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The Isaac Nelson Building was constructed in 1928. It's been vacant for a few years and is now owned by the city.

Neighbors seek designation for Isaac Nelson Building at Garden Homes

When Milwaukee's Historic Preservation Commission meets at City Hall on Monday, Aug. 14 at 3 p.m., there will be the usual pile of resolutions pertaining to the appropriateness of proposed changes to properties designated as historic or properties located in historically designated neighborhoods.

Then there's item No. 4 on the agenda: "Resolution relating to the temporary historic designation of the property at 4416 - 4420 N. 27th Street, the Isaac Nelson Building, in the 1st Aldermanic District, for Victor and Judith Sumbry."

This one caught my eye for a number of reasons. First, it's seeking temporary historic designation for a property, which sometimes means an alderman or neighbor or other interested party fears the building is under the threat of demolition. It's the only such item on the agenda.

Some recent buildings for which community members sought temporary historic designation include the former State Theater, which burned last winter, and the old Gettelman buildings at the Miller Brewing Co. site in the Valley. At a special meeting on Aug. 8, the HPC recommended temporary historic designation for the Paul Weise Building, 1534 N. Farwell Ave.

Next, I thought I recognized the address. So, I looked and realized it's a building I pictured in a post about Garden Homes last summer.

Checking the Wisconsin Historical Society's architectural inventory, I turned up no results for the structure, which is now owned by the city after having been foreclosed upon for unpaid taxes, according to a Shorewest listing.

In June, the Department of City Development listed the two-story, 5,208-square foot property – designed by architect Alfred H. Siewert – with two storefronts and a pair of two-bedroom apartments above, for $25,000, dropping the price from $40,000 in a March listing.


(PHOTOS: Milwaukee Department of City Development)

Interior photographs taken by the city in 2015 show remnants of a restaurant kitchen and, upstairs in the apartments, some attractive details.

The brick building, with its two retail spaces flanking an arched entry to the apartments upstairs, was built in 1928 by Isaac Nelson, who, according to Carlen Hatala of the city's historic preservation office, purchased the land, pulled the permit to build and then sold the same year to Margaret and Arthur Arnstein.

Over the years, the place has had a few interesting tenants. The earliest on record is a store that sold malt and hops, presumably for home brewers seeking sustenance during the waning years of Prohibition.

In the other space was a produce shop.

Starting in 1931, a number of businesses applied for permits to operate in the spaces, including a furniture store, a bakery, a cobbler, a soda counter and a palm reader. By 1934 – with Prohibition relegated to history – a tavern was operating there, too.

The A&P Tea Co. was there in '35 and Ann's Bakery was running in 1940. There was a deli in '47 and the following year a dry cleaners – Garden Homes Cleaners – was there and remained until around 1950.

Later, there was a vacuum cleaner sales and repair shop and a vendor of used baby furniture. By the '70s, there was again (or still?) a tavern. The most recent records show a catering business operating there in 2012.

A one-story addition was put onto the back of the building in 1946.

Based on the photographs, the city has had the property since at least August 2015.

So, why are resolution sponsors Victor and Judith Sumbry eager to obtain temporary historic designation for a property they don't own? Well, it seems they are neighbors; owners of the bungalow duplex next door.

"The real estate section at DCD and (Common Council) President Ashanti Hamilton – in whose district this is located – indicated that they have had little success in selling the building and to alleviate nuisances and criminal activity there they have decided to demolish the property," says Hatala.

"The nominators live next door and want to see the building preserved because it is in relatively decent condition."

A request for comment from Hamilton was still unanswered at press time.

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