The House That Launched Riverwest 24
Jeramey Prach founded the 24-hour bike race and his modest, 19th century home, now greatly expanded, is the race's start and finish line.
“There is no way a few people talking about a bike race in their back yards could have come up with something like this. A whole neighborhood made this.” — Jeremy Prach, founder of the Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race, speaking in 2009, the community event’s second year.
The Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race was founded in 2008 by neighbors who wanted to show off their community and to enhance its public reputation. Sure, Riverwest already had its Neighborhood Watch program, its “Keep Your Lights On at Night” and “Sit Outside on Your Porch” events, but these were reactive and passive. Something new was needed to spread the word — something proactive, something really active, like bicycling around the neighborhood while the planet makes a full turn on its axis.
Jeremy Prach, a Special Education teacher at Riverside University High School and Riverwest homeowner since 1994, took the lead. He wanted to ensure that the event was legit, so he first got the approvals of the Police, the Mayor, and the newly installed 3rd District Alderman, Nik Kovac. All were enthusiastic. “Through this exercise in stamina, team work and merriment we hope to build an event that all people in Milwaukee and beyond can enjoy by participating in, volunteering for or by cheering on the riders,” Prach wrote. All were welcome.
Prach paid for the permits and the Porta Potties out of his own pocket. With this much time, energy and cold hard cash invested, is it any wonder that the race’s START/FINISH line, as it is so labeled in a giant sign, is right outside Prach’s front door? And so, every year at the end of July, the otherwise unremarkable 2600 block of N. Pierce St. in Riverwest is suffused with energy, action and coursing humanity for 24 hours straight, while this residence takes on a stature far greater than its modest appearance would tend to suggest.
The RW24, as it is known, is all about community, and has very ably resisted commercialization and other corrupting influences. Residents need not fear that Lance Armstrong might make an unexpected visit to the event. Everything is chill, and the event is a boon for the local shopkeepers, and tests the limits for available sofa spaces in the neighborhood. Tents spring up in the area’s small yards, and there never seems to be a grill or beer cooler more than a couple of pedal strokes away.
The RW24, now in its eighth running, has succeeded in becoming the sort of event that is talked about all year long, and truly is a defining characteristic of the place. Folks who have only moved here since after the last race, have heard about it, and now they will get to see it for themselves. This is not a small demographic, by the way. The kids are moving to Riverwest from all over. And, you don’t just show up on race day. To be in the race you must appear, with your $24 registration fee in hand, at the Riverwest Public House at 3 p.m. on May 1st — some eleven weeks before the race. To do that, you have to spend the night in the adjacent park with hundreds of others waiting their turn.
The neighborhood itself is a most curious artifact. Its virtually perfect grid is broken only by a northwest-running diagonal that had once been the “Beerline” rail corridor. A portion of that is being constructed as a Creative Placemaking project for the Riverwest-Harambee Artery Bike Trail at this time. But otherwise, Riverwest is blocks and blocks of almost entirely intact late 19th and early 20th century working class housing, like the home of Prach. The neighborhood was largely unscathed by urban renewal, civil unrest (the 1967 riot and arsons came close, though), and especially highway widening. (E. Locust St., the commercial hub of Riverwest, was saved by neighborhood activists in the mid 1970’s, while W. Walnut St., the home of Bronzeville, was destroyed by a comparable plan.)
The course of the race is to take riders throughout the Riverwest Rectangle, with a number of required stops that may be approached in any order. After each round has been done, the riders must fly past the Prach residence to get their manifests marked. There are any number of bonus stops along the way, where riders are encouraged to interact with the community. Step up for a bad haircut, and you can save yourself a few laps. Get a RW24 tattoo, and you can even take a nap for awhile.
The Prach residence is described by the city as a “2.0 Story Cottage,” although the assessor has suggested it might be upgraded to non-cottage status due to the considerable work Prach has put into the place since he bought it for $15,000 in 1994. (He paid ten times that amount for the duplex to the north some years later.)
The home has a full 600 square foot basement, and two 600 square foot floors above that, along with a 300 square foot attic. Only a close examination of the building’s gables shows evidence of the building’s old cottage days. The roof has been lifted on north and south. The interior was considerably altered and remodeled in a 2002 project that saw much of the home stripped to the studs, its floor plan revised, and mechanical systems upgraded. The work included an open loft space. A further addition in 2012, for $15,000, is apparently still underway, as there are open permits. It consists of a small two-story addition to the rear of the home. An old stable was eventually razed and replaced by a 22.5 x 24 foot garage with loft. The home, with its four bedrooms and full bath, shows on a map from 1894, when it then had the address of 1020 Pierce St.
It sits on a 30 foot by 120 foot lot, while the property to the north, now owned by Prach, sits on a double, 60 foot wide lot. Although you might expect that there once was a home between the two residences, such apparently is not the case, so this place has always had a nice clear view to the north, comparatively speaking. The “vacant” lot today has a home of a sort — a treehouse for the neighborhood kids. And, considering the spirit of Riverwest, probably for the neighborhood adults as well.
2014 Riverwest 24 Gallery
- Owner: Jeremy C. Prach
- Location: City of Milwaukee
- Neighborhood: Riverwest
- Subdivision: Franke’s Subdivision
- Year Built: Shows on 1894 map as cottage. Much expanded, and somewhat Polish-flatted, with an early underpinning of building. Once had tub in basement. Since expanded, up and out, with additions in 2002 and 2012. A work in progress, as is its neighborhood.
- Style: 19th century Milwaukee frame vernacular cottage .
- Size: 1,500 square feet does not include garage loft of treehouse.
- Fireplaces: No.
- Rec Room: Not found.
- Assessment: Land: $25,200 [Lot size 3,600 s.f. = $7/s.f.]. Improvements: $107,800. Total: $133,000
- Taxes: $3,509.15, paid on the installment plan.
- Walk Score: 78 out of 100. “Very Walkable”. There has been a considerable increase in retail options in the many storefronts in the neighborhood since the RW24 began in 2008. The score will only get better.
- Transit Score: 53 out of 100. “Good Transit”.
How Milwaukee Is It? The residence is 2.19 miles from Milwaukee City Hall.