Michael Horne
House Confidential

Nik Kovac’s Very Modest Rental Flat

It's a small flat in a modest little cottage, but, hey, the landscaping is nice.

By - Jul 26th, 2013 02:19 pm
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Nik Kovac's Riverwest Rental

Nik Kovac’s Riverwest Rental

The lands east of N. Humboldt Boulevard are among the most fragmented and disconnected in the city, filled with dead ends and culs de sac, wedged between the street and the former Beer Line, now a bike trail.

Ald. Nik Kovac, who has represented the 3rd Aldermanic District in the Milwaukee Common Council since 2008, lives in the area, where E. Center St. loses its dignity as a thoroughfare and exists merely as a (barely) paved alley.

His home is a 1,558-square foot rented duplex built in 1885 and sited on an ample 67 x 90 ft. lot. Efforts at landscaping are evident throughout, befitting the principles of the alderman whose work has brought us backyard chickens and beehives. Those two elements are missing from the landscape, but the yard includes an apple tree, a peach tree laden with fruit, a trumpet vine that boldly announces its glory and a raspberry patch along the southern property line that was nearly picked bare by the end of House Confidential’s visit to the adjoining parking lot.

A thoughtful soul has placed little solar lights on a boxelder tree to light the way down to the bike trail, another civic improvement championed by the alderman. If the lights happen to kill the boxelder, than we all will benefit.

According to city records, the pile that the alderman occupies was constructed in 1885, in an era when building permits were unknown. A century ago, the alderman’s windows would have beheld the sight of the giant Phenix Manufacturing Company plant, where doors and window screens were manufactured for the growing community right there in Cywinski’s Subdivision. A wagon, buggy and machinery shed occupied a lot to the south, while to the east of the railroad tracks was the Wisconsin Ice and Cartage Ice House, one of many such structures that lined the shores of the Milwaukee River upstream from the dam in the era before mechanical refrigeration.

The home has had a number of owners over the years; some of them lived in the 892 sq. ft. first floor and rented out the 666 sq. ft. half-story attic. (Alas, we were unable to determine which floor Kovac occupies, but we like to imagine him holed up in that modest attic, a true man of the people.)

Back in 1966 F. Sheldon sold it to Hinske and Golembiewski for $8,000. That pair sold it to Barney Blicharz in 1971 for $10,900. In 1990 Josephine Hardat sold the property to David L. Markardt who liquidated his holdings in 2005 when he sold the property for $140,000 to the current owner, Matthew Laborde, who lives in the adjoining property.

That sale got the attention of the assessor, who filled out an “Assessor’s Office Sales Questionnaire” about the transaction.

The house was “never on the market.” The sale price was “Too High.” Why? “Street Condition,” “No Appraisal,” “Cash Financing.” Valid Sale? “No.”

At the time the lower unit rented for $600 while the attic commanded $575 per month.

The “Poor Condition” of the home was noted as far back as 1970. An assessor’s note read “deduct 10% for lack of quality construction and location.”

Even at the height of the market, in 2006, the home commanded an assessment of no more than $130,700. Today the land is valued at $28,800 and the improvements at $77,900 for a total of $106,700.

The harsh financial lens of the assessor, however, obscures the finer details of this pleasant little cottage on a hidden lane. No home thus far visited by House Confidential is more comfortably situated on its site, alley frontage notwithstanding, and none is as appropriately landscaped (with the exception of the spruce trees in front, which demand to be pruned or else). The home, like much of the Riverwest neighborhood itself, is one of Milwaukee’s hidden gems.


  • Style: 1.5 Story Duplex Old Style
  • Neighborhood: Riverwest, the 13th most walkable neighborhood in Milwaukee
  • Walk Score: 82 out of 100 “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.” The Rio West Cantina is just across the alley and six doors north on N. Humboldt Blvd.
  • Street Smart Walk Score: also 82 out of 100, giving Kovac bragging rights over his two colleagues, Aldermen Bob Bauman and Bob Donovan, as the two Bobs have homes with slightly lower Street Smart scores.
  • Transit Score 55 out of 100 “Good Transit”
  • Size: 892 square feet lower unit, 666 square feet half-story attic
  • Year Built: 1885
  • Assessed Value: $106,700
  • Property Taxes: $3,003.10, paid in full

How Milwaukee is It? The Kovac residence is 2.26 miles from City Hall, or about 13 minutes on the aldermanic bicycle, which will be getting a workout this weekend for the Riverwest 24 Hour Bicycle Race.

About Nik Kovac

Nik Kovac entered the race for alderman in 2007 when the office had a seemingly entrenched incumbent in the person of Michael D’Amato. D’Amato elected to not run for re-election, throwing the race wide open. His assistant, Sam McGovern-Rowen, was his heir apparent, but he did not survive the primary. In the end, Nik Kovac prevailed over openly gay candidate Pat Flaherty by 71 votes. In 2012, he ran unopposed.

Kovac, an East Side native, has a degree in mathematics from Harvard University and knocked around doing some community activism and writing, including for the Shepherd Express, before taking his seat.

He strongly identifies with his Riverwest neighborhood, and hosts a weekly show called “Packerverse” on Riverwest Radio, broadcast from a Center Street storefront just down the block from his home.

The alderman’s neighborhood is certainly on the rebound these days. Where once you’d be hard pressed to find a decent bite to eat there, the area has blossomed with restaurants and filled with taverns (although the latter were never in short supply).

The City of Milwaukee Team Celebrates at the Finish Line. Andy Tillman, City Engineer Jeff Polenske, Ald. Nik Kovac, Michael Loughran, Patrick Hartmann, and Matt Howard (not pictured) rode for "The City of Milwaukee" Team. Photo by Grace Fuhr.

The City of Milwaukee Team Celebrates at the Finish Line. Andy Tillman, City Engineer Jeff Polenske, Ald. Nik Kovac, Michael Loughran, Patrick Hartmann, and Matt Howard (not pictured) rode for “The City of Milwaukee” Team. Photo by Grace Fuhr.

The neighborhood is also home to the Riverwest 24 Hour Bicycle Race, which kicks off this evening, Friday, July 26th at 7 p.m., with the alderman leading the charge. Perhaps no neighborhood in the country hosts such a transformative, spontaneous, community-based event. This is in some measure due to the alderman’s support on such matters as permits and street closures.

Last evening, Thursday, July 25th, 2013, Kovac held a birthday fundraising event at the Hi Hat Garage in the Brady Street neighborhood, which he also represents.

Attendees included Hi Hat owner Leslie Montemurro, whose Fuel Cafe on E. Center St. kicked off the Riverwest resurgence 20 years ago, when coffee shops were unknown here. Kovac’s colleague Ald. Jose Perez also hung out, and both were later joined by their boss, council president Willie Hines. Thea Kovac, the alderman’s mom, was there, having previously declared her support for his candidacy. Others in attendance included Rep. Evan Goyke, Lafayette Crump, Wallace White, Judge Chuck Kahn and his wife, Patti Keating Kahn, owner of the Colby Abbot Building, the headquarters of Urban Milwaukee. Judge Kahn took pains to note that, since alderman is a non-partisan office, there was nothing unseemly about his presence at this political event. Milwaukee’s 15th Commissioner of Public Works, Ghassan Korban, said that in his two years on the job the city’s replacement rate for streets has dropped from a frightening 130-year cycle to a more manageable 51 or so years, with further improvements to come.

In remarks to the crowd, gathered in the beer garden of Hi Hat, Kovac outlined three concerns — employment, housing and education. “None of them are looking good right now,” he said. Mentioning Milwaukee’s status as a minority-majority community, he said, “if there is a crisis for the African American community, there is a crisis for everyone.”

Kovac said he has conducted a survey of residents on “how to get the middle class back in public schools,” which he strongly supports, being a product of MPS himself.

He also said we need a policy to “get people back in the 1,000 city-owned houses. … People are spending too much on rent. They could lower their monthly bill by owning these houses.”

But for now, he’s comfortable renting a little cottage on a dead end alley in Riverwest.

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Categories: House Confidential

2 thoughts on “House Confidential: Nik Kovac’s Very Modest Rental Flat”

  1. John says:

    So not only are you peeping, but you stole his fruit too? Creepy does not even begin to describe this series.

  2. Edith Wagner says:

    Thanks for treating Riverwest so kindly. Quirky as it is, we love it here!

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