City rules against federation on Hillel site

In a four-hour follow-up to an Oct. 25 hearing, the City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission ruled on Monday, Dec. 11, that two houses owned by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation be given interim historic preservation designation.

In a second, subsequent hearing immediately following the decision, the five commissioners again voted unanimously that the four remaining houses in the 2000 block of East Kenwood Boulevard be granted interim historic preservation designation.
Application for those homes was made after the Oct. 25 hearing.

The federation purchased the properties, located at 2005 and 2009 E. Kenwood Blvd, across from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, on Oct. 11. (See Nov. 3 Chronicle story.)

The federation’s intention from the outset was to remove the houses and build a new Hillel Foundation-Milwaukee facility to replace the student organization’s outdated and outgrown building at 3035 N. Stowell.

Though temporary, this historic preservation designation, applied for by neighbor Robin Van Harpen, works as a restraining order, prohibiting the federation from tearing down or altering the exteriors of the houses.

Room 301A in City Hall was filled to capacity for the hearings. Besides Van Harpen and representatives of the MJF, many neighbors and other East Siders who favor historic preservation attended in support of the applications.

An additional 25-30 people attended the meeting to oppose the historical preservation designation.

Attorney Stephen L. Chernof of Godfrey & Kahn, representing the federation, raised questions about the validity of a number of assertions included in the Historic Preservation Commission’s staff study report presented at the Oct. 25 meeting, including claims that the houses were designed by architect Hugo Miller and built by Louis Auer’s firm.

James Dallman and Grace La, the principals of La Dallman Architects, Inc., and George Meyer, principal of the Kahler Slater architecture firm, gave presentations as experts supporting the case for MJF that these houses are not historically significant.

Though “quaint” they are in no way unique, La said, adding that they are not in particularly good condition. Some of them have already undergone historically insensitive modifications, such as the addition of a skylight, she said.

In addition, the neighborhood is “mixed use” and no longer residentially cohesive, she said, noting that the opposite side of Kenwood Boulevard is completely taken up with large institutional campus buildings.

Though many university campuses are surrounded by pizza parlors and bars, Kenwood, with its religious buildings, provides “an ecclesiastical buffer,” which is a benefit to the residential area stretching south, La said.

Speaking in favor of the interim historic designation was Gary Tipler of Tipler and Assoc. of Madison, a self-described historic designation consultant who majored in landscape architecture with an emphasis in historical preservation at UW-Madison. He defended the commission’s staff study report.

While he admitted that the houses are not pure examples of Art and Crafts bungalows, he said that they have historical value because “they incorporate features not previously seen in these types of houses. They represent the cusp of what was coming in the 1920s,” Tipler said.

The federation has five days to appeal the ruling. Frederick R. Croen, chair of Hillel’s building committee, confirmed that the federation indeed plans such an appeal.
“At the same time, we are continuing to look at any other project alternative that arises. In the meantime, we will continue to press our case,” he said. “The Hillel Foundation-Milwaukee project continues to be an important priority for the Jewish community.”

The issue now goes before the Common Council, which will decide whether the houses in question will be given permanent historic designation status.

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