Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Spaces and Traces: East Side Places II

On Saturday morning, May 17th, we went out for the annual home tour run by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. This group gets people to open their historically and/or architecturally significant homes and buildings for a one-day tour by the interested. This year's concentrated in the area immediately to the east and south of the UW-Milwaukee campus, an area full of very fine homes, but not quite as palatial as those that tend to line Lake Drive. This year's tour included a number of homes that had had interior design work done by "interior architect" George Mann Niedecken (1878-1945). Niedecken was wash we would now call an interior designer, who worked with the home buyers and builders to create a harmonious whole, including wallpaper, moldings, fixtures, and furniture. His was a very upscale operation for its day: we saw a proposed price list among some of the documents on loan from the Milwaukee Art Museum archives, which included items such as a dining room table at $350.00. That's 1910 dollars, which makes the price the rough equivalent of $7900.00 in 2008 dollars!

Although we did see one Lake Drive palace, the house built by sausage-maker Frank Schaaf in 1915, definitely the coolest house on the tour was number 1, the "Joseph J. Grossman" residence, at 3343 N. Shepard Ave. The house is an "Eclectic Period Revival", which tells you that the buyer and the builder made up a "good parts version" of what they liked rather than following a particular style. The home's hipped roofline shows a French influence, while the red-tile shingles and the main window treatment suggest the Spanish. Inside, an elegant vaulted living room runs the full width and height of the house. Past that, the residence is two stories full of lovely details, such as bathrooms retaining gorgeous original tile. There is a fully finished basement with terrazo floors that features eight-foot ceilings and a rec room fully the size of the living room. Often Georgie and I fantasize about the houses we see on these tours, saying, "I'd take the library from #3, the bathroom from #5, the rec room from #6," etc., but this was one of the few houses we would both just move right into just as it was. Very nice!

One of the interesting trends we noticed with these houses was that they tend to get more modern as you went upstairs. Living and dining rooms tend to be best preserved. Of course, every kitchen has been remodeled, some several times, but there is also more of a tendency to redo bedrooms/master suites. Also, many of these homes had third-floor servants' quarters, which have been redone into kids' rooms or rumpus rooms, often in very creative ways. This was particularly true of the Rubin duplex, a Prairie-style structure, wherein the second- and third-floor units had been combined into one, with a living room open to both floors.
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