Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Summit Houses Historic, For Now

The two houses are part of proposed apartment building site. Are they being demolished out of spite?

By - Aug 12th, 2021 06:20 pm
2275 (left) and 2279 N. Summit Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

2275 (left) and 2279 N. Summit Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Two East Side homes will stand for at least a little longer.

The Historic Preservation Commission granted temporary historic protection to the homes at 2275 N. Summit Ave. and 2279 N. Summit Ave. Thursday afternoon. The move effectively works as a restraining order, granting 180 days of protection while a more stringently evaluated, permanent designation is considered.

Developer Brian Wagner of TamaRock Ventures, who is seeking to develop a seven-story, 90-unit apartment building on the corner, applied to demolish the houses as well as two four-unit structures along E. North Ave. But that proposal, which would also require a zoning change, is at least for now on hold.

The wood-frame, 1889 houses are across the street from the city’s North Point South Historic District, which includes some of the city’s most valuable homes. The district does not include the west side homes, despite that they are from a similar era and subdivision.

“It is staff’s opinion that when this was designated in the 80s this was an oversight, probably a classist oversight,” said staffer Tim Askin. The subject houses are two-story, 1,662-square-foot structures. A national historic district was created in the 1980s, a local one in 2002.

“These cottages are significant examples of the type of worker housing that was built at the turn of the century,” said Askin. They were developed by William Spence, of whom little is known other than he likely built a number of homes across the city.

“The situation with these homes is not like the puddlers’ cottages which are probably worthy of designation and better condition,” said the developer’s attorney Thomas Gartner in arguing against the designation and for a pending Bay View designation.

“Those are only in bad condition because your people let them get in that condition,” responded Bauman. “It looks terrible over there and terrible in the sense of things that don’t take a lot of money to correct… They were perfectly fine several years ago.”

Asbestos siding has been stripped from the northern-most house, while overgrown grass and weeds covers both properties.

Area Alderman Nik Kovac said the development plans presented to date generated the most significant opposition to any zoning change he has seen from neighbors.

“I am very frustrated that we are here now, because in response to that we have basically gotten demolition by neglect,” said Kovac. “Once it seemed like they weren’t going to get the thing approved I don’t know the word to use other than spiteful.”

But the development proposal hasn’t advanced to a formal vote. He said it wouldn’t encounter any opposition if it involved only the two 1940s, four-unit buildings facing the hospital and E. North Ave.

Kovac backed the temporary designation and said he was open to a broader community discussion on expanding the historic district to include more than just the two homes.

“Once they demo it who knows what comes next,” he said.

“It could be vacant or surface parking for an extended period of time,” said Bauman.

Commissioner Sally Peltz, an East Side resident, asked if a project was feasible with just the lots facing E. North Ave.

“There is really no way to get any parking within just those two parcels that would support a multi-unit building of any size,” said development group representative and Stevens Construction CEO Mark Rudnicki. The northern lots have a triangular shape and no alley access.

“Is this project dead without those two houses?” asked Peltz.

“I would say yes,” said Rudnicki. But he later said it possibly could be achieved if one was left.

Historic preservation advocate and area resident Dawn McCarthy applied for city-level protection for the houses. “I believe these houses can be restored. I believe they are a buffer for the entire historic district,” said McCarthy. She later sent a message to Kovac saying she wasn’t opposed to development.

Randy Bryant, who has restored a number of historic homes in the area and lives in the district, previously owned the 1940s buildings and helped assemble the development site. He spoke against the designation and said it wasn’t an issue of classism that the houses were left off the original district.

“In no way are these homes different from homses you can find anywhere in the city,” he said.

Wagner’s E North LLC paid $425,000 combined for the two houses. It paid $1.2 million combined for the 1940s buildings, 2231 E. North Ave. and 2239 E. North Ave. No historic designation is pending for the North Avenue buildings.

Commissioner Matt Jarosz made the motion to approve the temporary designation, but said the commission should also address the jagged borders of the district. He suggested following National Park Service guidance to square them off and designate non-historic structures as non-contributing. “I think we have a bigger issue we should talk about so we don’t have to keep cleaning up this stuff,” he said.

A similar fight over district borders occurred in the adjacent North Point North Historic District in 2018 when three new houses were proposed for a vacant lot.

The commission unanimously voted to protect the houses. Commsisioner Ann Pieper Eisenbrown was absent.

The temporary designation can not be appealed, but a permanent designation is automatically forwarded to the Common Council for review. In a handful of high-profile cases the Common Council has overruled the historic commission, denying designation.

March 2021 Renderings

August 2021 Photos

2020 Site Photos

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2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Summit Houses Historic, For Now”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    The exterior on one of those Summit houses needs a little repair but the rest of the house looks beautiful.

    Brian Wagner’s seven-story, 90-unit apartment building would be an eyesore compared to those two Summit Houses. The large, orange and white, pointy protuberance on the front of Wagner’s proposed building is a like thumb being jabbed into the viewer’s eyeball. Maybe if Mr. Wagner rounded off that sharp, white point and lowered the protuberance to be flush with the top of the building, it wouldn’t be so painful to look at… maybe…

  2. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Just noticed that the owner of the Summit House near the alley is ripping off the top layer of siding in order to expose the original layer of wood scalloped siding. Once the top layer is gone, the owner can protect the original siding with a fresh coat of oil stain.

    That Summit House is going to look beautiful when the exterior renovation is complete, just like it did over 100 years ago. And it will probably be done this year, before winter… nice….

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