Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Historic Burnham House Will Be Nonprofit’s HQ

Cream City brick house was home to the man who produced them.

By - Aug 20th, 2021 12:56 pm
1636 W. National Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1636 W. National Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative will relocate its offices to an Italianate house at 1636 W. National Ave.

The home was built with the profits from the very bricks it was constructed from. It was the personal residence of George Burnham, the brick manufacturer who with his brother pioneered the creation of bricks made from Menomonee Valley clay.

Burnham, along with his sons, built one of the largest brickworks in the world.

His house, constructed in 1868, looked south over the plant and the Menomonee Valley. According to Wisconsin Historical Society records, it was also occupied by a time by a Burnham employee, Frederick Zube.

A series of things in the city are now named for the Burnham, who lived from 1816 to 1889, including a street and canal. But most notably, the millions of bricks Burnham & Sons produced gave the city its longstanding nickname “The Cream City.”

“Dr. [Patricia] Najera saw the ‘for sale’ sign in early March 2021. Immediately stopped and talked with one of the housemates and inquired about the property,” said a CSNI press release about the organization’s executive director.

CSNI purchased the property, already zoned for commercial use, on Tuesday for $90,000. Najera is well-versed in the city’s zoning regulations, she served on the City Plan Commission for 20 years.

But what appears to be the front of the house today is actually originally the rear. The house was built to face north, towards the Menomonee Valley.

A wood structure with its own history is located adjacent to what was the front door. The 1901 bridge house from the Wells Street bridge was relocated to the property when the bridge was rebuilt in the 1980s.

CSNI, according to its release, would like to engage UW-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning, School of Freshwater Sciences and the Harbor District on the future of the bridge house. Najera formerly worked at UWM as director of partnerships and fund development at the Electa Quinney Institute.

A chapel structure, built in part from other Milwaukee artifacts, is also located at the rear of the property.

The house was sold by long-time resident Jeff Hicks. Today it stands across the street from the Sixteenth Street Health Centers’ new National Avenue clinic and between an apartment building and the National Avenue Hotel, which rents single-occupancy rooms by the week.

The Clarke Square neighborhood is bounded by W. Pierce St. on the north, W. Greenfield Ave. on the south, S. Cesar Chavez Dr. (16th) on the east and S. Layton Blvd. (27th) on the west.

CSNI unveiled a mural of civil rights activist Dolores Huerta earlier this month.


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