The story of an intriguing Sherman Park home begins with 1933 award-winning design
A WUWM listener reach out to Bubbler Talk after discovering an unusual Milwaukee house, but couldn’t find any pictures of its interior. She wanted to know more about it, and the question seemed simple enough — I’m on it!
The address is 3840 N. 55th Street. It’s in Sherman Park’s northwestern corner, in a neighborhood called Grasslyn Manor. A bit of Googling leads me to a Wisconsin Historical Society architecture and history inventory of the house and images of its exterior only.
This house built back in 1933 is a sleek, striking, two-story, boxy structure with a tall tower at its northwest corner. It’s pale peach in color and its contemporary style stands out in the sea of more traditional homes that surround it.
Kay Weisman grew up in Sherman Park in the 1960s and remembers riding her bike past the house.
“There was a big hill there and we used to just love to ride down that thing and we’d see that house and go, 'WOW, is that an elevator in that tower?'” Weisman recalls. “And then we never thought much more about it and then later I find out it’s this home show prize-winning house and all that."
The structure was designed by Milwaukee architect Henry Phlllip Plunkett and was built for $10,000. It was crowned Home Show Home of the Milwaukee Board of Realtors 11th annual show.
Its style, sometimes called international, includes precise geometric forms, smooth walls, a flat roof and horizontal bands of windows.
The design was already popular in Europe, but this house was a first for Milwaukee. As for its tower, a long narrow pane of glass extends up its face. Inside, a spiral staircase winds up to a roof top terrace.
But what about the inside of the house? What does it look like? The current owner is a private person and wants to keep it that way.
So I gave Scott Bush a call. He’s vice president of the operations with the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors. Did he have photos?
“We gave all our minutes and scrapbooks to the historical society. It’s gotta be there,” Bush says.
Next stop, the Milwaukee County Historical Society.
Michael Barrera, the assistant archivist and digitation specialist, had pulled files and a scrapbook from the realtors’ archives. “They cover the time span you’re interested in,” Barrera says.
That search revealed some fascinating stuff.
A Milwaukee Journal article featured a photo of the groundbreaking— home show committee members with shovels in hand. The article states, “The first floor will have a combined living and dining room, kitchen and lavatory. … The house will have a flat roof which can be utilized when weather permits.”
A later article introduces Joseph Ielase. Why, and who is he? The father of three won the home in a raffle drawing at the end of the show, but Ielase never lived there.
A variety of renters and one 30-plus-year owner followed.
By then, years of wear, the challenges of a floating roof, and the leaking that came with it plagued the structure.
In 1990, Rich and Anne Ward bought the house and threw themselves into preserving the renowned international style home. And in 1994, they opened their doors to Historic Milwaukee’s 13th annual spaces & traces tour.
Neighbor Steven O’Connell remembers the tour, the Wards and the house well.
“Everything in the house is absolutely unbelievable. [The] wood — maintained by the Wards and maintained by the present owner — gorgeous wood. It’s an open air concept downstairs. You stand in the dining room and look right into the living room and behind it is the kitchen area and you just kind of move around, no walls, so you’re moving from space to space,” he says.
O’Connell says the original craftsmanship featured a redwood hot tub in the basement. “There were all kinds of amenities in the house,” he says.
O’Connell’s memories of good times spent with the Wards in the home they loved will have to fuel our imagination.
There were no interior photographs to be found.