Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Historic Designation Could Halt Demolition of Forest Home Library

City poised to sell building to developer, who would develop office building in its place.

By - Oct 15th, 2020 05:09 pm
Forest Home Library. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

Forest Home Library. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

The Historic Preservation Commission finds itself poised to debate the historic merits of a city-owned, mid-century modern building.

An application to historically designate the former Forest Home Library, 1432 W. Forest Home Ave., has been filed by Kelsey Kuehn and Eric Vogel, an educator and architectural historian, both of Vogel Design Group.

“It’s probably the most significant modernist library in the state of Wisconsin built in the 20th century,” Vogel said in an interview. “These important mid-century buildings are now more than 50 years and it’s time we preserve them.” He said its preservation would complement the 19th century buildings preserved on W. Historic Mitchell, located a block to the north.

The library, which closed in 2017 when the city opened a new library at 906 W. Historic Mitchell St., is poised to be sold by the city and demolished. ICAP Development would acquire the property and develop a $5 million, 18,000-square-foot medical office building for an office tenant.

“The interior architecture is emblematic of the mid-century period and features an open floor plan with exposed post and beam lattice construction that casts striking light conditions across the space,” wrote the applicants in their submission.

The application could trigger the unusual, but not unprecedented situation where a city department must publicly argue with another over the historic merits of a city-owned building.

The 14,500-square-foot building was completed in 1966. It was recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Wisconsin chapter and the Institute of Steel Construction in 1967. “The history of the architectural applications of Corten steel reveals that the Forest Home Library is far more distinct and important than it might first appear,” wrote the applicants. The building was designed by the architecture firm of von Grossman, Burroughs & Van Lanen.

Kuehn said she hopes it spurs debate that leads to the building’s preservation. “This process will open a forum for community dialog,” she told Urban Milwaukee.

The applicants applied for both temporary and permanent historic designation, the former of which requires a lower standard to be granted and serves effectively as a 180-day restraining order so permanent designation can be considered. The Common Council can overrule a decision of the commission, as it did last year with the Marcus Center.

Immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera was poised to buy and rehabilitate the building in 2018, even securing Common Council approval, but the organization found another building on W. Historic Mitchell St. that is being redeveloped into its home.

The one-story library building occupies a trapezoidal site bordered by S. 15th St. and W. Forest Home Ave. A parking lot is included on the north portion of the property.

The property is one of the first midcentury buildings the commission has considered for historic designation.


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5 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Historic Designation Could Halt Demolition of Forest Home Library”

  1. RadioWires says:

    christ. if people want it saved they can buy it.

  2. Johnstanbul says:

    Fantastic news – it’s a gorgeous building.

  3. Don Lobacz says:

    I wonder if a building like that can be moved without destroying it?

  4. Thomas Gaudynski says:

    The building is great. It was my neighborhood library during the 1980s when I lived four blocks away. At the time it held the library system’s largest collection of Polish and translated Polish books in the city (think the time of Solidarity). Just a block way from where the street car bends the corner. I drove past it two days ago, and it is now the only architecturally interesting building in a neighborhood filled with dilapidated buildings from the time of my grandparents and parents––now covered with hand-painted signs for nail services and cell phones. Even if saved, it would be a reverse eyesore in a neighborhood that could use some revitalization to come back up to its standard, or a new one.

    I think it sports similar Conrad Schmidt stained glass windows like those the old East library contained, now re-integrated into its new home. It was the first building I ever saw with the intentionally oxidized exposed metal beams.

  5. Chris Rute says:

    An excellent opportunity for an adaptive reuse.

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