Duplex on North 40th Street
In the middle of North 40th Street, facing west, sits a beautiful duplex built in 1921. Constructed with a wooden frame, it takes the form of a bungalow. One enters the house into the living room, then moves through the dining room and finally the kitchen at the back of the house. Additional rooms and the bathroom are kept off to the other side of the house. This pattern was a common layout in the United States popularized after the first World War, and is seen often in older neighborhoods in Milwaukee. One of the house’s most unique features is the exceptionally beautiful woodwork that has been very well preserved. Stained-glass windows also add to the classic feel of the home.
As a duplex, the two flat units are individual spaces reserved for the people who live in them and their family members. Although the main living spaces are private, other areas are inevitably shared. This phenomenon of shared spaces along private spaces are what makes a duplex unique. In the case of this particular house, the current owner occupies the main floor and her adult daughter lives in the upstairs flat with her children.
Under the current owners, the house has undergone several changes. One of the biggest transformations is in the attic, where two separate rooms and a living area were constructed, floored, painted, and furnished, to create a play area for the grandchildren. As a result, three generations inhabit the three separate floors of this intergenerational home. Another change includes the conversion of the dining room into a sitting room with a television and sofa, a common conversion seen in many of the homes in Sherman Park.
Because members of an extended family inhabit the different units of this duplex, the interactions between the upstairs and downstairs dwellers have no connotation of unfamiliarity; nobody is a stranger. Yet, when the house was first built in 1922, the original tenant, Frank Coakley, must have had a different relationship with the other inhabitants who lived in the other unit. What must it have been like to run into this stranger, or strangers on a regular basis on the front porch? What kind of interactions occurred when, on a nice day, the neighbors had already claimed use of the backyard for the afternoon?
In the current situation of two related families, we can see the shared spaces as points of a friendly exchange. The upstairs tenant seeing her mother on the way out of the house to go to work might be a pleasant point of interaction, a way in which she maintains her
independence and the daily comforts of her family at the same time. When someone needs to watch the children, they need not leave the house to be under grandma’s watch. Likewise, it’s not such a big deal if someone leaves their laundry in the washer too long, as having to pull out the clothes of a relative is not nearly as annoying as pulling out the soggy underwear of a stranger. On the contrary, if a family argument occurs, these shared spaces might become dreaded areas of passage. One might prefer to tiptoe out of the porch rather than linger in hellos, but unlike living with strangers this discomfort is transient. Regardless of whether these speculations are accurate, we can imagine that for Mr. Coakley the relationship dynamic between neighbors was different, and therefore the meaning of these shared spaces was different in the second decade of the twentieth century.
As time has passed and the stories of the lives of ordinary people have withered, we will never know exactly what the house was like, but we are able to make some guesses based on public records. By sifting through the manuscript census and old city directories, we know that 48-year- old Frank R. Coakley, an inspector for the city waterworks, rented the property from a man named William Hoffman in 1922. He moved in along with his wife Emma, seventeen years old daughter also named Emma, and two sons Frank Jr. and George, who were thirteen and eleven respectively. A year later, the family moved upstairs and new tenants moved in the lower unit. Russian Jewish immigrants S. Louise Chutkow and his wife Anne came with their daughters Sophia, age nineteen, and Miriam age seven. Chutkow was an insurance salesman, and we know that their daughter Sophia became a public-school teacher.
Sometime around 1930, a man named Israel J. Tushaus, a house painter married Emma Coakley and moved in with the family. The Coakleys eventually owned the house, and a man named John Coakley owned it up until at least 1962. It seems quite possible that he was the son of Emma and Israel.
The Chutkows and the Coakleys lived side by side up until at least 1930 and maybe as late as 1940. Perhaps both the wives aired their laundry on strings in the backyard, or shared drinks on the porch as the sun fell. Or maybe they didn’t get along so well. Perhaps the
boys chased young Miriam into the basement, or Mr. Coakley couldn’t stand how loud Mr. Chutkow was when he had friends over on the weekend and had to put up with it for years. We’ll never know their full story, but what we do know is that in the Sherman Park
area, the essence of duplexes has changed, it is now common to have adult children occupying the once vacant floor rather than a family of strangers.
Why has this changed? Keep in mind that the house was built in the 1920s at a time when people had different social values and priorities. Maybe they were not so wary of strangers, more trustful of random people that they might encounter in the shared spaces of the house. Another possibility could be that the modern family values independence or control more than in previous decades, or is more concerned with privacy. In addition to cultural values, economic reasons might also motivate the change. When Mr. Coakley did purchase the home, he continued to rent out the other floor. Maybe he was able to charge more for the property (adjusting for inflation of course), or simply didn’t have personal use for the space.
Despite this difference in neighborliness, the most interesting parallel between the older owners and the current owners is that both rented for at least 10 years before purchasing the home. Inevitably, they both saw the house as an ideal location for their families. They both appreciated the woodwork, cabinetry and detailed construction of the place and wanted to care for it; and did what was necessary to take legal ownership of the space.
Resident History by Head of Household:
1922 - William Hoffman (owner)
1922 - Frank R. Coakley (renter)
1923 - Frank R. Coackley (renter) / Louis S. Chatkow (renter)
1930 - Frank R. Coackley (renter) Israel J. Tushaus (renter) / Louis S. Chatkow (renter)
1940 to 1945 - Frank R. Coakley (renter) Israel J. Tushaus (renter) / Herbert Rathjen (renter)
1947 - Arthur Woerful (renter) / Herbert Rathjen (renter), Frank R. Coakley 1949 - Frank R. Coakley
1962 - John Coakley
Paul Matthews (owner)
1984 - Robinsons (renters)
1994 - Robinsons (owners)
1921 - Building Permit
1921 - Plumming
1922 - Application of Occupancy
1929 - Building Permit - Garage
1962 - Electrical Permit - Transformers / Motors
1962 - Heating Installment
1993 - Electrical Permit - Replacement of fuse boxes, grounded cable to garage
1994 - Electrical Permit - New laundry circuit
1997 - Electrical Permit - Central air conditioner, gas furnaces