valuation. In the case of Prospect Towers, the building has a total potential gross income of $3,571,492, which is big business indeed. Taxes on the joint were $600,605.53 and are paid in full.

The building was purchased by 1626 Prospect LLC for $22,500,000 in 2007. That firm is controlled by local real estate investor Dan Katz, and is listed as one of his “Premier Properties.” Those are the ones with nice brown and gold signs in front, instead of the usual blue scribble of the owner’s signature.


  • Style: Highrise
  • Neighborhood: Lower East Side
  • Subdivision: Rogers’ Addition
  • Walkscore: 94 out of 100 “Walker’s Paradise.” Most errands can be accomplished on foot.
  • Transit Score: 50 out of 100, “Good Transit.” Building is probably penalized for being near the lake. Certainly there are few options for easterly travel.
  • Street Smart Score: 90 out of 100.
  • Size: Anywhere from 500 sq. ft. to 1,400 sq. ft.
  • Year Built: 1964.
  • Assessed Value: $21,137,000
  • Property Taxes: $600,605.53 paid in full

How Milwaukee is it? At just a little over a mile walk to City Hall, it’s hip and trendy East Side Milwaukee.

About Gregory Thornton

Gregory E. Thornton came to Milwaukee in July 2010 from the Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania, his home state. He signed a two-year contract here, and he is still around, thanks to a renewal.  Thornton’s career is a peripatetic one, and it would probably make sense for the City to hire Manpower temporary workers for the job. Anyway, it makes sense that Thornton rents, since school district administrators come and go.

Maybe a reason Thornton rents is that he’s still in hock from his 1997 North Carolina bankruptcy case. Let’s hope that bit of unpleasantness has been settled. Prior to his stint in Chester Upland Schools, Thornton worked in the Montgomery County, Maryland schools. Montgomery County borders the District of Columbia; its 216,000 residents have the tenth-highest per capita income in the nation. Thornton also did work in the Philadelphia school system, burnishing his urban creds.

Thornton has made a point of bringing back more art and music instruction to MPS, so maybe students will get a chance to learn some of those jazz classics by Armstrong and Ellington. He’s also managed to get some support from the business community for the city’s schools, a considerable accomplishment in a city where business leaders have for years been more interested in supporting voucher schools.

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