Jeramey Jannene

Are These Houses Historic? Milwaukee Never Got To The Point Of Deciding

Clock runs out on Bay View historic designation debate. A new house is likely coming.

By - Jun 8th, 2023 01:08 pm
Houses on the 2500 block of S. Superior St. in June 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Houses on the 2500 block of S. Superior Street. in June 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Call it the historic preservation debate that wasn’t.

In 2021, historic protection was sought for a row of seven 1860s worker cottages in Bay View affiliated with the rolling mill at the center of the neighborhood’s development. Two years later, the nomination quietly expired without an up-or-down vote.

The properties, located near Lake Michigan on the east side of the 2500 block of S. Superior Street, are regarded as the largest intact cluster of “puddler’s cottages.” The small houses, once approximately 1,000 square feet in size, were built by the Milwaukee Iron Company for its workers as part of a company-town-style rent-to-own agreement. The puddler name is a reference to the job title of the ironworkers. The mill, demolished after its 1929 closure, was once the largest employer in Milwaukee and, most notably, was subject to a deadly 1886 strike over an eight-hour workday.

Joseph Paterick, a nearby resident, nominated the cottages for local historic designation after unsuccessfully seeking to buy one of the houses, 2530 S. Superior St., and learning that the eventual buyers planned to modify the property and possibly build a new house on vacant land created by a 1996 demolition.

But the new owners, brothers Ryan and Chris Konicek, were one of three on the block to oppose the designation. The opponents’ arguments included that the houses were already substantially modified and expanded, didn’t merit historic protection and that the city’s designation rules would create a burdensome process for any future modifications or repairs. They were overruled in March 2021 when the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommended the district be created.

But the commission’s decision is only a recommendation to the Common Council, which must affirm or deny the decision. Instead, it did neither.

After holding an initial hearing in June 2021, the council held off acting at the request of area Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. The alderwoman said she wanted to hear from the seventh property owner on the block. The designation never returned for a second hearing, but the clock kept ticking.

Since that June 2021 meeting, a 180-day temporary designation, effectively a restraining order, expired. After two years the commission’s March 2021 decision on permanent designation expired. There is no local historic designation, which would require any modification or new construction be reviewed by the commission, on the properties.

New House Seems Likely

There is likely a new house coming to the block. The Koniceks sold the vacant lot for $129,000 in November to a Milwaukee area Advocate Aurora Health doctor that listed a Chicago address in state real estate transfer records.

The property listing included conceptual designs for a three-bedroom house with an attached “mother-in-law suite” above the rear garage, suggesting the potential for a duplex, large home office or crash pad for friends and family.

Dimitrijevic, in a May interview, said she wasn’t aware of any new proposals and that the Koniceks had previously pledged to conform with the scale of the area. She noted that a new neighbor could renominate the properties if there were concerns. “That [original] nomination was based on demolition, because they wanted to stop what they thought could have been demolition,” said Dimitirijevic. “I don’t want to see demolition there.”

The conceptual structure designed by Wisconsin Rapids-based Arc Central largely matches the massing of the adjacent cottages. But it does have some clearly modern flourishes, including a front porch tucked into the traditional pitched roof. The new owner has not applied for building permits to construct anything on the lot, now addressed as 2526 S. Superior St. The 4,848-square-foot property is zoned RT3, which prohibits a multi-family building from being constructed. The Koniceks continue to own the cottage they purchased, one of several properties in the neighborhood they have renovated.

A 1982 federal historic designation, which doesn’t include any restrictions, is still in effect for the larger neighborhood. It affords property owners the ability to receive tax credits to perform qualifying historic rehabilitation work. The designation refers to the block as a row of eight puddler’s cottages. The currently vacant lot was created following a 1990s fire.

And regardless of what happens on the block, the history of the rolling mill isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. An annual May gathering at the site of the rolling mill, across E. Russell Ave. to the north, commemorates the 1886 strike for an eight-hour workday and includes a re-enactment of the Wisconsin National Guard firing on and killing seven individuals in an estimated crowd of 14,000.

Puddler’s cottages near the lake, owing to their small size and rising property values in the neighborhood, have become teardown candidates in recent years. A 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.

The Bay View/South Shore Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District, established in 2005, covers five blocks of S. Shore Dr. just east of the Superior Street cottage row. It limits the size and height of houses within its boundaries. A draft land-use plan for the neighborhood recommends maintaining the district, but does not suggest expanding it.

The properties that would have been subject to the designation, if it hadn’t lapsed, 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., was to be exempted because it is of a different style.

2021 Photos

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Related Legislation: File 201378

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us