Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

East Side Historic District Could Expand

Move to designate two Summit Ave. homes spurs proposal to expand North Point South Historic District.

By - Sep 14th, 2021 01:20 pm
2275 (left) and 2279 N. Summit Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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

A proposal to develop an apartment building on Milwaukee’s East Side is triggering a larger push to expand one of Milwaukee’s highest-profile historic districts.

The Historic Preservation Commission is holding off on a decision on whether a duo of two-story homes, at 2275 N. Summit Ave. and 2279 N. Summit Ave., are worthy of permanent historic designation while it awaits an application to expand the nearby North Point South Historic District.

The move puts on hold a proposal by developer Brian Wagner to build a seven-story, 90-unit apartment building on the corner of N. Summit Ave. and E. North Ave.

Wagner applied to demolish the Summit houses in July as well as two four-unit structures along E. North Ave., but area resident and preservation advocate Dawn McCarthy filed a petition to designate the Summit houses as historic.

“Built in 1889, these buildings are similar in character to those included in the designation report for the North Point South [district],” wrote McCarthy in her nomination. That district, which includes a number of the city’s most valuable historic homes, is located to the east of N. Summit Ave. and overlooks Lake Michigan. Houses on the east side of the block are included, but the two proposed for demolition are not.

A less restrictive National Register of Historic Places designation was approved in 1979 for the North Point South Historic District, and a local designation followed in 1983. Both left out the Summit houses as well as other more modest structures nearby.

“It is staff’s opinion that when this was designated in the 80s this was an oversight, probably a classist oversight,” said commission staffer Tim Askin in August.

The two houses are two-story, 1,662-square-foot structures. “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 commission granted temporary historic designation in August, triggering a 180-day timeline to determine whether permanent designation was warranted.

On Monday afternoon, Askin informed the commission that neighborhood residents had contacted his office with the intent to add the houses on N. Summit Ave. as well as possibly others on E. Ivanhoe Pl. He suggested the matter be held to allow the broader process to play out within the 180-day window.

But Wagner’s attorney Michelle Ebben argued that the designation should be rejected. She argued that the two houses are already in disrepair, are separated by more modern houses from much of the district and weren’t referenced at all in the original designation.

“Any protracted process will only contribute to blight in the neighborhood,” she said. The siding was already removed from the houses and submitted photos show an interior in the process of being demolished.

“Even if these two buildings do receive designation, there is still opportunity to consider whether they should be demolished in the future,” said McCarthy in response. Demolition of city-designated historic structures is allowed with commission approval, or if the Common Council overrules the commission.

Area Alderman Nik Kovac said he wanted to reach out to area residents to solicit feedback on “a reasonable expansion” of the district.

“A compelling case has been made that these meet the [designation] criteria,” he said. “But I think it probably makes sense to make that decision all at once.”

The commission unanimously voted to hold the designation decision.

If it does not act within 180 days of its August approval, the temporary designation would expire and Wagner’s TamaRock Ventures would be able to demolish the houses. But Wagner would still need zoning approval to develop the new structure.

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.

March 2021 Renderings

August 2021 Photos

2020 Site Photos

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: East Side Historic District Could Expand”

  1. NieWiederKrieg says:

    I said it once before and I’ll say it once again. Brian Wagner’s apartment building project is one of the ugliest looking things that I’ve seen in a long time. If I look at it for more than 10 seconds, my stomach starts to turn.

    It’s very suspicious why the owner of those two homes would vandalize his own buildings… like an arsonist burning down his house for the insurance money…. or destroy the buildings beyond repair for the real estate developer who wants the property but not the buildings.

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