City staff: Historic home could be moved to make way for new fire station

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

JANESVILLE--City officials are considering buying and moving a historically significant home that must go to make room for a new Milton Avenue fire station.

The historic home at 327 Milton Ave. was built in 1868.

A new, $9.5 million fire station will muscle its old neighbor and 11 other homes out of its way when it is constructed just to the north of the current station. It will take up the entire point of land located between Centerway, Prospect and Milton avenues.

The existing station will be demolished.

The historic yellow, wood-framed home is located in the Conrad Cottages Historic District, so the city is required to work with the state to “mitigate damages to historic structures and districts,” said Gale Price, city planner. It is one of the oldest structures in the city.

The Conrad Cottages Historic District contains seven historic structures, including four brick buildings across the street from the fire station all built by the same contractor.

Fannie Mae mortgage company owns the home—it is in foreclosure and vacant—and has set a sale price of $68,000. The city has offered that amount. The home is assessed at $89,100.

Judy Adler, a retired city employee, was hired by the city to help relocate residents who are being displaced by the fire station project. She helped create the historic district in the early 1990s.

Adler said the home's Second Empire style and its mansard roof make it special in Janesville, which has only about a half-dozen similar structures remaining.

Second Empire refers to an architectural and decorative arts style popular in France between 1852 and 1870.

“It would be very nice if we could save the building,” Adler said.

It would remain a “significant” historic building even if it were to be moved, she said.

City staff recently toured the building and members were heartened to discover it is in good shape and could be moved for about $20,000, Price said.

That means relocating the home to a site in an appropriate neighborhood remains an option, Price said. He has started considering appropriate sites.

Price said he is a “building guy,” so it was exciting to discover the home could be saved.

“Certainly, from the environmental standpoint, one less house in the landfill is a good thing,” Price said.

The $20,000 does not include other expenses such as disconnecting utilities and digging a foundation.

Price said the structure is in good shape with original woodwork. The structure is made of hand-cut lumber. It also contains some original fixtures.

The home has 1,906 square feet and three bedrooms.

Tim Maahs, chairman of the city's historic committee, said an empty lot for sale at 345 S. Main St. might be a good location because another mansard-roofed home is nearby. The former Rock County Appliance building down the street also has a mansard roof.

“That would be optimum to replicate the rhythm of the neighborhood,” Maahs said.

Another good spot might be at 58 Jackman St., where only a garage stands.

The city could move the home, store it and put it back on the other side of the new fire station. That is more problematic, though, because the city would have to store the house through months of construction, Maahs said.

The historic commission had recommended building a smaller fire station to fit the scope of the neighborhood and to avoid moving the historic structure. Maahs previously said the historic commission was made aware of city plans for the historic neighborhood late in the process.

“If it's got to go, I'm encouraged by how (the city is trying) to recover from poor execution up to this point,” Maahs said.

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