It’s almost hard to believe when you’re just a few blocks away on bustling Lisbon Avenue that there’s a quiet leafy enclave nearby that’s one of the few highly select single-block historic neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee.
Listed by the city in 2001, the 47th Street Bungalow Historic District is a collection of 24 single-family homes built between 1922 and 1928 that are homogenous in some ways, yet individually interesting.
The fact that they are all well maintained makes it a nice block — with a diverse resident community — in the heart of the Sherman Park neighborhood, which offers many beautiful homes in many blocks.
While there are clusters of pretty blocks scattered throughout the city, there are a few things that make the 2500 block of North 47th Street special.
First, there were only private single-family duplexes on the block, none taller than two stories. (Two were later converted into duplexes.)
Although most of the houses are bungalows, they don’t all look the same. Architects Paul Bennett, Herman Bruns and George Zagel & Brother’s designs are eclectic and interesting, weaving elements from a variety of styles from Tudor to Mediterranean. And yet they feel like one big happy family.
This unity was achieved through planning, with deed restrictions, that provided for single-family homes—at minimal cost—that had to meet specifications for numerous details, including setbacks, porch size, front door location, front berm height, location of a garage on site and landscaping.
Fences between houses were forbidden, driveways to 47th Street were also off-limits, and houses could only be private, owner-occupied, and occupied. No business or professional uses were allowed.
Additionally, the lots on the block were 50 feet wide, rather than the more typical 40 feet, allowing for a more spacious feel and slightly lower density.
“(These) would provide an attractive, park-like setting for significant, well-designed buildings,” states the historic designation report prepared by the City of Milwaukee Historic Designation Report.
“These agreements were made privately by the developer and were not imposed by the City of Milwaukee, which was then just beginning to adopt its first zoning code. Unlike other charter restrictions on subdivisions in this area of Sherman Park, race was not a factor in the agreements.”
The report added that the restrictions were not only a means to lure buyers, but also helped safeguard property values and investment in improvements.
“Until the zoning ordinance was fully implemented in the 1920s,” the report says, “property owners could build whatever they wanted on their land. A residential area could be crowded with boarding houses, saloons, rental stables and factories.”
As harsh and exclusive as the rules may seem, a century later, this block of 47th Street is still stunning. The restrictions worked.
Of the 24 homes on the block, 19 have garages built in styles to match the homes. And, according to the report, “All but two (of the houses) have retained most of their original architectural details, windows and paneling. Externally very few changes have been made, even to the garages, although permitting documents show evidence of bathroom and kitchen remodeling.”
Two houses were later converted into semi-detached houses despite restrictions, but, the report added, “this hasn’t changed their external appearance.”
The block is on property that was part of the town of Wauwatosa. It was purchased by the Milwaukee Park Commission in the 1890s and portions of the purchased land became Washington and Sherman Parks.
This block actually straddles the boundary of two of the more than 20 subdivisions that lie on the land.
On the east side of the street is the First Continuation of Jackson Park, a 1911 redesign of Jackson Park, which was created in 1892 and is owned by the Jackson Park Land Company.
The west side is in the 1920 Jefferson Heights subdivision owned by the Norma Land Company.
As you walk down the street, you won’t see much evidence of this political distinction, but you’ll understand why the city’s report boasted, “This collection of fine residences epitomizes Milwaukee bungalow design. The scale, proportions and use of expensive building materials in what is considered a modest type of house illustrate the popularity of the bungalow even among those of substantial income.
“The relatively small development area of one block and the short construction time of all buildings of seven years contribute to the uniformity of appearance that sets this block apart from its neighbors.”
Here is a list of homes in the borough, with build dates and architects/builders, as provided by the City of Milwaukee. I hope you will take advantage of it to visit the block and enjoy its distinctive beauty.
Of course please remember that the houses are private residences and should be viewed from the sidewalk.
east side of the street
- 2500 North 47th Street: Dr. Edward J. and Frieda Luntz House (1926) Charles Huebbe, master builder
- 2510 North 47th Street: Charles T. and Gertrude Rosenbaum House (1926) Charles H. Behnke, master builder
- 2516 North 47th Street: Adolph and Katherine Damkoehler House (1926) Henry Torke, master builder
- 2524 North 47th Street: Carl F. and Hilda Garny House (1922) Charles F. Behnke, master builder
- 2528 North 47th Street: Herman A. and Erna Harder House (1926) Henry R. Mayer, master builder
- 2536 North 47th Street: Dr. Hilmar G. and Grace Martin House (1926) Henry Torke, master builder
- 2544 North 47th Street: Adam and Anna Freiburger House (1923) Fischer & Zwicke, builder
- 2550 North 47th Street: Charles H. and Matilda Olroge House (1928) Majestic Builders Inc., design attributed to H. Lewis Mertens
- 2556 North 47th Street: Oscar E. and Isabel Quast House (1923) Oscar Quast, master builder
- 2564 North 47th Street: Joseph P. and Elsie R. Conrad House (1923) Joseph P. Conrad, master builder
- 2570 North 47th Street: Raymond and Lillian Strehlow House (1927) RH Bierman, designer
- 2576 North 47th Street: Edward F. and Emily Schirmer House (1924)
west side of the street
- 2503 North 47th Street: Charles H. and Ella Vollmar (1924) George Zagel & Brother, Architect, Charles Behnke, Builder
- 2509 North 47th Street: Charles F. and Amanda Behnke House (1924) George Zagel & Brother, architect
- 2517 North 47th Street: Gustav E. and Dorothea Strandt House (1923) Herman Bruns, architect
- 2525 North 47th Street: Fred V. and Lulu Benz House (1927) Herbert F. Behnke, master builder
- 2531 North 47th Street: Home of Adolph J. and Elsa Lippold (1926) Paul Bennett, architect
- 2537 North 47th Street: Herman C. and Ida Harloff House (1927) Willian Keierleber, contractor
- 2543 North 47th Street: Fred C. and Alvina Barkow House (1927) Albert Lassanske, master builder
- 2551 North 47th Street: Jesse Owen and Mary A. Franklin House (1922) George Zagel & Brother, architect
- 2557 North 47th Street: House Alfred H. and Selma Greiwisch 1924) Peter Graf, master builder
- 2563 North 47th Street: George F. and Lillian Koehler House (1926) Harry Mewes, master builder
- 2571 North 47th Street: John J. and Elsa Dietz House (1927) Val Schramka, master builder
- 2579 North 47th Street: Peter and Mary Hirt House (1924) Peter Hirt, master builder
For more detailed descriptions of the houses and their builders, see the full historical determination report here.