2455 N 40th Street
Teonna Cooksey and Lena Leuci
This home was constructed at 901/903 N. 40th Street in 1914. When the city overhauled its address numbering in 1931, it was assigned to the number 2455/2457, which remains the current address.
This once proud and carefully crafted home now stands in disarray. A recent arson fire and deteriorating interiors have prompted the city to mark this building for demolition. The interior layout is typical of other duplex homes documented in this area of the neighborhood. A glance down the street easily reveals the abundance of homes with the same basic shape, which—despite each house’s individualism of exterior ornamentation and century of use—often indicates a similarity in interior layout.
However, this home differs from the other examples examined by the Field School students because much of the first-generation woodwork and detailing has been removed during subsequent interior changes and remodeling. Some older details, such as a decorative edging of a shelf in the upstairs pantry as well as built-in dining room credenzas, have been preserved. Although it is unclear whether these details are original or added during the home’s early years, the style and quality of work they display are testament to their age. Features including a wooden spice cabinet in the upper unit kitchen and milk-delivery cabinets in the back stairwell stand testimony to the many amenities that were crafted into this home. Despite the general lack of extant wood elements, we discovered the metal remains of some ornate hardware and few radiator-heating units. We also found many layers of paint on some walls, including some bright hues that were later covered over.
An examination of the exterior revealed that contemporary siding had peeled away to expose early, white-painted clapboard siding and decorative brackets supporting the eaves. On one side, a small stained glass window peeks out from behind boards. To the left are the dining rooms’ oriel windows—canted on the first floor and rectangular on the second—while, directly above, lights streams through the unboarded windows of the cross-gable into the lofty attic.
The façade features a two-story porch with a wide cornice supported by three Tuscan columns seated on low brick piers. The first and second floors are nearly symmetrical, sharing a grouping of three windows on left balanced by door(s) on the right. A high gable crowns the façade with wooden shake siding, now with chipped red paint, a central, corniced double window, and slightly flared eaves. Featuring elements drawn from Classical architecture, the house gives off an unassuming yet stately impression to those on the street.
RECORD OF OCCUPANTS
In 1914, Edward W. Schmidtkunz applied for and received a permit from the City of Milwaukee to build a residence at 901/903 N. 40th Street. At the time, the Schmidtkunz family, Edward, Fredericka (Freda) Schapert, and their six children—Edward A. Jr., Hattie, Eleanore (Ella), Matthew J., Gertrude, and Eugene S.—rented house on 39th Street. Previously, in 1900, they had resided in Wauwatosa, where the children were born.
In the same year that Schmidtkunzes were building their new home, war was breaking out in Europe and in 1917 Edward Jr. and Matthew registered in the draft to fight against the country their grandparents had emigrated from—Germany. Both tall with light blue eyes and light brown hair, Edward, 28, was a city waterworks machinist at North Point Pumping Station while Matthew, 24, worked as a stockroom keeper for Cutler-Hammer Manufacturing. Both brothers listed 901 N. 40th Street as their address.
Fortunately, both men survived the Great War and returned to 40th Street: the 1920 Federal Census lists all eight family members living at “901+903.” The census also provides some insight into their occupations and ages. Edward, the head of the household was a grain-brewery salesman and 69 years old. His wife, 58, ran the house, perhaps with the assistance of their youngest daughter Gertrude, 22, who never listed an outside occupation in any census or city directory record. Hattie, the eldest at age 33, was a church gowns seamstress. Edward Jr. had returned to his position with the City waterworks, where he continued to work for several decades. Although electric power and appliances were still catching on in 1920, both middle children were employed in this burgeoning field. Ella, 28, inspected “electric hobes [sic.]” while Matthew was an electrical supplies laborer (possibly still at Cutler-Hammer). Lastly, Eugene, 17, worked as a pattern maker at Falk Corporation, which manufactured industrial power products.
The first half of the new decade was an eventful one for the Schmidtkunz family. Around 1923, Matthew married Genevieve H. Factor and the following year Ella married Arthur H. Streich, a bricklayer for a house contractor. Following the weddings, however, Edward S. passed away in 1925 at the age of 75, leaving Freda in charge of the house and their remaining four grown children.
The 1930 census reports Matthew, his wife, and two young children renting 695 N. 35th Street for forty dollars per month. Ella, her husband, and child, meanwhile, had moved to 2216 Melvina Street and owned their $8300 house. Back at 901 N. 40th Street, the house was valued at $9000, a fairly median price for the street, which spanned the $7000-10,000 range. The census records also reveal that the Schmidtkunz family, like 59% of urban households in Wisconsin, owned a radio set. Additionally, Hattie still worked in religious supplies but had moved up to the rank of department head and later forewoman. Eugene, the youngest at 28 years old, was now an inspector for an electric company, possibly The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Co. (TMER&L), where he worked as a clerk in 1931 according to the city directory. He seems to have changed jobs by 1932, however, as the directory lists him as a motorman (although potentially still for TMER&L Co). Interestingly, Edward Jr. is marked as having attended school or college in the most recent academic year.
Although the layout and multiple addresses (901 and 903) of the house strongly suggest that it was designed as a two-family residence, the Schmidtkunzes were its sole occupants until 1930, when they submitted paperwork to the city “to remodel residence to flat.” Perhaps the family’s reduced size and the economic strain of the Great Depression played a role this decision. The following year, Hatch family moved into the upstairs unit at 903 (or 2457 as of 1931). Like the family at 901 (or 2455) below, the Hatch household consisted of a widow, Mellie B., 63, and her two grown, unmarried children, Arthur C., a 32-year-old appraiser and World War I veteran, and Carol I., a 27-year-old office clerk at the Milwaukee Gas and Light Company. Quite likely Carol was the sole breadwinner of the family during this period as Arthur was unemployed in 1930 as well as 1939-1940.
Originally from Michigan, Mellie Bancroft had married Charles A., a bookkeeper from New York, in 1870 and set up house in Muskegon, where their first two sons, Marvin B. and Arthur, were born. Between 1900 and 1903, when their daughter was born, they moved to Wisconsin, eventually settling in Grand Rapids. Less than a decade later, in 1912, Marvin died at the age of 20 and his father Charles followed behind in 1924, aged 62.
A similar fate befell the Schmidtkunz family the following decade, although, like the 1920s, it began with weddings. First, eldest son Edward Jr. married Mabel Katherine Haehlke in 1932 at the age of 43 and, by 1940, they owned their home at 2956 N 57th Street. This was followed by youngest son Eugene’s marriage to Dorothy M. Ziegler sometime between 1933 and 1940, at which time the pair of Milwaukeeans was renting part of a farmhouse in Waupun and working as a prison guard and teacher, respectively. The once-large household, however, continued to shrink, this time with funerals as first Fredericka, in 1937, and then Hattie, in 1940, were buried. This left Gertrude as the sole resident of 2455 on the 1940 census.
According to census records, the house at 2455 was now valued at $3500. Although still similar to others on the page and comparable to the median home value for the state—and accounting for deflation during the thirties, which raised the value of the dollar—this figure represents a decrease in the value of this home and others on the block, which had been nearly twice the median for the state in 1930. The census also reveals that the three Hatches were paying thirty-five dollars per month for rent, or $420 per year. As previously noted, Arthur was and had been unemployed, but had previously completed two years of college—when he was drafted in 1918 he had been a student at the School of Engineering of Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Carol was earning $1395 annually as a statistical clerk, still at the Milwaukee Gas and Light Co. Considering that none of the Hatch household listed other sources of income, their rent alone ate up one-third of Carol’s (i.e. the family’s) income.
As the country recovered from the Depression and entered the Second World War then adjusted to post-war life, the household and its families, like the country, saw many changes. In 1942, Gertrude Schmidtkunz moved upstairs to 2457 and the Hatches moved downstairs. At the same time, her brothers Edward Jr. and Matthew once again registered for the draft, although neither appears to have been called up. While no longer living on 40th Street and now with gray instead of light brown hair, their 1942 draft cards are strikingly similar to those they had filled out twenty-four years earlier, including their employers.
Between 1940 and 1945, Frank and Bernice Rutkowski had bought the house from Gertrude—by 1953 she had taken up residence at 2723A N. 52nd Street and was working as a seamstress for the George and Zander Co. During the same time period, Joseph M. Kitrush and Hellen A. were married. Joseph was a naturalized immigrant: born in 1890, he had traveled from Germany with his family in 1898. He was also a long-time miller at a seed company, which would have been in high production mode during the forties to supply the war-torn countries of Europe, as described in a 1946 Milwaukee Sentinel article. In 1953, he worked for the S.G. Courteen Seed Co. according to the city directory so it is possible that he had been employed there for several decades, although Courteen was not the sole seed company in the city. Unfortunately, little can be known about Hellen without her maiden name. At the end of the war in 1945, Rutkowskis sold the house to the Kitrush couple, who then took over into the upstairs unit (2457). During his time as owner, Joseph Kitrush applied for a series of investment permits, the first of which occurred in 1951 for building a garage. In 1960, Joseph applied for another permit, this time remove the coal-burning Arco boiler, which may have been original to the house, and install a new gas boiler.
Despite these changes in ownership, the Hatch family continued to live at 2455. However, they soon faced difficulties of their own with the death of their mother Millie in 1945 at age 77. By 1952 Arthur had found employment as an accountant at a paper products company but in that year his younger sister Carol also passed away. Arthur remained at the house until sometime between 1959 and 1963; eventually he also passed away in 1975.
After the mid-1940s and especially after 1960, the number of sources available to follow the residents of the house greatly decrease, leaving city property records as the main sources of information. These tell us that, after living at 2457 for eight years, the Kitrushes sold the house and ownership was split between Horst Rakebrandt and Frieda Henkel. Horst lived on the lower level with his wife Irene and the following year he applied for a permit to replace the wooden clapboards with aluminum siding. Frieda, an un-remarried widow, lived upstairs but appears to have married again by the time she moved out, taking on the last name of Pelzer.
In 1976, Rakebrandt and Henkel sold the home to Allen A. Kalkstein and Linda P. Low, a married couple who lived in the upper level apartment. In 1980, Kalkstein and Low sold the home to Philip Adam Himmelfarb under a land contract deed. Philip lived in the lower level apartment until he sold the home back to Kalkstein and Low under a quitclaim deed five years later. Three years prior, in 1982, Eugene Schmidtkunz, the youngest and last of the original residents of the house, had died at the age of 80.
By 1991, Allen Kalkstein began renting out the lower level apartment at 2455 and applied for a permit to install a water heater. The couple maintained ownership of the property until 2005, when they sold the home under a quitclaim deed to SUrfton Place Charitable Remainder Unitrust. SUrfton Place is an A-1 family limited partnership of Kalkstein and Low. By 2016, the City of Milwaukee had taken possession of the property, which was foreclosed after receiving a series of enforcement code violations beginning in 1993 and increasing exponentially in the 2000s. The disarray we found inside told us that the final residents of the home had their share of burdens and, probably packing quickly, were forced to leave some of their personal possessions behind. The scene was unsettling and, like the fragmented physical and written remains of the house’s more distant past, left us with more questions than answers.
Enforcement Code Violations, 1993–2018
Date — Record Number — Record Type
9/30/1993 — MREC-93-012287-H — Property Registration
7/7/1998 — PLB-98-0038638-H — Building Plumbing Permit
7/10/2000 — ORD-00-02951673-H — Order Violation
7/10/2000 — ORD-00-02951671-H — Order Violation
10/19/2000 — ENF-2000-196108-H — Residential Case
10/20/2000 — ORD-00-03060681-H — Order Violation
5/10/2001 — ORD-01-03266251-H — Order Violation
5/18/2001 — ENF-2001-217124-H — Residential Case
10/9/2001 — ENF-2001-233820-H — Trades Case
2/4/2002 — ORD-02-03544741-H — Order Violation
2/18/2002 — ELEC-02-0462971-H — Electrical Permit
4/16/2002 — ORD-02-03635481-H — Order Violation
4/26/2002 — ORD-02-03645391-H — Order Violation
5/8/2002 — ORD-02-03667451-H — Order Violation
1/15/2003 — ORD-03-03935481-H — Order Violation
9/28/2004 — ORD-04-04703401-H — Order Violation
5/16/2005 — ELEC-05-0586506-H — Electrical Permit
3/13/2006 — ORD-06-05510131-H — Order Violation
3/31/2006 — MREC-06-106054-H — Property Registration
10/10/2006 — ORD-06-05866161-H — Order Violation
3/7/2007 — ORD-07-06073881-H — Order Violation
4/26/2007 — ORD-07-06177021-H — Order Violation
6/8/2007 — ENF-2007-444359-H — Residential Case
6/11/2007 — ORD-07-06277211-H — Order Violation
7/16/2007 — ORD-07-06328571-H — Order Violation
2/28/2008 — ORD-08-06663201-H — Order Violation
4/1/2008 — ORD-08-06724101-H — Order Violation
1/8/2009 — ENF-2009-504718-H — Residential Case
1/13/2009 — ORD-09-07158451-H — Order Violation
3/10/2010 — ENF-2010-549929-H — Residential Case
3/10/2010 — ORD-10-07940261-H — Order Violation
7/13/2010 — ORD-10-08168541-H — Order Violation
10/19/2010 — ORD-10-08364501-H — Order Violation
3/14/2011 — ORD-11-08625101-H — Order Violation
9/1/2011 — ORD-11-09010821-H — Order Violation
10/17/2011 — ORD-11-09087891-H — Order Violation
10/17/2011 — ORD-11-09087892-H — Order Violation
10/17/2011 — ORD-11-09087893-H — Order Violation
10/26/2011 — ORD-11-09117501-H — Order Violation
10/26/2011 — ORD-11-09117621-H — Order Violation
10/27/2011 — ENF-2011-619166-H — Special Enforcement Case
11/4/2011 — ELEC-11-1016014-H — Electrical Permit
11/7/2011 — ELEC-11-0925008-H — Electrical Permit
11/9/2011 — ENF-2011-620537-H — Residential Case
4/20/2012 — ORD-12-09439251-H — Order Violation
6/27/2013 — ORD-13-10303301-H — Order Violation
10/7/2014 — ORD-14-11131741-H — Order Violation
10/7/2014 — ORD-14-11132681-H — Order Violation
10/10/2014 — VAC-14-3270556000-1-H — Vacant Building
3/23/2015 — ORD-15-11389981-H — Order Violation
4/30/2015 — ORD-15-11471741-H — Order Violation
5/15/2015 — ORD-15-11496891-H — Order Violation
7/6/2015 — ORD-15-11580131-H — Order Violation
7/23/2015 — ORD-15-11606811-H — Order Violation
7/23/2015 — ORD-15-11607001-H — Order Violation
8/5/2015 — ORD-15-11635611-H — Order Violation
9/4/2015 — ORD-15-11689831-H — Order Violation
10/8/2015 — ORD-15-11750141-H — Order Violation
11/24/2015 — ORD-15-11834681-H — Order Violation
1/22/2016 — ORD-16-11912991-H — Order Violation
2/9/2016 — ORD-16-11939891-H — Order Violation
3/4/2016 — ORD-16-11983541-H — Order Violation
3/31/2016 — ORD-16-12025181-H — Order Violation
4/27/2016 — ORD-16-12066251-H — Order Violation
6/28/2016 — ORD-16-12163371-H — Order Violation
7/11/2016 — ORD-16-12176531-H — Order Violation
7/28/2016 — ORD-16-12205681-H — Order Violation
9/8/2016 — SLRNT-16-237251-H — Seller Notification
1/20/2017 — ENF-2017-02086 — Residential Case
2/20/2017 — ENF-2017-04918 — Condemnation Case
3/14/2017 — RVIL-17-00035 — Raze Violation
3/31/2017 — PWEU-17-00551 — ROW Excavation Utility
9/7/2017 — ENF-2017-27237 — Residential Case
5/30/2018 — PWCF-18-03887 — Forestry Encroachment