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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014

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In Living

Halyard Park is a mostly African-American neighborhood in the heart of the city with a suburban feel.

In Living

Most of the houses have a '60s, ranch-style design.

In Living

Many of the residents have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.

Halyard Park emits suburban feel in central city


The Halyard Park neighborhood is an anomaly. It's only a few square blocks but has a completely different look and feel – often described as "suburban" – than surrounding neighborhoods like Harambee and Bronzeville.

Halyard Park, which is bordered by Garfield Avenue to the north, Halyard and 6th Streets to the west, 4th Street to the east and Brown Street to the south, was first developed in the '70s by Beechie Brooks, a community leader and real estate developer with a vision to revitalize the central city.

Brooks, who was the president of the United Realty Group, also developed the shopping plaza on the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and North Avenue originally named the Northtown Shopping Center and later renamed Brooks Plaza. Brooks, who is in his 90s, still lives in the Halyard Park neighborhood today.

In 1976, the City of Milwaukee's Redevelopment Authority approved the United Realty Group's request to develop a subdivision of single-family, suburban-style homes. The homes, mostly ranch-style with attached garages and large yards, were built in the '80s.

The neighborhood is named after Ardie and Wilbur Halyard, the husband and wife who founded Columbia Savings and Loan in 1924. The bank was established to provide mortgage loans to Milwaukee's African-American community. The institution is still open today at 2000 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

Clara Smith and Stella Love have been neighbors on 5th Street since they had their homes built in 1983 by Kings Way Homes, a company which was then owned by William Baesemann who also was the co-host of "New Home Building Today" which was broadcast for many years on WTMJ-TV on Sunday mornings. (Baesemann passed away in 2009).

Smith and Love purchased the land first and then hired Kings Way, as did numerous other families in the neighborhood, to build their homes. Kings Way offered a variety of designs from which to choose, but all were within Brooks' suburban-style vision.

"Everything was open around here when we built," says Smith, gesturing to the row of houses across the street. "This neighborhood is the best-kept secret in the city."

According to Lamar Franklin, co-owner of Garfield's 502, 502 W. Garfield Ave., there were a number of homes that were razed prior to the construction of the subdivision. Garfield's, although technically in Bronzeville, attracts many Halyard Park residents, 90 percent of whom Franklin says he knows.

"Halyard Park is the safest neighborhood in the city," says Franklin, who opened Garfield's in 2006 after a fire destroyed the bar and restaurant formerly in that space, called Boobie's Place, in 2004.

Today, some of the homes and yards appear to be in need of care and repair, a sign of economic hard times and / or because the residents are getting older.

"There's not a lot of turnover in the neighborhood. Many of the people living there are in their fifties, sixties and seventies now," says Franklin.

Smith grew up in the neighborhood and as a young adult worked at S.S. Kresge's dime store (a large retail chain that later became K-Mart) on 3rd Street and Garfield Avenue. Smith raised two daughters in her Halyard Park home, one of whom is now 34 and another that would have been 49 but passed away seven years ago from diabetes. She also has two grandchildren.

"Many people who built in this neighborhood grew up in the neighborhood and went to schools they could walk to: Lincoln, St. Benedict's," says Love, whose family owned the Love's liquor stores and funeral homes. "That's what makes this area so special. Brings back so many good memories just walking around here."

Love and Smith say they have not experienced nor witnessed any major violence on their block in 30 years, a fact to which they attribute to the strong neighborhood association.

"We keep control of it," says Smith. "We have a secure, safe feeling around here. I just wish the areas around us would develop, improve. And they might."

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