By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 05, 2023 at 10:02 AM

Former Milwaukee Ald. Jim Witkowiak is seeking to rebuild a vacant 1885 Queen Anne building at 515 W. Historic Mitchell St. slightly to the east to create a pedestrian plaza and parking lot, to be called Witkowiak Plaza.

Existing site
(PHOTO: City of Milwaukee)

The plan, which would reconstruct the frame structure one lot to the east, at 507 W. Historic Mitchell St., will be discussed at the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission’s 3 p.m. meeting on Monday, Aug. 7 at City Hall.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the state register as part of the West Mitchell Street Commercial District.

Project rendering. (PHOTO: Raul Arteaga)

Witkowiak's request is to, "carefully strip off the entire existing facade, construct an all-new building (exact dimensions as existing) over the new foundation, and then install the entire existing facade on the front of the newly constructed building.

"The only part of the existing building that has any architectural character and/or historic significance is the front facade. Saving the sides and back of the building would do nothing to insure the historical character of the building. Furthermore, a new building would guarantee structural integrity."

Witkowiak says the current building's "skeleton" is "marginal at best."

The building in 1980. (PHOTO: Wisconsin Historical Society)

Raul Arteaga is the architect on the project that would add a 14-car parking lot across the back of three lots, two of which are currently vacant.

The parking lot is directly east of Witkowiak Funeral Home.

Witkowiak is seeking to permission in order to create one larger space instead of two smaller ones.

That larger space – running from the sidewalk, beyond the back of the building that would be moved, to the edge of the parking lot – would house the plaza. Based on renderings, the plaza would be paved with paving blocks and landscaped on two sides and part of a third.

A stone and metal rail fence would run along the sidewalk.

Two existing buildings – one of which houses the funeral home – adjacent to the site would not be affected.

The structure to be rebuilt was constructed as a store and flat by a builder that Wisconsin Historical Society names (likely incorrectly spelled) as Theodore Jezawoski.

Around 1900 it served as Michael Czarnecki’s tailoring shop, but beginning in 1891 and at least through 1917, it was a barber shop, occupied by Valentine Polakiewicz, Stanislaus Godziak, Matin Krajewski, Thomas Kopaczewski and likely others.

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.