Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Forest Home Library Not Historic, Clinic Approved

Council clears way to demolish old library, build new Children's Hospital southside clinic.

By - Dec 16th, 2020 01:13 pm
Forest Home Library. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

Forest Home Library. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

The Common Council dealt a final blow Tuesday to any hopes of preserving the former Forest Home Library. It rejected a historic designation and approved selling the property to a developer who is proposing to demolish the building.

The Milwaukee Public Library system is proposing to sell the property to ICAP Development for $450,000, which would demolish the 14,500-square-foot structure and build a $5 million, 18,000-square-foot clinic for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Designed by Fritz von Grossmann, the one-story building, 1432 W. Forest Home Ave., was completed in 1966. Advocates of its preservation say the library is among the city’s best examples of the Mid-Century Modern style, well preserved and suited for reuse, while opponents say the building is energy inefficient and has outlived its useful life and that efforts to give it historic designation should have come earlier.

It’s the third time the Milwaukee Public Library has tried to sell the building since 2017 when it relocated the branch library to 906 W. Historic Mitchell St. Immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera was poised to buy and rehabilitate the building in 2018, but that project fell through, as did a second sale to HK Gill Properties.

ICAP responded to a request for proposals that called for the building to be reused, but that requirement was dropped by the Department of City Development and library after due diligence work on the building’s suitability for reuse. An ICAP representative said the building was more akin to a pavilion than a building and that a new building would be more energy efficient.

Alderman Nik Kovac was the lone council member to vote for the historic designation on Tuesday, but the council did not debate the designation or sale. It rejected the nomination and approved the sale as part of a bulk approval of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee’s December 8th actions. Ald. Robert Bauman, the council’s representative on the Historic Preservation Commission, voted for the designation when it was before the commission and committee, but did not move to support the designation Tuesday.

“I just want to mention this decision took some reflection on my part to support,” said area alderman and zoning committee chair Jose G. Perez on December 8th. “The library has been vacant for several years and did not receive the attention it is receiving now.” Perez said he welcomed advocates, who proposed a variety of new community-focused uses, bringing those ideas to other properties in his southside district.

When it was before the zoning committee, Historic Preservation Commission staffer Carlen Hatala endorsed the building’s designation. In a response to a question from Perez, she said the staff had not considered its designation before. “I guess as staff, we thought ‘good, the building will be preserved based on the listing’,” said Hatala.

At various points in the two-month debate, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Bauman and Commissioner Sally Peltz pushed the commission staff to proactively work with DCD to make sure city properties were reviewed for designation before going up for sale. Hatala and DCD representative Dave Misky pledged to do so.

The library was recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Wisconsin chapter and the Institute of Steel Construction in 1967. It was used in an advertisement for Cor-Ten steel. Von Grossmann, who practiced in the partnership of von Grossmann, Burroughs & Van Lanen, designed a handful of buildings in the Mid-Century Modern style in the Milwaukee area and also created the signature Kohl’s grocery store arch design.

Hatala said the library building satisfies four of the city’s criteria for designation: serving as an example of the city’s cultural history; a leading example of its architectural style; being designed by a master architect or builder; and innovation, for its use of Cor-Ten steel. The last point is being invoked for the first time.

Eric Vogel, an educator and architectural historian, and Kelsey Kuehn nominated the library for historic designation in October. Both work for Vogel’s firm Vogel Design Group and joined the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and others in a Save Forest Home Library campaign that reportedly raised $500,000 for a potential redevelopment and identified other nearby sites for the new clinic.

“We are not here to point out the faults of other projects,” said Vogel last week “We are not against the idea of a new health clinic. Far from it.” He said an online petition has collected over 500 signatures in one week.

The library opposed the designation.

Groth Design Group is to design the new clinic.


One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Forest Home Library Not Historic, Clinic Approved”

  1. Steven Midthun says:

    Why would the library oppose the designation if they were to receive the amount they desired for the initial sale?

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