WTHP meet-up at the historic Pabst Brewery

Blue Ribbon Hall at Best place. Matt Jarosz talks about the Historic Tax Credit program. 

Blue Ribbon Hall at Best place. Matt Jarosz talks about the Historic Tax Credit program. 

The cavernous speakeasy on the lower level of Best Place.

The cavernous speakeasy on the lower level of Best Place.

The Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation held a social gathering at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery on Tuesday. About 40 people came to drink beer, meet new board members, learn about Wisconsin's Historic Tax Credit program, and have a tour of unfinished areas of the massive building with the Jim Haertel, the mastermind behind the rehabilitation. 

Our new President, Jason Tish talked about recent activities. Board Member, and professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at UWM presented some findings from a recent statewide study of the state Historic Tax Credit program.

Then we all took a tour of some dark and dirty areas of the 1880 building, part of the sprawling former Pabst Brewery complex. 

Jim Haertel and his team offer great "Beer History Tours" on a regular schedule.  Best Place (named for brewery founder Jacob Best, the brewery was later purchased by Frederick Pabst), is a historic rehabilitation success story that was financed in large part with the state and federal Historic Tax Credit programs. Wisconsin recently increased the state credit from 5% to 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenditures. Haertel says the project would likely not have happened without the program. Now, Best Place is positioned to be a significant component in a complex of publicly accessible venues closely associated with Milwaukee's important brewing heritage. 

Two WI Wright buildings nominated to UNESCO World Heritage List

Taliesin - Frank Lloyd Wright's home near Spring Green, WI

Taliesin - Frank Lloyd Wright's home near Spring Green, WI

Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, Madison, WI - Prototype of Wright's Usonian design concepts.

Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, Madison, WI - Prototype of Wright's Usonian design concepts.

Two buildings in Wisconsin are included in a nomination of Frank Lloyd Wright's work to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage List.  The nomination, titled "Key Works of Modern Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright," includes a total of ten of Wright's designs. The Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House in Madison, and Wright's own home at Taliesin in Spring Green are among the ten.

The Jacobs House (1936-37) was the first execution of Wright's Usonian concepts - his model for low-cost, well-designed homes for middle-class suburbia, developed during the Great Depression.    The Jacobs introduced new design concepts to American residential architecture that resonated into the post-war decades, including an open interior plan, and rear-orientation of the living space and bedrooms.

Taliesin was Wright's own home near Spring Green from 1911 until his death in 1959. It's a sprawling complex that includes the main house, a theater, a school, Wright's studio, farm buildings, and The complex served as a laboratory where Wright developed his concepts and methods, and where he taught his ideas to apprentices. 

The World Heritage nomination is currently under a review that includes visits to each of the ten sites by UNESCO representatives before it is formally submitted to UNESCO by the US Department of the Interior. Designation as a World Heritage site provides no protection for listed sites, but it raises their profile among travelers who want to visit sites of cultural importance, and draws international attention to their historical significance.

UNESCO's World Heritage List currently includes 1031 sites, of which 802 relate to cultural history (as opposed to natural history). Twenty-three of those are located in the United States.  The 10 Wright sites could be added to the list in 2016. 

The ten buildings under consideration are: 

  1.  Unity Temple - Oak Park, IL

  2.  Robie House - Chicago, IL

  3.  Taliesin - Spring Green, WI

  4.  Hollyhock House - Los Angeles, CA

  5.  Fallingwater - Bear Run, PA

  6.  Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House - Madison, WI

  7.  Taliesin West - Scottsdale, AZ

  8.  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum - New York, NY

  9.  Price Tower - Bartlesville, OK

  10.  Marin County Civic Center - San Rafael, CA

2015 Local History and Historic Preservation Conference, Oct. 9-10


The Wisconsin Historical Society will host the 9th annual Local History and Historic Preservation Conference in Middleton on October 9 and 10.  Featured presenters include Wisconsin Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett and prize-winning journalist and Frank Lloyd Wright scholar Ron McCrea.

The conference offers sessions and workshops for history and preservation organizations,  professionals and volunteers, history buffs, museum collection curators, even development directors.  There are also opportunities for unique tours on Saturday, including the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, Frank Lloyd Wright's Unitarian Meeting House, and Taliesin.

The Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation and other local organizations support the conference financially

More information is available at wisconsinhistory.org

Madison Updates 1971 Landmarks Ordinance

The city of Madison has adopted a revised historic preservation ordinance after several years of review by the city's Landmarks Commission and a committee of alders. A full review of the ordinance was undertaken by the Landmarks Commission in 2011 after a high-profile and controversial redevelopment project caused bitter negotiations and competing interpretations of the ordinance as it move through the approval process. Then, in 2014, another development proposal in the Mansion Hill Historic District, the state's first locally-designated historic district, was met with stiff opposition from neighborhood residents who saw the redevelopment of a dilapidated house as a reward for demolition-by-neglect. These proposals revealed weaknesses in the language of the 1971 ordinance, and city officials pressed for a full review of the ordinance.

A new residential development being built (2014) in the Langdon Street Historic District.

A new residential development being built (2014) in the Langdon Street Historic District.

The 4-year review process came to fruition this week as Madison's 20-member Common Council unanimously adopted a revised ordinance. Supporters of the new ordinance registering and testifying at the meeting included representatives from the preservation community, and the development community. They unanimously praised the review committee, city staff, and the process. 

The biggest change to the ordinance was the adoption of maintenance standards for designated properties. The new ordinance creates a legal obligation on property owners to properly maintain historic properties. It defines demolition-by-neglect and provides significant penalties for violating the ordinance.

The key revisions to the ordinance include:

  • Clarifying the process destination and recession of Landmark status

  • Augmented the list of standards that the Landmarks Commission should consider including hen designating a new historic district.

  • Adding definitions for several key terms used in regulating alterations and new construction in historic districts

  • Redefined what relates visually to designated historic properties for use in evaluating new construction

  • Clarifying the provision that allows appeals of a Landmarks Commission decision, while maintaining the 2/3 super-majority required to overrule the Commission. 

  • Clarifying the  circumstances under which owners can apply for a variance from the ordinance standards. 

Overall, the new ordinance strikes an appropriate balance between the city's interests in conserving historic cultural resources, and in re-densification and redevelopment. 

There will be a second phase of the revisions that will review the standards in each of Madison's five historic districts designated under the ordinance. 

Wisconsin Legislature retains Historic Tax Credit program

Construction crews take a break during the rehabilitation of Longfellow School in Madison to residential apartments. The project used Wisconsin's new 20% historic tax credit in 2014 to increase Madison's property tax base, create jobs, and increase housing options, and retain an important and irreplaceable piece of the city's history.  

Construction crews take a break during the rehabilitation of Longfellow School in Madison to residential apartments. The project used Wisconsin's new 20% historic tax credit in 2014 to increase Madison's property tax base, create jobs, and increase housing options, and retain an important and irreplaceable piece of the city's history.  

Wisconsin's dramatically successful Historic Tax Credit program will continue unchanged. The state Historic Tax Credit program is available to owners of historic properties designated under the federal National Register of Historic Places program. It offers a direct credit to the owner's state income tax obligation in the amount of 20% of expenditures on restoration or rehabilitation work that meets federal historic preservation standards. It can be coupled with a federal program that also offers a credit of 20% of expenditures for a total of 40% credit for qualified expenditures. The federal credit was initiated in 1981 as an incentive to leverage private investment in older commercial building stock. Wisconsin initiated a companion program in 1990 offering a 5% credit, then boosted the state credit to 20% in 2014.  The programs are powerful financing tools for developers taking on risky historic rehabilitation projects that can include unforeseen costs, and unique permitting regulations. Though risky, these projects often extend the lives of beloved and well-crafted buildings that have some special connection to their communities’ heritage.

Prior to the 2014, the state's program was used for an average of 11 projects per year. In 2014, there were 31 projects approved for a total of $35.1 million in tax credits, and leveraging $211 million in private investment in local real estate. These projects provided rehabilitated space in historic buildings for businesses and housing, and have increased property tax bases in 24 towns and cities across the state, including Milwaukee, Madison, Schofield, Eau Claire, Oshkosh, Dodgeville, La Crosse, Mayville, Ashland, DePere and Baraboo.

Governor Walker’s proposed 2015-17 budget would have capped the program at $10 million, made the credits competitive based on projections for job-creation, and provided for the recapture of credits if job-creation numbers did meet projections. The changes would have dramatically reduced the use of the program because the $10 million cap could be reached with just 2-3 large projects, and developers would have had a much more difficulty finding investors to purchase the tax credits accumulated by large projects, as is commonly practiced. The changes would have made the program too restrictive and too risky for most developers.

Preservation organizations and real estate developers united to lobby for the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) program. The Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation worked with the Historic Preservation Institute (HPI) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study the economic impact of the HTC program in 2014. The Institute, in turn, sponsored a study by accounting and advisory firm Baker-Tilly to estimate the economic impact of the 2104 change from a 5% credit to 20%.

The HPI study found:

  • 31 projects used the program in 2014 at 20%

  • $35,071,257 in credits approved by WEDC in 2014

  • $35,071,257 federal tax funds returned to Wisconsin property owners.

  • $211,269,257 in direct private investment and expenditures on tax credit projects in 2014.

  • 4,062 Jobs created - 1,692 construction jobs and 2,370 permanent jobs in 2014.

  • $20,310,000 – Estimated annual state tax revenue from 4,062 jobs created.

  • $187,993,422- Estimated amount paid by employers to 4,062 new employees.

The Baker Tilly study projected:

  • $417.6 million total impact on Wisconsin economy by the end of the first year of operations: $277.7 million in direct spending, and $139.9 million in secondary spending related to HTC supported projects.

  • For the $34,799,764 awarded in Historic Tax Credits since January 1, 2014, the 25 evaluated projects supported by the HTC program are anticipated to create over 2,800 FTE jobs as a result of construction activities and permanent jobs in the state.

  • The program is estimated to see a complete payback of State of Wisconsin tax revenue by Year 7 of stabilized operations, an estimated $14 million being paid back to the state by the end of construction. These funds will be paid directly to the State of Wisconsin prior the beginning of operations and likely before the State of Wisconsin revenues are reduced by the tax credit.

  • Between labor and business purchases, the 25 approved projects are estimated to create up to $480.8 million in construction spending, and $88.7 million in annual operations. After 5 years of operations, the projects are estimated to create up to $951.6 million in community spending.

  • By Year 10 of operations, the evaluated projects are estimated to directly pay more than $46 million in tax revenue to the State of Wisconsin, a 133% return on the original $34.9 million approved. Including estimated indirect and induced tax payments, by Year 10 of operations, the approved projects will have paid an estimated $96.8 million in taxes within Wisconsin.

These two studies suggests that while the program is structured as a tax credit, it has a unique ability to leverage investments from a variety of sources, including the federal historic tax credit program, out-of-state investment companies and in-state development teams. The historic tax credit program is a true economic development program for our state. As an added bonus the program encourages restoration of unique existing  buildings in communities across Wisconsin.

WTHP Meets for Mentoring Session with Michigan Historic Preservation Network

L-R - Matt Jarosz, Sarah Zaske, Annemarie Sawkins, Jason Tish, Anna-Marie Opgenorth, Nancy Finegood, Mark Ernst, Gene Hackbarth, Janet Kreger.

L-R - Matt Jarosz, Sarah Zaske, Annemarie Sawkins, Jason Tish, Anna-Marie Opgenorth, Nancy Finegood, Mark Ernst, Gene Hackbarth, Janet Kreger.

The board of Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation (WTHP) was recently awarded a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Peter H. Brink Leadership Fund.   The grant funded a two-day mentoring session with the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. Michigan's statewide preservation advocacy group is a mature organization that offers a wide range of programming.  Nancy Finegood, MHPN Executive Director, and Janet Kreger, founding member and super-volunteer, traveled to Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning September 5-6 to offer ideas and insights on successful advocacy and programming.

Discussion focused on MPHN’s programming, staffing, governance, and communications.  MHPN also advised the WTHP board on strategies to establish work plans and expand long-term goals.  The board came away from the session with renewed energy and enthusiasm. The WTHP board resolved to become a lighter and more focused organization advocating for statewide polices that encourage conservation of Wisconsin's historic places, and supporting local preservation groups throughout the state.

The Mary Nohl Artist Environment (PRESERVATION FORUM)

A public forum on the preservation of artist environments is being convened on Thursday, July 10, 2014 in the Lubar Auditorium of the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 North Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from 7:15-9 pm. The forum was organized in response to the announcement that the John Michael Kohler Arts Center intends to move the environment of artist Mary Nohl, located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Fox Point, and a rare example of a vernacular environment created by a female artist, to a location in Sheboygan. The forum is free and open to the public.

The Mary Nohl Art Environment is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The Mary Nohl Art Environment is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Event Information: Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lubar Auditorium of the Milwaukee Art Museum

700 North Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

7:15-9 pm

The public is encouraged to arrive at the Milwaukee Art Museum at 6 pm to attend the opening of Postcards from America: Milwaukee in the Contemporary Galleries. The remarks by photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti and Curator of Photography Lisa Sutcliffe begin at 6:30 pm and will conclude prior to the beginning of the Preservation Forum at 7:15 pm. More information on the exhibition at: http://mam.org/exhibitions/details/postcards-from-america.php

The central purpose of the Preservation Forum is to provide fuller public consideration of the issues surrounding the preservation of artist environments such as the Mary Nohl residence, particularly when they are located in communities that must balance the impact of allowing public access (even on a very limited basis) against the value of preserving a local cultural treasure. The Kohler Arts Center's announcement, which caught many by surprise, became the catalyst for a discussion of the ramifications of moving such a site. It is hoped that this event will not only expand public understanding of the particularities of the Nohl situation, but also introduce into the discourse a clearer sense of the recurring preservation issues that surround artist environments: negotiating with neighbors, defining public access, funding preservation, and weighing the impact of cultural loss on our sense of place.

The program will be moderated by Polly Morris of the Public Art Subcommittee of the Milwaukee Arts Board and will begin with an introduction to the artist's work by Debra Brehmer of the Portrait Society Gallery. Speakers include Ruth DeYoung Kohler, director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center; Lisa Stone, curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, both at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; preservation architect Matthew Jarosz; and local historian John Gurda.

Presentations & Presenters (in order of appearance)

Debra Brehmer: A Yard of One's Own: A Tour of Mary Nohl's Art Environment

Brehmer will take a brief look at the environment Mary Nohl built inside and outside her Beach Drive home over a period of more than forty years. Brehmer has a master's degree in Art History, and wrote her thesis on Mary Nohl. She is the owner and director of Portrait Society Gallery and teaches part time at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Lisa Stone: Women's Work: Mary Nohl and Her "Fellow" Environment Builders

Following a brief introduction to the significance of vernacular environments in our cultural landscape and the imperative to preserve the best examples, Stone will present an overview of environments built by women––most of which are no longer extant––to position Mary Nohl's work within this context. Stone's research and teaching focus on the preservation and interpretation of artist’s environments and collections, and the relationship of objects to creative practice. Since the early 1980s she has worked on the documentation and preservation of environments by artist/builders whose works are home and garden-based, who ignore or dissolve boundaries between home and studio, life and art. She works with Don Howlett on preservation planning and project implementation for their company Preservation Services, Inc.

Matthew Jarosz: Issues in Historic Preservation

Matthew Thomas Jarosz, Associate Adjunct Professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is best known for his architectural design work related to historic preservation. By combining his teaching and research with his involvement in community preservation projects, he has provided extensive opportunities for students to apply and expand academic learning. His private practice, JaroszLynch Architects, has offered students important hands-on education in the matter of professional preservation activities.

John Gurda: The Importance of Context

Since the 1970s, historic preservation has grown from a value-added element--nice but not necessary--to a cornerstone of civic planning. There have been losses, certainly, but there is also a new and broadly shared awareness of the importance of the past in our present. What's too often missing in the preservation discussion is a concern for context. No landmark exists in a vacuum. Each is embedded and embodied in a particular landscape that is integral to comprehending its story and understanding its importance. Gurda will illustrate the general principle with examples from Milwaukee's built environment. Gurda is a Milwaukee-born writer and historian who has been studying his hometown since 1972. He is the author of nineteen books, including histories of Milwaukee-area neighborhoods, industries, and places of worship. The Making of Milwaukee is Gurda’s most ambitious effort. With 450 pages and more than 500 illustrations, it is the first full-length history of the community published since 1948. Milwaukee Public Television created an Emmy Award-winning documentary series based on the book in 2006. In addition to his work as an author, Gurda is a lecturer, tour guide, and local history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He holds a B.A. in English from Boston College and an M.A. in Cultural Geography from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Gurda is an eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Award of Merit.

Ruth DeYoung Kohler: Preserving Artist Environments: Balancing Access and Preservation

Ruth DeYoung Kohler, director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, will provide a deeper understanding of how the institution works to preserve artist environments, and the many elements that contributed to the board's decision to move the Mary Nohl Art Environment from its original location. Kohler has been director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center since 1972.

Conference Stories | Plum Island Life-Saving and Light Station – Door County, WI

The following excerpt was presented by the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation at the 2013 Local History and Historic Preservation Conference in early October. This excerpt is the eighth and final post in a series of stories we have published to the WTHP blog over the last month. Please check back in our archives for more. You can find the whole series here.


Plum Island is located halfway between Washington Island and the tip of Door County in the Port des Morts passage. In 1848, the 325-acre island was reserved from the public domain for lighthouse purposes. In 1896, Congress authorized funds to construct a new keeper’s quarters, range lights, fog signal building, and life-saving station on Plum Island. The Coast Guard operated the facilities on the island until 1990. In 2007, the island was transferred to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Friends of Plum and Pilot Island (FOPPI) was established to provide stewardship for the island’s architectural resources. The entire island was listed as a National Register Historic District in 2010.

This past summer, FOPPI restored the life-saving station’s nearly collapsed front porch. Other work in progress includes an engineering study of the dock, the break wall, and the boathouse. This study was funded by a Wisconsin Coastal Management grant with an in-kind match from FOPPI. FOPPI also received a grant to hire a strategic planning consultant to assist with the establishment of a five-year plan of action. A special ceremony is planned for Spring 2014, when Plum Island is opened to the public for the first time.