Why Mayor Johnson Moved to Milwaukee’s Concordia Neighborhood

He says it’s just a “hop, skip and a jump” to City Hall.

A house in the Concordia neighborhood on Milwaukee’s Near West Side has served as a private residence, a Marquette University Dental School fraternity house and a home hospice location all before it was a home to the tax-exempt Père Marquette Jesuit Community of priests and brothers. And now, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his family are settling into their new home there.

Johnson, his wife, Dominique, and the couple’s three children recently moved into the Tudor Revival-style house in the historic neighborhood, which stretches from 27th Street west to 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue north to Highland Boulevard and has a history that dates to the 1850s.  

“The most important thing is that my wife fell in love with not just our home but with the neighborhood, generally,” Johnson said. “In conversations with her and looking over the neighborhood myself, I fell in love with the historic nature of the neighborhood and the wonderful homes and the craftsmanship of the homes. It was really appealing. And when she was able to find us a home there, she said that’s where we’ve got to be.” 


 

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The Johnsons purchased the house for $350,000, according to city records. The house, which has an assessed value of $332,000, was built in 1902 and has a finished area of more than 4,000 square feet. The family moved into the home in August. 

“It’s an older home and older homes require some work. We’re not immune to that,” Johnson said. “There are some things that we have to have worked on but for the intents and purposes of having a place to live and stay, it’s working out fine.” 

The Johnsons had previously lived in the Capitol Heights neighborhood. In June, they sold the 1955 ranch on North 63rd Street for $193,000, according to city property records. They purchased the home in 2016 for $85,000. The home has an assessed value of $127,700. 

“We needed more space,” Johnson said. “We have a 12-year-old son and 4-year-old twin daughters. We were in one of the legacy neighborhoods on the Northwest Side in a ranch home that wasn’t going to cut it for the twins, who were bursting out of their rooms. The home in Concordia provides more space, so that was great, and when we initially stepped inside the house, just to see the architecture of it and how the home was laid out, it made a lot of sense for the needs of our family, and it was very well maintained. We thought we found a gem and it’s proven to be just that since we’ve been there.” 

The Concordia neighborhood’s name is rooted in the former Concordia College, which served as an anchor for the community for about 80 years before the school moved its campus to Mequon in 1983 and later changed its name to Concordia University. The neighborhood features several lavish Victorian mansions, a few of which operate as bed and breakfasts.  

The Johnsons’ decision to call the Concordia neighborhood home has caught the attention of some of their new neighbors.  

“The Near West Side of Milwaukee is proud to be the home of our newly elected mayor,” said Keith Stanley, executive director of Near West Side Partners Inc., an organization founded in 2015 with a focus on neighborhood revitalization. “Mayor Johnson’s decision shows his commitment to the city while highlighting the positive direction of the Near West Side.”  

Near West Side sign; Photo by Rich Rovito

Johnson claimed a landslide victory in April in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of ex-Mayor Tom Barrett, who resigned last December to become U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Johnson, who became Milwaukee’s first elected Black mayor, had served as acting mayor following Barrett’s departure. 

Stanley said he has been in contact with Johnson, whom he said regularly participates in the organization’s community efforts.   

“We look forward to future opportunities to partner with him as a Milwaukee leader and Near West Side resident,” Stanley said. 

Barry Weber, board president of Historic Concordia Neighbors Inc., said many Concordia residents learned about the Johnsons’ move during the neighborhood’s recent annual picnic. Johnson and his family stopped by to introduce themselves and chat with their new neighbors, he said. 

“Of course, we’re excited to have them as neighbors, but we’d be grateful to have Mr. and Mrs. Johnson as neighbors even if Mr. Johnson didn’t happen to be mayor,” Weber said. “It’s clear that the Johnsons are eager to get involved in the neighborhood and it was great to swap stories with them.” 

Johnson described the picnic as a “great event” in which to get to know a bit about his new neighbors. 

“Everybody was so hospitable and happy to have us there,” he said. “Everybody in the neighborhood came together and really chipped in. Because there are old homes in the neighborhood, folks were talking about how some of them have been in their homes for 30 or 40 years and they have a lot of institutional knowledge on how to make repairs on some of the homes. They share their skills with each other. That’s been really nice.” 

Weber noted that Johnson is joining other elected officials, including state Rep. Evan Goyke and Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman, who also reside on the Near West Side. Weber and his wife, who are teachers, moved to the Concordia neighborhood in 2013 and feel it will have a lot to offer Johnson and his family. 

“I can honestly say this is the most unique neighborhood we’ve ever seen,” Weber said. “Where else can you go roller skating, have some of the city’s best soul food andsee the exact space where Wendy O. Williams was infamously arrested after a Plasmatics’ concert? There’s simply no place like this.” 

In his short time as a Near West Side resident, Johnson already has been frequenting some of the neighborhood haunts. 

“I had been a fan of, and continue to be a fan of, Daddy’s Soul Food restaurant. It’s such a great place and the owners are wonderful people. We really enjoy that,” Johnson said. “And years and years ago, I had my first experience with Miss Katie’s Diner and still enjoy going there today.” 

The Near West Side offers other advantages, Johnson said. 

“It’s great to be so close to Wisconsin Avenue and Marquette University High School,” he said. “The ambiance of that when I’m driving down the street is great and when we have the windows open you can hear the whistles blowing when they are practicing football at the school.” 

The leader of Marquette University High School also expressed excitement over Johnson’s decision to move into a house a short distance from the school.  

“Mayor Johnson’s relocation to the neighborhood affirms that the Near West Side is a growing and vibrant area in which to work and live,” Fr. Michael Marco said. “This year, Marquette University High School is celebrating 100 years at our present location at 35th and Wisconsin and we are proud of our longstanding relationship with the Concordia neighborhood and the Near West Side.” 

The neighborhood provides opportunities for learning and service for the school’s students, Marco said. 

“In keeping with our Jesuit tradition, our students regularly work on service projects in the neighborhood and many other cooperative projects have taken place to introduce our students to our city and its opportunities and challenges,” he said. “Our location also allows our school to be easily accessible to a diverse group of students from throughout the five-county area.”  

Students recently launched an initiative to drop off small welcome packages to new neighborhood residents, and the Johnsons will be among them, Marco said. 

“We also plan to invite him to our school a bit later in the fall,” he said. 

The Near West Side will also provide Johnson with more convenient transportation options, he said.  

“It’s my desire as mayor to improve our infrastructure and make sure that the streets aren’t just for cars,” he said. “We made the investment in a partnership between the city and the county on the East-West Bus Rapid Transit, and that is right in my neighborhood.” 

The East-West Bus Rapid Transit is a planned 9-mile, regional, modern transit service connecting major employment, education and recreation destinations through downtown Milwaukee, Marquette University, the West Side, Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. The service is set to launch next year. 

Johnson is also enjoying a much shorter and easier commute to the office. His new home is about three miles from City Hall, compared with more than six miles when he lived in Capitol Heights. 

“It’s a hop, skip and a jump to City Hall,” Johnson said. “I keep telling my wife that one of these days I want to begin a regimen where I bike down to City Hall.” 

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.