Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Boat House Seeks to Demolish Its Lighthouse

Emergency demolition sought by owner of historic fantasy home along the river.

By - Jul 7th, 2021 05:31 pm
The "Boat House." Photo by Michael Horne.

The “Boat House.” Photo by Michael Horne.

An iconic Milwaukee home could soon look a little bit different.

Steve Tilton, owner of “the Boat House,” applied to demolish the adjacent lighthouse because of its deteriorating condition.

“I would like to dismantle and remove the lighthouse structure which is dangerously leaning towards the boat house,” wrote Tilton in a handwritten letter to the Historic Preservation Commission. He underlined the word “immediately” in explaining the urgency of his issue. The 20-foot-tall lighthouse is currently surrounded by scaffolding and caution tape.

The house, a 550-square-foot, two-story residence shaped like a boat, is located at 3138 N. Cambridge Ave.

Built in 1922 for Edmund B. Gustorf, the house “floats” due northeast of the non-functional lighthouse. The house is technically across the street from the Milwaukee River, but a sizable, well-vegetated and wooded bluff, and the Oak Leaf Trail block any site of the lighthouse from the river and vice versa.

“The Edmund Gustorf House is architecturally significant as a unique expression of early twentieth-century fantasy architecture built to satisfy the whimsical residential aspirations of its nautically oriented first owner. It is the only known such ‘boat house’ in Wisconsin,” wrote the historic commission in a 1985 report that led to the property’s designation.

Tilton purchased the house in 2018 for $190,000, when Google Street View images and Urban Milwaukee file photos confirm the lighthouse had already started to lean.

The current owner said he would like to build a replica of the stucco-clad lighthouse as part of a separate approval after demolition is approved.

For more on the house’s history, see a 2016 column by Michael HorneThe Town’s Most Ship-Shape Home.”

The request, filed Wednesday, will be reviewed by the commission at an upcoming meeting.

Want to see inside? You can book a night at the house through Airbnb. The listing, offered for $338 per night, offers two bedrooms, four beds and two baths. “Not for the stair challenged,” the description warns. It sleeps up to six and won’t cause seasickness.

2016 Photos

2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Boat House Seeks to Demolish Its Lighthouse”

  1. Thomas Gaudynski says:

    Perhaps Steve and Nola can auction off pieces of the demolished lighthouse to finance the creation of a new lighthouse? I’d go for a few of the original wood ribs now covered by the dreadful plaster that the previous owner slathered on the original.

    Please let us know the date so we can make popcorn. Will there be music?

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    I know Steve and Nola. I trust that they will build a better lighthouse on that property.

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