Michael Horne
House Confidential

The Hotel Shepard

The historic east side mansion charges $499 a night for two-day rentals and sleeps up to 20 people. Neighbors for some reason are irate.

By - Sep 6th, 2013 01:38 pm
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Hotel Shepard

Hotel Shepard

This 6,300 square foot 1906 mansion has been much in the news ever since Jason Hernandez, the son of its listed owner, advertised it on a vacation rental site, charging $499 a night for a two-night minimum stay.

The city issued orders in July forbidding Hernandez from doing so, but his attorney has succeeded in getting a stay on the order pending an appearance at the Board of Zoning Appeals October 10th 2013.

Meanwhile, a “For Sale” sign has been erected on the property, which was bought on May 30th 2013 for $575,000 by Luis Hernandez, who purchased the place from longtime owners Michael and Joanne Barndt. The asking price is $799,000. If Hernandez and son sell the place for that price by the end of this month, their profit would be $1,800 per day, which makes their rental rates seem cheap.

On a recent garbage day on this block of mansions, a full trash can sat outside the empty Hernandez home, loaded with empty bottles and ice bags. There was a full house for the Harley-Davidson weekend, it would appear.

How full could this house get? Up to 20 could sleep there, it was advertised, in the 7 bedrooms and other spaces in the 12-room mansion. You could get cozy in the basement rec room, or giddy in the children’s playhouse above the garage. You could grab beer after beer from the fully remodeled 1988 kitchen. You could really get the neighbors angry.

Where’s the beef? Jason Hernandez cites his property rights as a reason why he, like thousands of others across the country, choose to rent out their properties for extremely short durations.

Well, says the City of Milwaukee, that is the definition of a hotel, and hotels are forbidden in the exclusive Historic Water Tower Neighborhood.

The Historic Water Tower Neighborhood organization was founded in 1973 to protect the largest grouping of historic homes in the state of Wisconsin, and at its regular monthly meeting held on the first Wednesday of September, members told Ald. Nik Kovac and Department of Neighborhood Services Commissioner Art Dahlberg of their opposition to the operation of this vacation rental.

Dahlberg and Kovac said they would work to see the home owners conform to the law, but for now, there is not much they can do pending the BOZA meeting in October.

On a sunny afternoon, neighbors Jim Cope and Russell Wasserman discussed the home as they visited at Cope’s home across the street. “I was the one who coined the term, ‘Hotel Shepard,’” Wasserman said. “You know that movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’? This is a mansion too far.”

Wasserman was referring to another Hernandez rental property not far away on E. Newberry Boulevard. “They rented that out for a year and a half, and nobody said anything.” But this is different.

Cope said his wife, Mary Louise Mussoline, the Executive Director of WYMS 88.9 FM, was particularly upset about what she was seeing transpire across the street. A television crew interviewed her at her home, after taking many photos of beer cans and other debris at the site.

Although the issue has received little sympathy from newspaper commenters, there are large topics involved here, including the power of municipalities to regulate the use of properties in their jurisdictions. Just how far can the city go in directing the use of private property?

On the other hand, the city has dealt with mansion problems for decades, particularly in this largely intact area of historic, upper-class houses and mansions. For years, assessors and building inspectors have pursued complaints about old mansions being used as flophouses, rooming houses, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

The goal is to keep the east side neighborhood as largely single-family homeowner occupied as possible.

The West Side of Milwaukee also had large mansions, but lacked a neighborhood group to preserve them from non-mansion use. Only time, and a new generation of owners has done so. The early mansions of N. Prospect Avenue might have been doomed anyway by the street’s proximity to the lake, and its desirability for high-rises, but its decline in the postwar years was exacerbated by the many mansions that were converted, legally and illegally, to rooming house use. Unlike those neighborhoods, though, this one is largely intact, still highly desirable, and has an active neighborhood association. We’ll see how this turns out.

The home was built in 1906 for Louis Heilbronner at a cost of $9,000. It has 2,522 square feet of living area on the first floor, with 2,966 sq. ft. on the second floor and another 496 sq. ft. of finished space in the attic, with room for 740 sq. ft. more.

It has 5 full baths and one half-bath, and 7 bedrooms. There are three natural wood burning fireplaces, including a marble one in the first floor library. There are 12 rooms in all. The brick veneer structure was designed by architect William H. Schuchardt. In 1919, a $2,500 garage was added to the building, a harbinger of the coming automobile age. By 1937 the home was owned by Edwin A. Gallun, a tanner, who hired Richard Philipp to design a $10,000 addition including a dining room and a playroom addition over the garage. Work began on June 9, 1937.

“Stop Job until matter is settled” ordered the city inspector on June 21st, 1937. Violations included exceeded building area, no rear yard, 25’ required north side.” The rear yard depth should have been 25 feet in depth, the building inspector noted, “whereas a rear yard of 1 feet 6 inches in depth is provided.”

This brought the matter to BOZA’s predecessor, the State of Wisconsin Board of Appeals for Milwaukee County, which ruled on July 3rd, 1937 that “the case particularly lends itself to a variance of the rigid requirement of the Ordinance. It is for this reason that the decision of the Building Inspector is overruled and the Building Inspector is directed to grant the permit hitherto requested.”

Time will tell if BOZA will be as accommodating as its predecessor.

The Rundown

  • Style: English Style 2.0 story Mansion
  • Location: City of Milwaukee
  • Neighborhood: Historic Water Tower Neighborhood.
  • Subdivision: Prospect Hill
  • Walk Score: 82 out of 100. “Very Walkable” Most errands can be accomplished on foot. .
  • Public Transit Score: 57 out of 100. “Good Transit”
  • Size: 6,300 square feet.
  • Year Built: 1906, with 1937 addition to rear.
  • Assessed Value: Land — $100,900; Improvements — $521,500 Total — $622,400
  • Taxes: $18,918.13, paid in full.

How Milwaukee Is It? The BOZA meeting at City Hall is 3 miles away by foot.

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