By Lisa Olson   Published Apr 24, 2001 at 1:28 AM

North Avenue, book-ended by two related landmarks, is part of a complex traffic system both above and below its surface. At the east end of the avenue, of course, is the North Point Water Tower...the prettier half of a extensive water system that was put in place during the last half of the 19th century.

Kilbourn Park, just west of Humboldt Avenue, is the site of the strictly functional three-acre reservoir -- although the view of downtown from the top is spectacular -- that is capable of holding millions of gallons of water. Water lines run under North Avenue connecting the two.

The park, with its rich history and dormant present faces an uncertain future. Its designation as an official landmark dictates that the park's structure must remain aesthetically unaltered, but the vast pool within the hill presents some distinct problems.

With its overall capacity of 25 million gallons of water, the reservoir oozes a million gallons daily and is kept only half full. Although no one has reported problems in surrounding houses, the leak presents an obvious problem.

Built in 1873, the Kilbourn Park reservoir is part of the massively intricate water system that has provided millions of Milwaukee residents with clean water for more than a century.

The landscape surrounding the reservoir -- donated by Byron Kilbourn -- grew to become a popular lounging area for local residents. Frequent updates to Kilbourn Park assured it remained an attractive destination, with a bandstand for concerts during the warm summer months and refreshment pavilions.

Throughout the years, however, Kilbourn Park's popularity lagged. Movies, television and other modern distractions became more entertaining and the park was reduced to a haven of questionable activities. In 1968 annual concerts ended when audience and orchestra members were egged.

Attempts to recreate Kilbourn Park's previous splendor have proved unsuccessful. A visit on a recent Saturday afternoon found empty playgrounds and deserted soccer fields. Atop the cement-capped reservoir, surrounded by wire fences, stand desolate tennis courts, abandoned due to high winds.

The reservoir's leaks cause the most concern and are the underlying reason for plans to revitalize the area. Last May, community meetings were held to discuss the fate of Kilbourn Park. Area residents are eager to provide updated suggestions.

There is the opportunity to create a lush park with waterfront access to the Milwaukee River, which runs one block south of the site. Suggestions also include creating a more recreational park within the area, with a sledding hill, basketball courts and a place for skateboarding.

As recently as May 2000, it was decided that the historical reservoir will be replaced with a smaller, more environmentally responsible structure. Public access to the top of the reservoir, now fenced, will be restored and the panoramic view of downtown to the lower east side will be accessible. The park itself will be revitalized with updated and restored playgrounds.

The $9 million project is slated to begin this fall and is expected to take 18 months.