Historic Commission Says Bay View Cottages Are Historic
But Common Council will grant final decision.
But the Common Council has final say on whether the homes are protected.
She reiterated her 2020 call for improvements to the historic preservation designation process and said she is calling for a historic assessment of the area as part of the development of a new Bay View land-use plan.
“The story of these cottages is the story of the Milwaukee Iron Company,” said commission staffer Tim Askin in presenting a report on the puddler’s cottages that line the east side of the 2500 block of S. Superior St.
The company, which produced rails for railroads and other iron products, built the houses as part of developing housing for its workforce.
“The Bay View plant became the second-largest in the country and the largest employer in the county,” said Askin.
But today the puddler’s cottages, a reference to the job title of the ironworkers, are effectively all that remains of the mill. It was demolished following its closure in 1929.
Askin said mill founder Eber Ward created an unusual company town. There was no company store and homes were sold off to employees. Rent was lowered when work slowed, and halted when the mill temporarily closed.
“So he was a socialist?” said commission chair Alderman Robert Bauman.
A historic re-enactment of the Bay View Massacre is held annually on the southern tip of the mill site, one block north of the row of cottages. In 1886 Over 14,000 participants were striking for an eight-hour workday when members of the Wisconsin National Guard fired on and killed seven individuals in the crowd.
The row of seven houses is viewed as the most intact collection of the cottages. They were originally built over 150 years ago as 1,000-square-foot structures.
“This is truly what survives as the history of Bay View,” said Askin. He noted that the seven houses were singled out in a larger 1982 national historic district application and the exteriors remain nearly the same today. The national designation does not prevent modification to the properties and a cottage in the row was demolished in 1996.
All of the homes have been modified in one way or another since their construction. The designation would allow owners to repair non-historic modifications to the properties, but future alterations would need to be approved by the historic commission and done in accordance with district design standards.
The designation hearing was triggered by Joseph Paterick, who rents the home at 2522 S. Superior St. and applied for the designation after learning the property at 2530 S. Superior St. was sold. He had previously attempted to buy it from a longtime owner, but couldn’t secure financing.
He said a roofer told him that the carriage barn behind the house at 2530 would be demolished and a new house constructed where the 1996 demolition occurred.
But new owners, brothers Ryan and Chris Konicek, said in February they do not have immediate plans for a new house. They would like to demolish the carriage barn, which is to be included in the historic district.
The Konicek brothers hired attorney Samantha Huddleston to represent them in their opposition to the designation on Thursday.
“A historic designation is going to be a turn off to a lot of homeowners in the future,” said Huddleston. She said it would create a layer of red tape.
“I don’t think anyone walking past these homes would know they’re iron mill homes,” said the attorney. “If that’s something important to protect for the integrity of Bay View, let’s put up a plaque.”
“These homes are incredibly different homes than they were originally,” he said. And he said he hoped to modify his further as his family expands. “I feel like we are trying to put the wrong size boot on the foot.”
“It’s something really special that’s not seen elsewhere in the city,” said Ebersole. “As a collection, these buildings are especially important.”
Commissioner Matt Jarosz, an architectural history professor at UW-Milwaukee, said given the purview of the historic preservation ordinance that designation was warranted. Commissioners Bauman, Sally Peltz and Ann Pieper Eisenbrown joined him in support.
The Common Council has wider latitude to consider things like the economic impact of the designation. It will review the designation at an upcoming meeting of the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. The council must approve the designation for it to go into effect.
The properties subject to the designation are 2500 S. Superior St., 2506 S. Superior St., 2508 S. Superior St., 2512 S. Superior St., 2518 S. Superior St., 2522 S. Superior St. and 2530 S. Superior St. A home at the south end of the block, 2538 S. Superior St., would be exempted because it is of a different style.
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