Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Bay View Homes Lose Historic Protection

Temporary designation has expired for seven puddlers' cottages. No plans to raze any of them.

By - Jan 4th, 2022 03:45 pm
Puddlers' Cottages on S. Superior St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Puddlers’ Cottages on S. Superior St. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Historic protection for a row of seven 1860s-era worker cottages quietly expired last year.

Joseph Paterick, a resident of one of the cottages, filed an application to protect the homes on the east side of the 2500 block of Superior Street after one was sold in December 2020. The Historic Preservation Commission granted a temporary designation for the recently sold house in February, and then approved permanent designation for all seven in March.

But the Common Council, at the request of area Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, held off on denying or affirming the commission’s decision in June. The temporary protection, which prevented unapproved alterations to the home’s exteriors for up to 180 days, expired in September.

The homes are believed to be the largest intact group of puddlers’ cottages. The Milwaukee Iron Company constructed and sold the small structures to its employees. Puddlers were ironworkers that formed molten metal into higher-quality iron. But the company and its rolling mill are now long gone, and the homes on the east side of Bay View are all that is left other than a historic marker.

“I still think it’s something we should consider,” said Dimitrijevic in an interview in November. “The urgency and emergency situation I feel like has lightened.”

Dimitrijevic, who lives only a few blocks away, said she spoke personally with the new owners of the house at 2530 S. Superior St. She told Urban Milwaukee she was assured they are not going to raze the cottage and are doing repairs in a historically-sensitive manner. That house, which sits on a double-wide lot created by a 1996 cottage demolition, is owned by a limited liability company controlled by brothers Ryan and Chris Konicek.

The brothers have executed a number of development and renovation projects in the neighborhood.

“As a Bay View resident and developer, I am familiar with the concerns of neighbors and keeping contexts of neighborhoods when it comes to making improvements and I kept that in mind for this property prior to purchasing,” said Ryan Konicek via email when the designation was first proposed.

But the brothers were one of three owners to oppose the permanent designation, in part because they wanted to demolish a carriage barn at the rear of their property. Since the June hearing, they’ve also initiated the permitting process to build a new home on the vacant half of their property.

Originally built as approximately 1,000-square-foot structures, 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. Some view the designations as maintaining the integrity of properties, while others, including the Koniceks’ attorney, deride it as “red tape.”

On Superior Street, according to the alderwoman, the viewpoint is split evenly. Three owners for designation, three against. Dimitrijevic said multiple attempts were made to reach the owner of the seventh property with no response. Some of the homes, including the one Paterick lives in, are rented.

The houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes them eligible for historic preservation tax credits for historically-sensitive repairs but does not prohibit exterior changes. “Even in 1982 [the row] was referred to as the finest surviving example of this type of housing in Bay View,” said HPC staffer Tim Askin in March of the federal nomination. A 21-page report prepared by commissioner staffer Carlen Hatala provides extensive detail on the cottages’ history.

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.

Under its ordinance, the council has two years to act on the permanent designation before the nomination lapses.

The council has a wider latitude than the historic commission and can consider things like economics. The homes have become demolition candidates in recent years because of the growing demand for homes in the neighborhood and their proximity to the lake.

A puddler’s cottage at 2556 S. Shore Dr. was demolished in 2020 and a replacement was constructed in line with the larger houses on the block. Nearby resident Gary Edelman applied for historic protection on the structure, but shortly thereafter withdrew the nomination, citing neighbor ambivalence.

Dimitrijevic, first elected in April 2020, has advanced an update to the comprehensive area plan for Bay View that is intended to guide land-use decisions and said she would like to see an analysis of historic structures as part of that effort. That planning update is now underway.

In June she said an expanded conservation overlay was an option. The Bay View/South Shore Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, established in 2005, covers five blocks of S. Shore Dr. to the east that overlook Lake Michigan. It limits the size and height of houses.

Superior Cottages

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