Pat Connaughton’s downtown apartment project can move forward after historic-designation effort fails

Duplex will be replaced with three-unit building

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A group connected to Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Pat Connaughton can move forward with plans to build a new downtown apartment building following a failed attempt to mark as historic the 154-year-old building currently occupying the site of the proposed project.

Last month, New York-based Beach House LLC filed plans with the city to raze the duplex at 1245-1247 N. Milwaukee St. and in its place construct a four-story apartment complex. Connaughton is president of the development firm.

The new apartment building would contain three units and total nearly 7,000 square feet, including a one-bedroom unit, a two-bedroom unit, and a three-bedroom dwelling that would occupy the top two floors of the building.

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The demolition of the building on the site was put on hold after the city received an application to temporarily designate it as historic. The request was rejected on Monday by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on a 3-1 vote.

“My gut feeling is that this building does not rise to the level of significance to merit designation,” Ann Pieper Eisenbrown, commission member, said before the vote.

Commission member Patricia Keating Kahn was the only member who went against her colleagues. She said there are very few buildings like this one in this part of downtown.

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“My conscience says as an HPC member that our job is to protect these kind of buildings,” she said.

Connaughton told commission members his objective was to find a building in disrepair and replace it with something better. He will live in one of the units.

He said he hopes to complete the project by the end of the NBA season, so that he would have a place to live in the city this coming summer.

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“The goal was the create value in the city of Milwaukee, a place where I like to play,” he said. “But it’s also a place where I’m going to live.”

According to the application, the house was constructed around 1865. Its original architect is unknown, but architect Theo F. Schutz appears to have made alterations to the roof in 1904 and then converted it into a duplex in 1918.

“The significance of this site and structure is it is one of the last historic single-family residences in the downtown area,” the application states. “It shows the architecture of a period in Milwaukee of early residential architecture, which is heavily influenced by German immigrants.”

John Vogel, who said he was a professional cultural resource consultant working on behalf of Beach House, told commissioners on Monday what is known of the building does not amount to making it historically significant.

He conceded it may be “historically interesting” that the house is one of the last of the historic single-family residences downtown.

However, “one house really can’t represent, I don’t think, an entire neighborhood and all that lived in it, nor can it effectively represent all the houses that once existed in the neighborhood,” he said.

Vogel also argued one criteria for evaluating a building’s significance is that someone who was historically connected with it would be able to recognize the building as it appears today. This isn’t the case for the duplex, which went through a number of major changes since it was constructed, he said.

Len Connaughton, Beach House vice president and father of Pat Connaughton, said his firm values historic properties and that he did his own research of the duplex’s history.

“My opinion, walking through that property, looking at the condition of the foundation, I feel the building has been cannibalized significantly, and I’m not sure there is historic significance,” he said.

He later added the building has not been occupied for three years.

The move to designate the building as historic came from Dawn McCarthy, immediate past president of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. However, she filed the application personally and not on behalf of the preservation alliance.

Even so, it had the backing of the preservation alliance, said its executive director Craig Wiroll. He said the designation would give officials and residents more time to learn more about the building’s history. He added the developer’s intention was to demolish the building as soon as possible.

“This designation will give the public an opportunity to know about the potential loss of a building that could prove significant to the history of Milwaukee,” he said, “and as public servants and community developers, I think we should encourage well-informed public feedback and participation whenever possible, and I think this designation will allow us to do that.”

Len Connaughton said Beach House will actually deconstruct the building, saving whatever materials it can.

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