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

Spaces and Traces 2016, Historic Water Tower Neighborhood

On Saturday morning, May 14th, we went on the annual Historic Milwaukee “Spaces and Traces” tour of homes, which this year was in the “Historic Water Tower Neighborhood.” This area of the city is on the north side along the lakeshore, and, for purposes of this tour, was bounded on the north by East Hartford Avenue, and on the south by East Windsor Place.

We began the tour at the Joseph and Charlotte Friend house on N. Hackett Ave., which was a handsome and spacious 1896 Queen Anne style home, and continued to the Emmons E. Chapin house on N. Summit, also a Queen Anne built in 1894, and the John F. Dahlman “Investment” house, a Federal revival, also on Summit. (For these tours, the houses are designated by the names of the original owners/residents. The current owners remain anonymous for privacy’s sake.)

We then went up to the north edge of the tour area and got to see one of the real jewels of the tour, the Orrin W. and Harriet H. Robertson house on North Lake Drive. If you know Milwaukee, you know that North Lake Drive is one of the most prestigious addresses, and the site of many fine homes. The Robertson house is such a one.

The house was built in 1912 after the Robertsons had toured France, and designed by noted Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler after the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau at the Robertson’s request. Built between 1518 and 1527, this château is considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture.

Although for about twenty years from the 1960’s to the 1980’s the house belongs to various orders of nuns and used as a retreat, the house has been carefully restored and furnished with thematically appropriate pieces. A striking feature of the design is the corner turrets, which give the house a very fairy-tale air. The side facing the lake has a very clear view out to the horizon across a long lawn stretching to the bluff edge.

Next, we visited the W.B Rubin Duplex on N. Summit Ave. This 1911 Prairie Style building is about as different from the Robertson house as can be, with its modernistic flat roof and rectangular lines. Now a condominium, the two units have been decorated in different styles by the respective owners, but both in ways congenial to the building. The first floor in particular was furnished with Prairie-style furniture. The upper unit had combined the original flat with the third-floor servant’s quarters, which were used as a very spacious and ultra-modern master suite.
After that, we went down to the south end of the tour area to see the Elizabeth Black house, which shows influences of French Provincial design. Built in 1926 for the then elderly spinster, the house incorporates an elevator, which is still functional. This is also one of the first houses in Milwaukee I have seen that boasts a purpose-built wine cellar (although it was not likely noted as that on the Prohibition-Era blueprints). The rooms we were allowed to see were spacious and beautiful.

Our final stop was the “tavern room” of the Becker-Fitch house on E Back Bay Street, another property overlooking the lake. This room, designed and decorated to look like a rustic Irish pub, was added to the 1895 home in 1923, as a “den”. It has a separate entrance down the drive to the back, and was well situated for “discreet” entertaining.

This year’s tour was particularly good, and we enjoyed it (despite the unseasonably chilly weather).

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Tags: architecture
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