As newly minted empty nesters, Jim Haertel and his wife couldn’t wait to spread out in their 1,000-square-foot bungalow in Wauwatosa, WI.
Instead, the couple will soon embark on a massive renovation of a 7,400-square-foot historic mansion purchased for a single buck.
“It’s my plan to live in it,” Haertel says of the Tudor-style mansion.
Haertel is a proponent of preserving historic architecture in the Milwaukee area. As a preservation-minded citizen, he couldn’t let the mansion-on the National Register of Historic Places-crumble. Like his home, the mansion is in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee.
His interest in saving the structure from the wrecking ball began when local developer Mandel Group sought to raze four red-brick buildings that were constructed as a school in the early 1900s. Mandel Group wanted to build luxury apartments in their place.
Instead of preserving the historic structures, the developer cited astronomical costs involved with converting the buildings. The construction of 188 rental units started in 2014-and three of the buildings were demolished.
However, there was a hurdle with the fourth (and final) building. The structure was approved to be razed for another new condo building-but it was allotted a measly two parking spaces. This lack of parking wasn’t going to work for the developer.
Sensing an opening, Haertel took a meeting with Barry Mandel and made a proposal.
“I took a dollar out of my pocket and slapped it on the table,” says Haertel. Mandel announced they had a deal, and the mansion was his. Haertel even gave his bargain bin purchase a new name: Eschweiler Manor, named after its architect, Alexander Eschweiler.
“I love being historical, but not hysterical,” says Haertel. “At least saving the most important one (of the four buildings) was worth the risk.”
He’s up against a June deadline to complete the exterior, then has another year for the interior work. Boarded-up windows will need to be replaced, damage from trees that fell onto the roof require patching, and missing copper downspouts and red bricks need replacements. Thankfully, he was able to salvage some vintage parts from the adjacent buildings.
“I’m estimating about $400,000 to get it to where my wife would want to live in it,” jokes Haertel. “And she’s a down-to-earth lady.”
Haertel eagerly awaits the challenge. “It’s stuff I love doing. I’m like a kid in a castle,” he says.
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