State Survey Finds Nearly 2,900 Historic Homes in Whitefish Bay

Rumage, Jeff. Whitefish Bay Patch. January 31, 2012.

Wisconsin Historical Society authorized a historical architect to create a comprehensive survey of the village's historic homes for the first time.

Architect Jennifer Lehrke presents the findings of her nine-month intensive architectural survey of Whitefish Bay homes Monday night at the Whitefish Bay Library.

The architectural and historical significance of Whitefish Bay's homes are no secret, but now a new intensive survey conducted by the Wisconsin Historical Society confirms that nearly 75 percent of the village has the potential to make it on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a presentation at the Whitefish Bay Library Monday night, state historian Joe DeRose and architect Jennifer Lehrke presented the results of the survey, which was conducted from October 2010 to June 2011 by driving down every street and taking pictures of nearly 2,900 historic houses. The Wisconsin Historical Society conducted the federally-funded survey in Whitefish Bay, Shorewood and Stevens Point.

DeRose said the historical society decided to pursue the three communities based on the interest in their tax credit program, which provides 25 percent income tax credits for historic homeowners that undertake repair and rehabilitation projects.

During her time in Whitefish Bay, Lehrke identified potentially historic districts featuring historic houses, as well as some commercial buildings and historic complexes, such as Holy Family Parish and School and the Saint Monica School and Parish/Dominican High School campus. The nearly 2,900 historic buildings are potentially eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Lehrke said the architecture in Whitefish Bay has unique attributes, with colonial revival style being the most prolific in the village.

Colonials are characterized by gable roofs, dormers, simple columns and pilasters, denticulated cornices and shutters. She added many homes deviate from the traditional style by featuring brick on the first floor of the home and aluminum on the second floor.

The second most prolific style of home in Whitefish Bay is the Tudor Revival, which is most distinctly noted by half timbering, generally on the second floor or gable ends, infilled with stucco or brick.

Other popular architectural styles in Whitefish Bay include Mediterranean Revival, which can be seen on Silver Spring Drive, rare Spanish Colonials and Monterey style homes that are more often found in California than Wisconsin.

"I almost want to say this is a Whitefish Bay phenomenon," Lehrke said. "We hadn't really seen these before."

Other styles include Queen Anne, Prairie, Bungalow, French Provincial, International and the Art Moderne style that can be witnessed with the Fox Bay Building on Silver Spring Drive.

Lehrke also worked with the state historical society to discern 12 historic districts, which were distinguished by subdivision plats and architectural similarities, among other factors. Lehrke said Whitefish Bay neighborhoods were unique in that only a couple houses out of the 100-plus-home neighborhoods did not conform to the rest of the neighborhood's architectural standard.

In the future, the village could apply to the state to list the 12 neighborhoods as historic neighborhoods.

During the survey, Lehrke utilized the Mimi Bird Historical Collection at the library - "One of the best collections I've ever seen" - and Village Hall's building permits, which date back to the 1920s.

The village also has its own inventory of 131 historical homes, many of which do not meet the state and federal criteria to be placed on the state's inventory. Those homes are incorporated in the Whitefish Bay Historic Walking Tours and the Medallion Project.

Tom Fehring, the author of "Whitefish Bay" and a Historic Preservation Commissioner, said the survey will be an excellent tool for historical purposes, as well as public education purposes.

"The survey is an incredible resource tool," he said. "Going beyond that, as I was talking to Jennifer Lehrke, who has surveyed communities across the state, she said Whitefish Bay really stands out as a community with architecturally-significant homes, and that we're doing a good job of maintaining our housing stock. With our Architectural Review Commission and Historic Preservation Commission, we've got a good set of ordinances to protect our homes as well."

The 400-page report is available here, as well as on the library website and the village website. The print copy of the report is available at the library's reference desk and at Village Hall. In the report, each of the properties are listed with details like the date constructed, the original owner, the architect or builder, and the architectural style.