Peeling back Beach Drive's tony veneer...
Living along Beach Drive is like sitting at a drive-in movie theater and watching an ever-changing screen, Lake Michigan, in all its glory – one day choppy with whitecaps and another blue-hued and tranquil. Wedged in between the palatial homes that line the 1.5-mile stretch of road in Fox Point are a couple of well-worn battlegrounds and an oddity (or three). Read on for the details.
Fighting with Sticks
➸ Beach Court, a dead-end street that meets Beach Drive at a T intersection, has become something of an arboreal battleground. In a story that first begs a brief topographical note: The court rests on flat land and is arranged perpendicular to the lake, so that each house has a view of the water. In early 2016, residents Scott and Laura Mullins attempted to expand on their vantage by trimming back 13 shaggy trees that were growing on the property of their eastern neighbor, Kathe Lake, without first getting her permission.
Soon after, Mullins and her husband thought better of their actions and wrote a letter to Lake apologizing, but she was not appeased and responded on two fronts. First, she filed a lawsuit, and second, she donated money to the village of Fox Point to plant two trees in front of the lakeshore, partially blocking the views of the Mullinses and others.
Scott Brandmeier, the Fox Point public works director, defended the trees, noting that Beach Drive has many such plantings: “One person’s perception on a view being blocked may be another person’s perception of a view being enhanced.”
After Lake’s lawsuit was dismissed in May, she planted 21 more trees on her lawn, further blocking the Mullinses’ views. In an interview, Laura Mullins called the new trees “a spite fence.”
A New Mold
➸ Idyllic Beach Drive is also home to the notorious “mold house,” a multi million-dollar mansion that’s severely infested with black mold. According to former owner Andy Gronik, a Democratic businessman now running for governor, the house at 7736 N. Beach Dr. had, at some point before he bought it, sustained serious flooding, sewage backups and window leakages – damages the prior owner had neglected to disclose. Gronik bought the house in 2009, moved out in 2010 after his whole family got sick, and later sold the property to developer Tan Lo, co-owner of Barrett Lo Visionary Development (the firm behind The Couture skyscraper project) for about the same price he paid for it – $3.55 million.
Lo plans to raze the house and construct a French-style, limestone mansion with 12-foot ceilings and a mansard roof for an estimated $2 million, says the architect, William T. Baker of Atlanta. The plans also call for an indoor basketball court for Lo’s young sons plus another sports room (for dad, presumably) with golf turf flooring, and a theater.
In early July, Lo declined to comment because he had not yet gotten building permits and wasn’t certain it would go forward. On June 9, the Fox Point Building Board gave preliminary approval to the project, subject to the village also approving its grading and drainage plans, along with other conditions.
“This may be the nicest house built in Milwaukee since the 1920s,” Baker boasts, the Fox Point address notwithstanding. “It’s a symbol of the positive movement forward of the city.”
The Witch’s House
➸ The former home of outsider artist Mary Nohl (who died in 2001) at 7328 N. Beach Dr. is undergoing a restoration that includes a collection of playful and weird concrete sculptures that crouch, slump and sit in the house’s yard. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan once hoped to remake the house into a public museum, but now, after a more than 10-year struggle with neighbors who think the property is an eyesore, the restoration’s main goal “is just to save it,” says exhibitions manager Jo Bjorkman.
During Nohl’s lifetime, the menagerie surrounding the structure was in constant flux, so the restorers are attempting “to resurrect and freeze a moment in time, possibly the late 1980s, when she was working there,” says Bjorkman. ◆