By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 26, 2023 at 9:02 AM

Sorry, folks, maybe next time ...

Although the landmark Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day House, 8000 Milwaukee Ave., in Tosa, was just listed for sale, it already has an accepted offer.

This I discovered when I had attempted to see inside this 1874 cream city brick jewel for a full Urban Spelunking story.

StaircaseX

With an asking price of $1.495 million, the house is perched above the street on a 1.15-acre lot.

That position, plus the gorgeous so-called “termes mordax” (anthill) design of Scottish-born Milwaukee architect James Douglas – most of whose surviving work is on Prospect and Farwell Avenues on the East Side – make it pretty much unmatched in Wauwatosa.

You can see more at the Duesing Realty website.

Built for one of early Wauwatosa’s most prominent citizens, physician Dr. Fisk Holbrook Day, the home was originally dubbed Sunnyhill, and it is under that name that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.

It was listed on the state register a couple years later, and in more recent years has been called the Jenkins Austin Day Mansion, reflecting the names of later owners.

In 1978, Liberace had considered buying it as a site for his museum, which opened instead in Las Vegas.

Dr. Day was a man of his time, a professional Victorian doctor with wide-ranging interests. He was also an amateur geologist and paleontologist and was a familiar sight at area quarries and other sites, where he collected rocks and fossils. He was especially active at Schoonmaker Reef near his home.

Cabinet Room
Cabinet Room.
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His collection was displayed in what was called the Cabinet Room at Sunnyhill, which had large display cases to hold his artifacts and other treasures and documentation.

Some of his pieces are now part of UWM’s Greene Museum collection.

The house itself is a stunning Victorian mash-up of Italianate, Gothic and Second Empire features and recalls Douglas’ Collins House, built around the same time on Prospect Avenue.

Attic
The attic.
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Douglas’ early days in Milwaukee were spent as a carpenter who helped build the old City Hall, Holy Trinity Church on 4th Street in Walker’s Point and the original roof – pre-1935 fire – of St. John’s Cathedral.

Moving into architecture, Douglas designed the Willard Merrill House on Prospect Avenue and others nearby, including the Collins House, the Quarles House at 2531 N. Farwell Ave., Sanford Kane House at 1841 N. Prospect Ave. and an apartment building on the 1500 block of Kane Place. He also designed a pair of matching Victorians at 1708 and 1714 N. Farwell.

Douglas took a break from architecture from 1863 to 1872 during which time he worked at Northwestern Mutual.

During his years of practice, Douglas hired young men who would later make their own marks on Milwaukee’s landscape, including Carl Ringer, who started as a construction foreman for Douglas; Henry Rotier; and Alfred C. Clas, who started out as a draftsman with Douglas and later became a partner.

Dr. Day moved out of the mansion in 1893 after the passing of his wife. He died in 1903.

The house was sold to Abe S. Austin in 1895, who converted it from a single-family to a multi-family residence and also ran his coal business out of it. He also sold off some of the extensive property.

After being abandoned and left crumbling in the 1930s, Austin's son returned to the house in 1945 and remained there until 1979, when it was sold to Florence Rust.

She, in turn, sold to Pete Glaeser and Julie Jagemann, who did extensive restoration work.

"When we purchased the house it had fallen into disrepair and it required a gut renovation, which we undertook with the help of friends and family," says Jagemann. "My former husband did a great deal of the work, including demolition and rough carpentry."

They replaced wood and plaster crown moldings, added a marble fireplace where needed, replaced the mechanicals.

They also did extensive exterior and landscaping work, among which was a new roof with three different colors of cedar shingles to recreate the pattern on the roof seen in old photographs, Jagemann recalls.

Glaeser and his brother hand-dyed the shingles.

"It took a village to bring the house back to life and we are grateful to all those who had a part in it," says Jagemann. "We tried to educate ourselves about Victorian design and architecture as much as possible.

"My hope now is that the next owners love the house and continue to be good stewards of this unique property."

In 1997, the home was purchased by Jimmie and Mary Jenkins, who did some more work, including, according to Duesing, "designing the adding of a glass enclosure to the new 2.5-car attached garage."

They also added a three-season porch and patios.

And today?

tower
Second Empire tower.
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According to the National Park Service report from 1980, “alterations made over the last 50 years have been corrected and both the interior and exterior of the house have been carefully restored to their former glory and now appear much as they did when Dr. Day lived there.”

Here’s how realtor Donna Duesing describes the house:

“The CROWN JEWEL of Tosa! The rich history of this Jenkins Austin Day Mansion is sure to captivate you. Nestled on over an acre, this 19th-century mansion captures the essence of the era in which it was built with modern amenities you will appreciate.

“Boasting beautiful hardwood floors, incredible moldings, 9-foot pocket doors in living and dining room, 10-foot ceilings on the main floor, 21-foot ceiling in the family room, updated kitchen with walk-in pantry, grand staircase, master suite with walk-in closet, en-suite, walk-in shower, soaking tub and double sinks.

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“Expandable walk-up attic and the iconic fourth-story tower! Attached and detached garages, three patios, two covered porches. Be the one to make history in this only true mansion in Tosa.”

Here are some more photos, courtesy of Duesing:

patio
Patio.
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Upstairs
Upstairs.
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Window
Large window.
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Hardwood floors
Hardwood floor.
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Attic
Attic.
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Basement
Basement.
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Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.