Michael Horne
House Confidential Doors Open Edition

Historic Sanger House and Gardens

Labor of love brought this 1872 mansion back to life. Tour the property and its beautiful gardens during Doors Open.

By - Sep 22nd, 2017 06:24 pm
Historic Sanger House and Gardens. Photo by Michael Horne.

Historic Sanger House and Gardens. Photo by Michael Horne.

Doors Open Milwaukee is in its seventh iteration September 23rd-24th, and one of the few private homes on the tour is this 1872 Italianate mansion in Brewers Hill, which we feature in this special edition of House Confidential.

The Brewers Hill neighborhood is one of Milwaukee’s oldest, and it was among the first to suffer from decline and urban decay. However, luckily for the neighborhood and for this lovely home, Stephen J. Bialk was among the first of what is now a hearty band of rescuers of old buildings in this historic district.

Bialk bought the 1872 Casper Sanger house for $64,000 in 1985. The 4,105 square foot home sits on a very large 26,629 square foot lot. The vast size of the property was made possible by the loss of a number of adjoining buildings over the years, including a little shed that was in the front yard. Bialk and his wife, Angela Duckert, see to it that not a square inch of the grounds is neglected, and have named their place “Sangerhouse Gardens,” even endowing it with a Facebook page. You can spend the night in a little cottage on the property, which is rented as a Bed and Breakfast.

Sanger was in the window, blind and sash business, and served on the Common Council, in the State Assembly, and as Milwaukee County’s first Republican Sheriff, in 1876. But he only lived in the home for a year, according to records, selling it to a former mayor, Joseph Phillips, who lived there from 1873 until his death in 1906. The home remained in the Phillips family until 1911.

World War I was a momentous time for Milwaukee, with its large population of German-born residents, and a Teutonic-themed neighborhood was not particularly in vogue. Prohibition did little to help brewers or Brewers Hill, and by 1934 we find that the home was owned as a rooming house by John Aramian. It had ten rooms and two closets.

The inspector found it to be in “Poor Condition. Bad paint, Bad roof, settling floors, cracked plaster.” By then the porch, cornice and eaves had been removed, and these elements have not yet been restored.

In 1957 the place was still crowded, with two apartments on the front of the first floor, with a caretaker in the rear. They shared the toilet downstairs, but used the upstairs to bathe. There were three apartments upstairs, some with as many as two rooms. All of the fireplaces were blocked up. It was assessed at $7,300. In 1963, R. Kupseniaks paid $6,000 for the place, selling it in 1975 to Ron Radke for $8,200.

By 1981 the inspector found that the “building is being used as a church. Building is very rough.” Two years later a utilitarian brick storage building on the site was razed.

New Owners to Rescue

The home had been roughly treated by the 20th century by the time Bialk purchased the place in 1985. He is one of a legion of such folks who tackle difficult buildings in a never-ending labor of love. To be effective in building restoration, which is not a given, requires a concomitant love of labor, and in this respect Bialk’s efforts have been exceedingly noteworthy. He went straight to work, and has never stopped.

His efforts attracted the attention of the assessor. In December, 1985, after Bialk had been in the house for nine months, he bought a vacant lot and combined it with this parcel. “House is currently vacant and in the process of rehabbing,” the assessor noted. “Basement still leaks. Ext. needs tuckpointing and porches rebuilt. 5 fireplaces are functional. Bath (250 s.f.) consists of 6 fixtures. … Ultra-modern bath consists of two rooms. 1 room has 2 pedestal lavs., 1 w.c., 1 bidet. Other room oversized tub on a raised platform.”

This all sounds fine and dandy, but just leave it to the assessor to look at the dark side:

“The remodeled bath and functional fireplaces are offset by the disrepair and unfinished state of the house.”

Fortunately, Bialk continued plugging away, and when the assessor dropped by in 1991, his concerns were allayed:

“Entire dwelling rehab’d. Only minor details remain.”

Just ask Bialk if a dwelling from 1874 is ever entirely rehab’d. Perhaps as you visit during Doors Open, he and Duckert might even hint at the minor details that will always remain when a historic home is one’s lifetime passion. For information on touring the property during Doors Open click here. Sangerhouse Gardens is located at 1823 N. Palmer St.

The Rundown

  • Owner: Stephen J. Bialk, Angela Duckert
  • Location: City of Milwaukee
  • Neighborhood: Brewers Hill
  • Subdivision: Sherman’s Addition
  • Year Built: 1872
  • Architect: None Found
  • Style: Italianate
  • Size: 4,105 Square Feet Living Area; Lot size: 26,629 square feet
  • Fireplaces: 5
  • Bedrooms: 3
  • Bathrooms: 2 Full, 1 Half
  • Rec Room: No, but there is 1,768 square feet of unfinished basement space. The property also contains a 2,174 square foot garage dating to 1922, and an additional 21 ft. by 31 ft. playhouse built in 1994, which is rented out overnight.
  • Assessment: Land: 26,629 square foot lot is valued at $70,100 ($2.63/sq. ft.). Improvements: $323,600. Total assessed valuation: $393,700. Owner purchased property 03/01/1985 for $64,000
  • Taxes: $11,759.43. Paid in Full
  • Garbage Collection Route and Schedule: CG1-4C; Wednesday, “Yellow”
  • Polling Location: Carver Academy of Math and Science School, 1900 N. 1st St.
  • Aldermanic District: 6th, Mileli Coggs
  • County Supervisory District: District 13th, Willie Johnson, Jr.
  • Walk Score: 75 out of 100. Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot, but it will be a far hillier hike than the usual for Milwaukee. City Average: 62 out of 100.
  • Transit Score: 61 out of 100. “Good Transit” Many nearby public transportation options. City average: 49 out of 100.
  • Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory Record 45296
  • Facebook Page: Sangerhouse Gardens
  • Carriage House for Rent Overnight

Video of Garden

How Milwaukee Is It?

The residence lies less than a mile directly north of City Hall. However, due to the river, the walk is a little more than that.


2 thoughts on “House Confidential Doors Open Edition: Historic Sanger House and Gardens”

  1. Gary says:

    Anyone researching earlier and later generations of the Milwaukee Sänger family (& the Jos. Phillips family) will want to consider Milwaukee’s German language newspapers for family photos, wedding anniversary clippings, political campaign photos, family paid death notices, obituaries, etc. But use caution: spelling variations include Sanger Sänger Saenger … even Philips & Philipps.

    “Milwaukee’s German Newspapers; an index of death notices and related items”. Covering 1844-1950+, compiled and edited since 2007 by Gary R. Rebholz.
    Outdated copy – https://encore.mcfls.org/iii/encore/record/C__Rb3327521

  2. Kathy Sahagian says:

    Dreams from Brewers Hill

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