By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 15, 2023 at 1:08 PM

The Third Ward Architectural Review Board did not issue a opinion on the proposed demolition of a former Miller tied house, 266 E. Erie St., in the heart of the Historic Third Ward at its meeting on Wednesday.

Owners Joseph/GenCap Triangle LLC presented their argument for razing the building and opponents also had their say at the meeting, but in the end, the board issued no opinion.

Because it does not have jurisdiction in cases of demolition of locally designated properties, the most the review board could have done Wednesday was approve a communication to the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission for or against demolition.

The matter will likely be taken up at the HPC's March 13 meeting.

The building, vacant since a 2013 fire, dates to 1884 and is one of very few structures to have survived the devastating 1892 Third Ward fire.

(You can read more about the history of the tavern building here.)

Joseph Property Development and General Capital Group and bought the property from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2014 and soon after unveiled plans to raze the building to build a mixed-use development with retail, apartments and a commons space for MIAD students.

But the Historic Preservation Commission had gotten the structure locally landmarked and that plan did not move forward.

The owners considered redeveloping the existing tavern building into a restaurant, but that never came to fruition, and now the plan is again to demolish the structure.

Chris Socha of The Kubala Washatko Architects shared details of the condition of the building and noted that a replacement would likely be a two-story, non-residential building. 

If the demolition were to move ahead, the new development would require approval from the Third Ward Architectural Review Board.

Because the building is landmarked, demolition requires approval from the Historic Preservation Commission and the full Common Council.

On the eve of the meeting, the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project and Milwaukee Preservation Alliance issued statements opposing demolition of the building, which had been home to the Wreck Room Saloon, from 1972 until 1996.

In a social media post, the Preservation Alliance wrote, “We are disappointed to learn of the proposed demolition,” and noted that representatives would attend Wednesday’s meeting, “advocating against demolition.”

The Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project statement called the building, “one of the most unique and most storied properties in the Historic Third Ward,” and the Wreck Room, “an anchor of the Third Ward ‘Fruit Loop,’ which also included The River Queen, The Factory, M&M Club, and others, greatly expanding Milwaukee's LGBTQ nightlife beyond Walker's Point."

Don Schwamb of the History Project spoke at Wednesday's meeting, as did MPA secretary Joselia Mendiolea, County Supervisor Peter Burgelis and a MIAD student.

Keeping this building and others like it is important, said Michail Takach, curator of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project and author of the book “LGBT Milwaukee.”  

"One of the challenges of chronicling LGBTQ history is that many of our earliest known spaces are no longer standing," Takach said. "And we're talking about entire blocks. Entire neighborhoods. Erased from history.

"When we can't see any remnants of the past in our present, the less we can understand the history that happened there, or embrace the heritage that was created there. For these reasons, we need to protect and preserve the spaces we still have."


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.