2453 N 38th Street
At first glance, this home may not seem like much. It is similar to many other buildings in Sherman Park and Milwaukee: a two-story duplex built by German immigrants in 1911. It has now fallen into disrepair since it went through a bank foreclosure in 2008 and a city foreclosure in 2014. It has now been vacant for four years, but the walls tell us stories of those who lived in this dwelling.
A rich German heritage is most evident in a hand-painted mural that appears to be original to the home. The mural, which occupies a band around the top third of one of the first floor bedrooms, features children wearing lederhosen and dirndls running, playing, and picking pears from trees in a scenic garden backdrop. The painting was clearly done by skilled artist. However, it is unclear what the room was used for. It is unlikely that such a detailed mural would be in a child’s room. So we speculate that it was used as a parlor. Over time, the mural was covered by multiple layers of paint, and we were only able to see portions of it because water damage had caused the encrusted layers of paint to peel away.
The house shows other hints of change over time, such as a kitchen door removed perhaps to create a more open living space, the kitchen pantry converted into the walk-in closet of an adjacent bedroom, and an entryway blocked off with a more modern wall and door to increase privacy. Like many others, this home has stood through the transitions of many generations, cultural values, and desired aesthetics and adapted to changing needs over time.
The formal front — private back layout of the home is an important morphological pattern that we find in most duplex units in this neighborhood. The front rooms include an entrance hallway, formal living room, and dining room with a bay window. Back rooms include a kitchen with parlor, basement, attic, bedrooms, and a bathroom. When these homes were built, the front rooms were generally used for entertaining while the back areas were used for private uses and domestic work. As a result, the front rooms had elaborate ornamentation of woodwork and high quality building materials while the back rooms were less decorated.
Records of Occupants
The address of this home, built in 1911, used to be 899-901 N 38th Street. The home address was later changed to 2453-2455 in 1931.
The original owner was F.L. Garvens and he applied for a permit to build this two-story flat. By 1919, John Roemer owned the home and lived here with his wife Amanda Roemer. John was thirty years old and Amanda was twenty-five during the 1920 census. They shared the home with their daughter Esther Roemer who was four, and their son Adolph Roemer who was two years old. John was born in Germany, and so were his parents. He immigrated from Europe to the U.S. in 1903 and worked as a bookbinder. His wife Amanda had ties to Germany through her father, who was born there. Her mother was born in Wisconsin. Amanda did not work while living in the home.
John rented out the upper level apartment to J. Norman Patterson in 1916. J. Norman worked as a special agent when he began renting. He transitioned to working as an insurance agent in 1917, and by 1920, he worked as an agent at the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. He married Alma in 1921, and by that time, J. Norman worked as a salesman.
John Roemer sold the home to Edward C. Benedum on March 1, 1920. Benedum married Johanna Benedum a year after purchasing this house. He worked as a carpenter in a private industry, and earned $1900 per year. His wife was born in Germany and did not work while living in the home. They had a twenty-six year old son named Marshall who lived with them. He worked as a teller. Within the first few years of owning the home, Edward applied for a series of permits to invest in the home. In 1924, he wanted to build a garage ten feet away from the home. In 1939, Edward applied for another permit to re-side the house. His last permit request occurred in 1940 when he initiated a plumbing repair. Both Edward and Johanna were fifty-six years old at the time the 1940 census and they were still living in the home. In 1942, Edward Benedum received his World War II registration draft card. He was fifty-eight years old at the time.
While Edward and Johanna owned the home, they rented out the upper apartment to Charles L. Stroh in 1927 and Robert C Klein in 1930. Robert was thirty-two and married to Lorraine Klein who was twenty-four years old. Although Robert was born in Wisconsin like his father, his mother was from Germany. Robert worked as an office clerk at the railroad company and his wife worked as a milliner in the wholesale house industry. Her mother was born in Wisconsin and her dad was born in Russia.
In 1940, the upper level apartment was being rented by Elizabeth Braun who was fifty-eight years old. She had a son named Robert Braun who was twenty and worked as a draftsman in the private work sector. Elizabeth was widowed and did not work while living in the home.
By 1950, Benno L. and Catherine A Bischel were living in the lower apartment. They lived here until 1980. Bischel purchased the home from W.D Benedum on July 28, 1950 and lived there till Helen Karlik purchased the home on February 4, 1980. Helen married James E. in 1983. The Karliks applied for an electrical permit to conduct some remodeling work.
George W. Harris Jr. began living in this building in 1985. George was married to Searell P. Harris. By 2000, Searell P. Harris was living in the lower level apartment, and stayed there until 2005 when Barry Green moved in. The following year, Mahlon B. Oie—who may have been the landlord at the time, was living in the lower level apartment.
On June 3, 2008, the home received a sheriff’s deed for the home because the property went into foreclosure. The Deutsche Bank owned the home while in was in foreclosure. They sold the home a year later to Gloria K. Branch, who began living in the lower level apartment in 2009. Between 1997-2018, the home began receiving a series of code violations which led to its foreclosed status. By 2014, the home was back to city ownership due to tax foreclosure.
1911: F.L. Garvens
1920: Edward C. Benedum, carpenter
2009: Gloria K. Branch
1916: J. Norman Patterson, special agent
1917: J. Norman Patterson, insurance agent
1918-1919: J. Norman Patterson
1920: J. Norman Patterson, agent, Alma (spouse)
1921: J. Norman Patterson, salesman, Alma (spouse)
1922-1925: J. Norman Patterson
1926-27: Charles L. Stroh
1985: George W. Harris Jr., Searell P. Harris (spouse)