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Cream of the Cream City Award Winners: 2006

2008 N 2nd Street, Sensitive Renovation
Timothy Baldwin and Benjamin C. P. Lawrenz, owners

This Brewers Hill Historic District house, dating most likely from the late 1870s, remained largely intact with original wood siding, original hoods over the windows and an oculus window in the front gable end. In 1911, an ill-proportioned bungalow style porch with heavy posts was added or replaced an original porch.

In keeping with the sensitive renovations to the property, owners Timothy Baldwin and Benjamin Lawrenz worked with Historic Preservation staff to replace deteriorated wood siding, add several new windows to match the originals and come up with a porch design that was in keeping with the original era of the house. The new “old” porch is like the icing on the cake, well scaled and period appropriate, and really makes the house pop. This renovation helps add to the visual appeal of the Brewers Hill Historic District and demonstrates that careful design and craftsmanship can make a difference between a run of the mill and an outstanding project.

Ambassador Hotel, Restoration
2308 W Wisconsin Avenue . Richard Wiegand, owner

The Ambassador Hotel was designed by the firm of Peacock and Frank and built in 1927 on the site of the Frank family mansion. By the 1980s the once glamorous hotel had fallen on hard times and acquired an unsavory reputation. Richard Wiegand looked beyond the problems and saw a true gem. He began in 2003 with small plans but soon realized that that the building deserved more than just a simple sprucing up. The beautiful interior features that had been covered over for decades spurred him on to more extensive work on the building including revealing the great marble and terrazzo lobby floor and original ceilings, re-setting exterior terra cotta, reopening windows and creating 120 new guest rooms.

His efforts led to the purchase and restoration of other nearby properties, finding new homes in his other buildings for the long term tenants that had rented in the Ambassador under prior ownership and donating rather demolishing three 19th century houses on property that was being developed as a parking lot for the hotel. These houses now sit nearby and have re-knit a block tattered by demolitions. Richard Wiegand is to be commended for his endless energy and dedication, qualities that have served as a catalyst in the rebirth of the once grand west side neighborhood. Mr. Wiegand demonstrates how business and civic mindedness can work hand in hand to return neighborhood confidence and restore one of Milwaukee’s landmark buildings to its former glory.

Bach House, Sympathetic New Construction
2623 N Wahl Avenue . Jeffrey & Kristi Leswing, owners

A touch of quaint old Germany can be seen in the picturesque house owned by the Leswings at 2623 N. Wahl Avenue. It was designed by local architect Carl Barkhausen, constructed in 1903 and built for Dr. James A. Bach, a European trained specialist in Ophthalmology and Octology. Described at the time as being of “Austrian Renaissance” style, exterior elements were borrowed from the villas then being constructed in Cologne, Hamburg and Dresden. Surprisingly, the house did not come with a coach house or original barn, only a rather plain, ordinary, two-car garage, built in 1917.

Since the structure had seen better days, the Leswings wanted a new garage, but one commensurate with the distinctiveness of their house. They worked with Historic Preservation staff and utilized one of the plans in the Preservation Portfolio. The result is a grand shingled coach house that looked as if it had been built at the time the house was constructed. It features room for two vehicles as well as storage and has a distinctive dormer and cupola as well as exposed rafter tails and carriage house style doors. The Leswings are to be commended for sparing no expense and working with their contractor Erik Lindberg in making sure the details were just right. The project adds value not only to their house but the entire North Point North Historic District.

Dornuf Saloon, Preservation Stewardship
340 W Reservoir Avenue . Ralph H. Fleege, owner

Located in the shadow of the St. Francis of Assisi complex, this building is of the high architectural design that went along with being located on a prominent corner lot. Phillip Dornuf operated a saloon on the premises beginning in 1888 and lived in the upstairs flat. Fortunately, the building had retained many of its historic features including wood siding, trim, and tower, and had never been “remuddled.” There were some challenges. The original storefront windows had been removed in 1963 and various features were in need of repair or replacement.

Restoration carpenter Ron Raasch worked with the current owner to create a patterned shingled roof, replace wood siding, replicate deteriorated trim, rebuild deteriorated areas and create period appropriate trim to replace missing trim in the front gable. As work began, an original door was discovered boarded up in the west wall and served as the model for the new double leaf doors at the corner entrance. The storefront was re-opened to its original configuration. The Dornuf Saloon is now a fine complement to the score of restored structures in the adjacent Brewers Hill and North 3rd Street (now King Drive) Historic Districts and a visual landmark among the new houses now being built in the adjacent blocks.

Field/VolkertCottage, Back from the Brink
2025A N Palmer to 1821 N 2ndStreet . Janet Fitch, owner

There are many good stories in Brewers Hill and the Field/Volkert Cottage could tell you some tales. It was built as an investment property in 1868 and was originally located at 2025 N. Palmer. A second small cottage joined it in 1874. Like many other “starter cottages” in the neighborhood, the Field/Volkert Cottage and its companion were moved to the back of the lot to make way for a grander house built by Mrs. Maria Geiger in 1896. The properties were individually sold off in the 20th century, only to be reunited under one ownership in recent years. The recent owner went back and forth about demolishing the Field/Volkert Cottage and had even begun a partial restoration with the removal of substitute siding and a rear addition in 2001.

In 2003, the owner once again requested demolition from the Historic Preservation Commission. He was persuaded to give the house away to anyone interested in moving the building. After several false starts, Brewers Hill resident Janet Fitch stepped up to meet the challenge. Her large lot at 1825 N. 2nd Street was able to accommodate a smaller second dwelling, tucked to the rear of the side yard. There were difficulties with the move and the cottage got stuck in the alley as it was making its way out toward E. Lloyd Street in May 2004. Pulling a light pole out of the way enabled the house to squeak out safely into the street. Once at its new home, a foundation was built under the cottage and work was in full swing on renovations during 2005. Included in the project were a lower level parking area and media room, upper living quarters and a rear addition along with porches at the front and south elevations. Work was completed in late 2006.

The now brightly painted house looks right at home in its new location and, rescued from demolition, serves as a reminder that anything can be accomplished with perseverance and creativity. It now has its own address of 1821 N. 2nd Street. The Field/Volkert Cottage joins the small and select group of houses in Brewers Hill that have lived to tell the story of a daring last minute rescue from oblivion. Janet Fitch is to be commended for her fortitude and vision. Milwaukee residents will be able to enjoy her efforts for decades to come.

Smith House, Sympathetic Addition
2518 N Terrace Avenue . Larry J. Bonney, owner

The fine Arts and Crafts style house was designed by the firm of Betts and Hosmer and built in 1908 for William E. Smith. Mr. Bonney acquired the property in 2001 and made a substantial investment in restoring his house, project by project. Like many houses in this portion of the North Point North Historic District, it was constructed without a garage on the premises. Mr. Bonney parked on the street but was spurred to build a garage after the theft of his vehicle. Room to add a driveway was tight and neighbors originally objected. There were many obstacles to overcome in getting the project to the construction stage.

After obtaining the necessary variances, negotiating with the city over the removal and replanting of a street tree and negotiating with the neighbors over the placement of green space and access to a shared driveway with easements, the project finally was able to proceed. H. Russell Zimmermann designed a seamless rear addition that included ground level parking as well as upper living space. Carefully matched materials and attention to detail and scale have resulted in an addition that looks like it was part of the original house. Mr. Bonney is to be commended for his perseverance and diplomacy, and insisting on a quality design that enhances not only his house but his neighborhood as well.

SonnenbergDuplex/Yellow Jacket, Sensitive Conversion
1237 E Brady Street . Jennifer Rau, owner

This striking duplex at 1235-37 E. Brady Street has been part of the colorful Brady Street neighborhood since it was built as an investment property for John L. Sonnenberg c.1889. Sonnenberg ran a grocery store next door (razed) but lived elsewhere in the neighborhood. A prior owner considered converting the duplex into a store and had plans to insert a large storefront window into the facade and change entrances. Consultation with Historic Preservation staff resulted in a plan to keep the building much as it originally was.

When the project fell through, a new owner, Jennifer Rau, acquired the building and proceeded with the conversion. Lots of code issues came into play with the proposed conversion but details finally were worked out with Development Center staff. Fire rated windows were installed, wood siding was replaced with new to match the original, accessibility issues were addressed and the unique ornamental trim was preserved. In addition, period appropriate doors were installed and railings and windows were made to match the originals, all features that had been removed from the building during the 1990s. The project’s success is a model for being able to preserve a historic façade yet change the use of the building and meet code requirements as well. The owner’s business, Yellow Jacket, led to the choice of color on the façade.


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