After years of seeking an affordable way to save a 165-year-old brick building in Milwaukee’s near south side, owner Cliff Gross’ decision was sealed over the weekend when the structure’s chimney tumbled and crushed the roof.
“The building was of historic significance, and we worked for four years with specialty masons, historical masons and historical contractors to see if we could put it back together,” said Gross. “But it was just so corrupted.”
Gross bought the building, built in 1845, five years ago because it is near a shop he also bought for his business of restoring antique architectural cabinets. He said he was planning to sell both buildings and move out of the neighborhood before the older structure partially collapsed last weekend.
The building near South First Street and Greenfield Avenue is surrounded by land slated for redevelopment, including the prospect of a new University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences.
“It’s an area for businesspeople,” said Gross, owner of CMG Enterprises Inc. “We’re a very small, two-person firm and we’re just not suited for this area.”
The brick building, developed by Alanson Sweet, who is credited with building the first Door County lighthouse, did not have any historic designation.
Since the building’s fate was sealed when the roof collapsed, Gross said he can only demolish the structure and look for a developer to buy the site.
“Some guy could really clean up here,” Gross said.
Gross on Monday applied for a city permit to demolish the two-story brick building at 1216 S. First St., said Todd Weiler, spokesman for the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services.
The building’s roof and part of its second story collapsed over the weekend. By Monday afternoon, all of the bricks and debris from the collapse had been cleaned up, Weiler said.
The city in November ordered Gross to repair the roofs on both of his buildings after inspectors discovered holes and defective and missing roofing material. Officials gave Gross until March 25 to fix the problem, so Gross already faced a city order to renovate or demolish the buildings, Weiler said.
“Obviously, Mother Nature made up his mind for him,” Weiler said.
Nonetheless, Gross said, he always wanted to leave behind a restored historic building, rather than the empty lot he must now create. But Gross said the building was in such poor shape when he bought it that the only way to save it was to take it apart piece by piece and rebuild. The cost, which he said would be at least $135,000, is more than he could afford.
“Its fate was sealed 75 years ago,” Gross said. “It was just an act of historic desperation to try to see if we could get it back right.”