The Village Trustees received a letter this week serving as Notice of Intent to Demolish the home at 920-922 E. Sylvan Avenue from Dan & Lisa Hess, who own the property and live next door.
The Hesses plan to demolish the property and not re-build on the land, keeping it as an "undeveloped lot for now."
The house at 920-922 Sylvan (a duplex) just happens to be one of the most historic homes in Whitefish Bay. The WFB Historic Preservation Commission has lengthy documentation on the home, and has written about it in their "Preserving our Past" column, on the WhitefishBayNOW.com website. Click here to view the entire article.
The Frederick G. Isenring ResidenceThis stately, vernacular residence sits on a lot adjacent to the Whitefish Bay station of the North Shore Fire Department.
Built in 1892 for the first Village President, in the year he assumed office, it was originally located next to Village Hall on Fleetwood Place.
The house was relocated to its present location at 920-922 East Sylvan Avenue by Dr. Williams, the Village Health Officer, who acquired the house following Isenring's mysterious departure.
Isenring was one of the 35 individuals that joined together to incorporate the Village, severing ties from the Town of East Milwaukee. In addition to serving as the Village's first president, he also represented the Village on the Milwaukee County Board. Given his civic and real estate activities in Whitefish Bay, it could be argued that he did more than anyone else to develop the Village.
When I mentioned this to my wife, she retorted with "well, you're so big on homeowner rights, why do you care?"
Generally speaking, I indeed believe homeowners should have the right to do what they will with their homes. Several factors in this case, give me great pause:
- The home may actually be the most historic home in Whitefish Bay, as described in the Perserving Our Past column. Isenring would be considered one of Whitefish Bay's Founding Fathers.
- From the pictures, you can see this home is not dilapidated, and at least from the exterior, is quite well maintained -- indeed, more handsome than many homes in Whitefish Bay.
- No home will be re-built on the property, which means the Village loses some tax base from the demolition. The home is currently on the WFB Tax rolls for $280,400, although the land is valued at half of that.
I would not suggest that no historic houses be bulldozed, nor only dilapidated homes, nor demos prevented solely to maintain the property tax base. The confluence of all those factors, plus its major historic value, tips my scales.
Not that my opinion matters, though.
It would appear that owners have the ultimate legal right to bulldoze any house they choose. You may want to stop by and take a gander at the home before it is gone.