Michael Horne
What’s It Worth?

Koeffler House A ‘Grand Old East Side Home’

The historic Koeffler House, saved by historic designation in the 80's, will become a boutique hotel.

By - Jul 26th, 2019 12:47 pm
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Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House, 817-819 N. Marshall St. Photo by Dave Reid.

Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House, 817-819 N. Marshall St. Photo by Dave Reid.

On December 6th, 1985 an application for a “Permit to demolish building” was filed by Northwestern Lumber & Wrecking Co. to raze this fine double mansion at 817-19 N. Marshall St. The building was owned, then and now, by Milwaukee real estate investor Royal Taxman through a holding company.

Grand old East Side homes such as this one which was named after its first owner, attorney Charles A. Koeffler, Jr., had for the most part long since been converted into rooming houses or what the City of Milwaukee calls “Mansions with commercial uses.” Both had been the case here.

By 1950, while still owned by the Koeffler family, it served as a rooming house. In 1957 the owner was cited for a violation by allowing residential use of the northwest corner of the basement, which is forbidden.

In June, 1972, with Taxman the owner of the property, the Ecumenical Institute took out an application to occupy the building as specialized housing. “Maximum occupancy of each side of building will be four family units or 20 ppl.”

This application was withdrawn, and in 1975 Taxman got approval to house six office suites on the building’s three floors. In 1977 an application by Roger Ullenberg to operate “Au Naturel Restaurant” was also withdrawn.

In 1979 Gordon Robertson of Talisman House Ltd. hoped to open a “Design gallery of contemporary furniture and design facility.” This, too was cancelled due to a lack of approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals, which controls commercial usages in residential districts such as this one.

With an aging building that was hard to fill with tenants, the solution for owners like Taxman was often to demolish the building and use the land for a surface parking lot.

An Interim Historic Designation

Within weeks of the application to demolish the building, it had received an interim historic designation, temporarily preventing further action. A Historic Designation Study Report was prepared by the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, which was organized in 1981 to preserve Milwaukee’s built heritage. Countless buildings had been demolished in the decade before, leading to the preservation ordinance.

The report noted the fate that this structure would face if not protected:

The Koeffler House is located in a nineteenth century residential area of substantial former single-family residences and early twentieth century apartment buildings on the eastern edge of the central business district. Many of the houses have been razed for parking lots or modern apartment buildings while the remaining ones have been converted to offices and apartments.

The designation was successful, and Taxman eventually located his own business to the building. Later it had been sporadically occupied by law offices and similar businesses.

To Become a Hotel

As my colleague Jeramey Jannene reported on July 9th, The Historic Preservation Commission has approved a plan to convert the mansion into a boutique hotel, ensuring that this Ferry & Clas masterpiece will not face the wrecking ball anytime soon, and that the building’s mechanical systems, roof, windows and other expensive items may be updated or replaced as needed, thus ensuring its continuance on the city’s tax rolls, where it is currently assessed at $719,900.

The property had been listed for sale with Ogden & Co. at $895,000. The price had been reduced to $695,000, and is to be sold “As Is.” The real estate sign on the property says it is “Under Contract” at this time. (See the Real Estate Flyer here.)

Childhood Home of a Future Ambassador

The 1920 City Directory shows this building, then with an address of 485-Marshall St., as the residence of Moses L. Annenberg, his wife and eight children — seven daughters, and son Walter, who was born on Friday March 13th, 1908 on Van Buren St., approximately where the Pick ‘N Save fish counter is today.

Moses Annenberg had moved to Milwaukee early in the century, expanding his Chicago newspaper distribution business to Milwaukee. This was back in the days of the “newsies,” when paper sales route boundaries were established by fistfights.

After a couple of years in the home, Annenberg, whose Milwaukee real estate investments included the Oriental Theater, moved his family to New York where he went to work with William Randolph Hearst, eventually buying a number of newspapers himself. In Milwaukee he owned the Evening Wisconsin News. The senior Annenberg also eventually controlled racing newspapers, and a telecommunications system linking his publications to the racetracks. These lines conveniently also expedited gambling, and Annenberg took his share. In 1940 he was sentenced to federal prison in the largest pre-Capone tax evasion case. He died two years later, leaving his only son in control of the business.

His son Walter eventually bought the Philadelphia Inquirer, and made an additional fortune owning TV Guide. The Milwaukee native was named Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London by Richard Nixon, and he continued to serve during the Ford administration. Sunnylands, his 220-acre  California home, is a resort much frequented by presidents, and is known as the Western Camp David by some. Walter Annenberg, most likely the wealthiest person ever born here, died in Pennsylvania in 2002.

The Rundown

  • Name of Property: Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House. Proposed to be known as Koeffler Inn
  • Address: 817-19 N. Marshall St.
  • Assessed Valuation: The 9,000 square foot lot is assessed at $450,000 ($50.00/s.f.) and the 11,371 square foot improvements are valued at $269,900 for a total assessed valuation of $719,900. 2008 Valuation: Land — $225,000; Building — $804,000; Total — $1,029,000
  • Taxes: 2018: $19,112.26 Paid In Full
  • Owner: C. J.Taxman Interests LLC. The Taxman family has owned the building since at least 1972
  • Type: English Renaissance Revival
  • Architect: Ferry & Clas
  • Year Built: 1898
  • Neighborhood: Juneau Town
  • Aldermanic District: 4th, Robert Bauman
  • Walk Score: 94 out of 100 “Walker’s Paradise” Daily errands do not require a car
  • Transit Score: 63 out of 100 “Good Transit” Many available transportation options.
  • Bike Score: 81 out of 100 “Very Bikeable”
  • 1894 Sanborn Map Sheet #020
  • 1910 Sanborn Map Sheet #033
  • Historic District Study Report
  • Biography of Moses L. Annenberg

How Milwaukee is it? It is one-half mile due east of Milwaukee City Hall.

Charles A. Koeffler, Jr. House

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