Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

1860s Home Isn’t Historic Says Commission

Historic commission's surprising vote rejects historic designation, inches Bucks guard's project closer to reality.

By - Nov 12th, 2019 10:17 am
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1245-1247 N. Milwaukee St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1245-1247 N. Milwaukee St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton proposal to demolish a downtown duplex received approval by the Historic Preservation Commission.

After spending over an hour Monday afternoon debating the merits of the home during a special meeting, the commission rejected a temporary historic designation for the 155-year-old duplex at 1245-1247 N. Milwaukee St. on a 3-1 vote.

Connaughton, through his development firm Beach House, plans to demolish the duplex and construct a three-story, three-unit apartment building on the site.

The 26-year-old Bucks guard, who has been with the team since the start of the 2018-19 season, acquired the property in March for $325,000 according to city records. His firm had applied for a raze permit for the property on October 8th.

But two weeks ago, preservation advocate Dawn McCarthy applied for historic protection for the building. The commission was scheduled to review a temporary historic designation Monday that would last no more than 180 days and serve as a precursor to a hearing on permanent designation of the property. After the commission’s rejection, McCarthy still retains the right to appeal the decision to the Common Council for a period of five days.

Commission staffer Carlen Hatala detailed the building’s history as compiled from city directories, fire insurance maps and newspaper archives. “This house has revealed the evolution, transition and development of a block that is a microcosm of Downtown itself,” said Hatala after showing a series of photos depicting the neighborhood changing from residential side street to downtown thoroughfare. It sits between a large swath of East Town that was demolished with federal urban renewal funds and redeveloped into Juneau Village Towers and the former Park East Freeway corridor.

Records indicate someone was living in the house as early as 1865, with the home being converted to a duplex in 1918. The building’s various owners lived on the property until World War II. The two most notable residents, according to Hatala, were Dr. John E. Garner, “a prominent member of the medical profession in Milwaukee” who was later murdered, and architect Theo F. Schutz. “He is not the household name of Alexander Eschweiler or Ferry & Clas, but our commission has recognized many other architects for their contributions,” said Hatala.

The historic preservation specialist said their contributions and the house’s exemplification of the former neighborhood warranted a temporary designation to allow further study. She prepared an initial 22-page report outlining her findings.

Hatala’s remarks were backed by Craig Wiroll, executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. “This designation will give the public the opportunity to know about the potential loss of a building that could prove important for Milwaukee’s history,” said Wiroll. “This temporary designation also provides more time to make sure we’re making the right decision.” He said his board, on which McCarthy serves, had voted to back the historic designation.

But historic research consultant John Vogel said property doesn’t rise to the standard of designation. “It becomes historically interesting, but not significant,” said Vogel. He said Garner would possibly stand in front of the house and not recognize it, while Hatala’s claim that Schutz is a significant architect “strikes me as a tiny bit of a stretch.”

Attorney Bruce Block, who pointed out he hadn’t been retained by Beach House and was appearing because of a mutual friend, said the stories are interesting and Hatala does admirable research, but the building did not rise to the level of designation. “This is really a slap dash property,” said Block. He said Schutz’s time as the city’s building inspector didn’t rise to the level of a meaningfully impactful civil service, nor did Garner’s time as a doctor. “Combining them does not make them any stronger,” said Block.

Len Connaughton, the athlete’s father and a partner at Beach House, said the building’s foundation also limits its ability to be preserved. “It’s rubble,” said Connaughton, who said the building has been vacant for three years. “I feel the building’s been cannibalized significantly,” said Connaughton.

Having heard both sides of the case, Commissioner Patti Keating Kahn moved to approve the historic designation. “My conscience says that as an HPC member our job is to protect these kinds of buildings,” said the downtown building owner. “As with what happened with the Marcus Center, we will be overridden by the Common Council.” The commission had designated the performing arts center as historic, but the Common Council, which is empowered to consider a broader set of factors than the historic commission, overruled the designation.

Keating Kahn didn’t find any support for her motion. “My gut is that this building does not rise to the level of significance to merit designation,” said Ann Pieper Eisenbrown. After Keating Kahn’s motion didn’t find a second, Pieper Eisenbrown moved to deny the designation request and found a second from Sally Peltz. Chair Marion Clendenen-Acosta voted with Pieper Eisenbrown with Keating Kahn voting in opposition.

If McCarthy does not appeal, Connaughton’s raze permit can be issued and he can proceed with his project without commission oversight.

The hearing’s outcome may have been impacted by the absence of two commissioners, UWM architecture professor Matt Jarosz and Alderman Robert Bauman. The two commissioners are two of the most vocal on the commission.

New Building Plans

Pat Connaughton told the commission he hopes to move into one of the units in the new building. He told the commission he won’t be constructing a large new building to be afraid of. “The goal was to have it done by the end of the season,” added the guard, who hopes to play in the NBA Finals in June.

The new building would have a variety of unit sizes, owing in part to the sloped site, placing a fourth floor below grade from N. Milwaukee St. Two apartments will span two floors, a 1,476-square-foot unit and 3,132-square-foot unit. A third apartment will have one bedroom and 840 square feet of space.

The athletic shooting guard spent the first three seasons of his career in Portland, where his firm recently completed a four-unit project.

He’s also working on projects in South Bend, Indiana where he attended college at Notre Dame. The family is from the Boston area.

The Milwaukee project is being designed by Nathan Remitz of Patera according to city records.

What happens to the house? “We’re going to deconstruct the building,” said Len. “We will repurpose anything that can be.”

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