This one’s a bit late, admittedly, last week’s entry couldn’t wait. This week’s Heartlander is the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, for putting the brakes on the demolition of the Sidney Hih building. Sidney Hih is a nineteenth century building that was an incubator for Milwaukee’s homegrown arts community in the 70s and the 80s. Having fallen into disuse in recent years, the historicstructure remains, a relic of a long gone built environment and a piece of a more recent chapter in the history of the local arts community.
The building was originally threatened by an attempt to bring the corporate headquarters of Kohl’s into downtown. Kohl’s decided not to relocate, so why demolish the building? Because . . . . Milwaukee has recently developed some kind of love affair with the bulldozer, so why not?
A lot of communities have really gained value for their older neighborhoods over time by saving historic buildings, incorporating their scale and character into streetscaping, and attracting occupants who appreciate historic architecture and the character of older structures. Older buildings—especially larger commercial structures like Sidney Hih, were often built to a much higher construction standard than modern buildings, and despite neglect and disuse, often offer a lot structurally (like true masonry curtain walls rather than prefab brick veneer) than some new construction, built on the cheap, built to be torn down. And has been pointed out time and again, historic renovation creates jobs, too. And if nothing else, saving facades is a time tested no brainer at this point.
Will preservation and reuse of the Sidney Hih cost something? Probably. Will it repay itself many times in both tangible and intangible returns that don’t show up on traditional balance sheets? You betcha.
Here’s to the little guy, keep fightin’.