North Main Street neighborhood eyed for Historic Register

Dickmann, Noell. Oshkosh Northwestern, June 24, 2013.

There's something special about Barney Schmitz's home on North Main Street in Oshkosh.

Instead of changing and modernizing it like some people might, he likes the old craftsman style and would rather keep the house like it is originally built.

But he isn't the only one who thinks that way; actually, his entire neighborhood is something special. Schmitz lives in the North Main Street Bungalow Historic District, which consists of 23 modest-sized homes located on North Main Street between Huron and Nevada Avenues.

The district was added to the State Register of Historic Places on May 24, and is soon to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Oshkosh Landmarks Commission.

Schmitz thinks that's pretty neat.

"We're kind of into the history of our house," he said, adding he recently found a relic from Walter Hansen, the carpenter who built it circa 1910.

All of the houses in the district were built between 1908 and 1930 and share similar characteristics, most prominently bungalow architecture. Exposed rafters, small and compact layouts, low-pitched roofs, and lots of windows are some of the features that characterize them.

Shirley Mattox, a member of the Oshkosh Landmarks Commission, said that as a group the district represents house trends from that period, and past residents were the type of people its current residents could relate to: working people.

According to Oshkosh Principal Planner David Buck, the push to get the district on the registers came because North Main Street will be reconstructed in a few years.

"We wanted to make sure the historic character of the neighborhood was thought about when they designed the road reconstruction," he said.

Many homeowners think that because a home is on the register, they're limited in what they can do with their homes, but that's a misconception, Buck said.

"If you wanted to change the roof around, or repaint it, or rip out the windows, change the porch, or do any of that, it would be discouraged," he said. "But, there's no regulation, or no saying you couldn't do it anyways."

Buck said there isn't a downside to having the neighborhood on historical registers; actually, there are only positives. Special street signs, stability, and pride in place are a few of the perks, but one tops them all: tax credits.

When a house is on the historical register, the homeowner can get a 25 percent historic preservation tax credit for repairs to it, as long as the building's historic integrity remains intact.

That means, as Buck explained, if the windows are ripped out and replaced with new, modern ones, the homeowner could not use the tax credit to help pay for it.

Residents can also buy special plaques to have installed in their homes, which can add value to properties. Any building more than 50 years old is eligible for one, he said, even if it's not in a specific historic district.

The North Main Street Bungalow Historic District nomination will be forwarded to the National Parks Service, which decides what to place on the register. That decision typically takes between six months and a year.

The Oshkosh Landmarks Commission is confident of its approval. Buck and Mattox said that once a nomination is approved to be on the State Register, it's almost always also added to the National Register as well.