Michael Horne
What’s It Worth?

Milwaukee Yacht Club Worth $2.28 Million

But is it really the oldest yacht club on Lake Michigan?

By - Mar 27th, 2024 05:39 pm
Milwaukee Yacht Club. Photo taken March 27, 2024 by Graham Kilmer.

Milwaukee Yacht Club. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

On February 26th, 1967, Milwaukee County Executive John Doyne and the officers of the Milwaukee Yacht Club sank silver shovels into the sandy soil of McKinley Park to break ground for a new clubhouse. Back on November 23rd, 1943, at the height of World War II, the original 1896 frame building located there had burned down to its pilings. At the time, the United States Navy took precedence over private sailing clubs when it came to requisitioning construction supplies, so, in 1945, the members assembled a “temporary” clubhouse from materials they could scratch together until a new home could be built. Now, nearly a quarter-century later, at last construction could begin.

Or so it was thought. But when it came time to pull the building permit with the city, it was rejected because the land had been perplexingly zoned “Residential,” despite its being located in and surrounded by a county park. The matter was soon remedied, the land use was reclassified, the permit issued, and construction commenced on the 9,500-square foot brick building, designed by Eschweiler, Schneider & Associates.

But as the days of the war economy were long over, why did it take until 1967 for a permanent home to be built?

A Decades-Long Battle Goes to Supreme Court — Twice

In 1887 the city created Flushing Tunnel Park (now McKinley Park) as part of a sanitary improvement designed to pump Lake Michigan water into the polluted Milwaukee River, discharging it just downstream from the North Avenue Dam, in an area that abounded with tanneries and other heavy industrial uses. The idea was that the water would dilute and flush the noxious effluvia that emanated from the factories into the lake. It was realized that the channel that led to the pumping station (now Colectivo Lakefront) could also serve as a harbor for small vessels such as personal sailboats.

On October 28th, 1895, the Common Council gave its permission for the Milwaukee Yacht Club to construct a clubhouse on a 60-foot by 60-foot parcel adjacent to the city flushing tunnel on the shore of Lake Michigan, all in the City of Milwaukee. The 2-story clubhouse was erected. In time, “through accretion and filling” the property extended 386 feet into the lake and was 137 feet in width.

In 1907 it was determined that such filled lakebed land “was and had been the property of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, and not the City of Milwaukee.” (Railroads were notorious land-grabbers.) In 1913, the railroad quit-claimed the property to the city “upon condition that it be maintained by the city at all times for park purposes.” If not, the land would revert to the railroad.

Thus, matters stood for a generation until 1936 when, in an early example of intergovernmental consolidation, voters approved a referendum to transfer all city park property to the county to create a unified park system. Hundreds of acres, including the Yacht Club site were conveyed to the county on November 12th, 1936.


Shortly after the 1943 fire the county sought to evict the yacht club. This resulted in litigation and a number of appeals that went on for years. The walls of the temporary clubhouse echoed with the laments of members: What could be worse? To have to scuttle one’s vessel or be obliged to join the South Shore Yacht Club? Either option would be unthinkable. The club claimed it owned the site due to adverse possession, hiring Louis Quarles to make their case. This claim was rejected in a 1950 Supreme Court decision, which sent the matter back to the lower court. Then, in 1951, the court again settled some technical issues in the case, which at this time involved Milwaukee County as appellant, versus the City of Milwaukee as defendant and the Milwaukee Yacht Club as respondent. The county was granted ownership of the land, which it retains to this day. Even so, it took another 16 years to get around to building the new facility.

A Taxable Building on Tax-Exempt Land

In what may be a unique situation, we have before us a privately owned building (taxable) sited on publicly owned land (non-taxable). The 2-story brick clubhouse of 9,500 square feet features a number of amenities for its members, according to its website.

They include:

  • The main dining room overlooking the harbor.
  • Private east-facing banquet room known as the Cove.
  • Conference room known as the Library.
  • Expansive Main Bar with seating and private wine lockers.
  • Lounge with a fireplace.
  • Outdoor patio with seating overlooking the harbor.
  • Wrap-around deck with bistro seating overlooking the grounds.
  • The “Boatique”

There is also a 21st century outdoor pool and other improvements to the facility, including a large crane to hoist boats in and out of the water. Plans are afoot to replace the fixed docks with floating docks, and the Parks Department is making improvements to the flushing channel walls in conjunction with the club.

The “temporary” clubhouse was retained after the current clubhouse was built in 1967. It is now the Boathouse, the Dockmaster’s office, event and classroom space as well as locker rooms for the pool and hot tub.

The City assesses the improvements at $2,288,000, while the exempt land is not valued. Property tax of $53,995.76 is current on the installment payment plan. Additionally, the County receives $68,000 in annual rent from the club. This payment more than offsets the sum the county would have received as its portion of the tax on the land. The 25-year contract was renewed in 2018 at the current rate.

The Bottom Line

The Club’s IRS Form 990 for the year 2022 shows total assets of $3,449,892 (2021: $1,999,192) and total liabilities of $2,259,675 (2021: $453,396) for a net asset of $1,190,217 (2021: $1,545,796). Revenues were $1,754,339 (2021: $2,271,859) and expenses were $2,109,918 (2021: $1,631,130) for a net income of -$355,597 (2021: +$640,729).

Income from public use of the club facilities was $203,666 (2021: $157,860). The highest paid employee is club manager Matt Michael, who earned $110,746 (2021: $108,537).

Oldest Active Yacht Club on Lake Michigan?

There is something about the water that leads to tall tales, from the mermaids and sirens of antiquity to a fisherman’s estimate of the size of the musky that got away from him on Potato Lake one summer.

The burgee or flag of the Milwaukee Yacht Club is red, white and blue, with a single blue star in the middle. It appears on the club’s logo emblazoned with the date “1871,” which is said to be when the club was organized.

The clearheaded landlubbers at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, unintoxicated by the romance of the sea, report that The Milwaukee Yacht Club was indeed organized in 1871 by 25 Milwaukeeans, “but the organization died out by 1878. It revived in 1884 but again was short-lived.” The current Milwaukee Yacht Club was organized in 1894. However, in 1945, the original Milwaukee Yacht Club was once again revived. The defunct club then merged with the current club, thus giving it rights to claim to be the oldest operating yacht club on Lake Michigan.

The Rundown:

  • Name of Property: Milwaukee Yacht Club
  • Address: 1700 N. Lincoln Memorial Dr., City of Milwaukee
  • Coordinates: Latitude: 43.05173800 Longitude: -87.88568300
  • Assessed Valuation: The land beneath the club belongs to Milwaukee County and is therefore tax-exempt (This may be a unique property in this respect); the 9,500 square foot improvement is valued at $2,288,000 for a total assessed valuation of $2,288,000
  • Taxes: 2023 $53,995.76. Payments current on installment plan
  • Rent: The Club pays the County $68,000 per year according to the terms of a 25-year contract signed in 2018
  • Owner: Milwaukee Yacht Club. Non-stock corporation registered 03/21/1871. Angie Doggett Registered Agent, Past Commodore; Class “B” Tavern License: Matthew W. Michael [d.o.b. 05/03/1961] Agent
  • Type: Local Commercial with Sport, Health & Recreational Properties
  • Architect: Eschweiler, Schneider & Associates, Inc. 1967; Remodeled 2000 by Eppstein Uhen Architects
  • Style: Gets the job done
  • Neighborhood: Northpoint
  • Subdivision: Glidden & Lockwood’s Subdivision. Filled Lakebed
  • Aldermanic District: 4th; Robert Bauman
  • Walk Score: 46 out of 100 “Car-dependent” MKE average: 62
  • Transit Score: 50 out of 100 “Good Transit” MKE average: 49
  • Bike Score: None found. MKE average: 58

How Milwaukee is it? It is 1.7 miles northeast of City Hall, or about 4 nautical miles by boat through harbor.

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One thought on “What’s It Worth?: Milwaukee Yacht Club Worth $2.28 Million”

  1. Keith Prochnow says:

    What? Walk score 50, “Good Transit?”? The closest transit is a hike across the park and a tough bluff-scale away, the 30 bus on Prospect.

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