Preserving our Past: April

April 11, 2011


John Douglas and Myrtle Edwards Residence


4737 North Sheffield Avenue


This ‘Vaulted Tudor’ residence was constructed by the John Edwards, Co. for the owner’s own family. It is believed to have been designed by architects Wesley L. Hess and/or George A. Kemnitz in the English Tudor Revival style.

The John Edwards Co. was noted for the construction of distinctive homes in a design they noted as a ‘Studi-O-Home’ layout. Such homes featured a prominent gabled room at the front of the house which connects with the balance of the house, which is either gabled or hipped. A large dormer is typically located on the adjacent front roof, above the front entrance. The layout permits a vaulted ceiling in the ‘studio’ living room, and a second story library with a balcony that looks out onto the living room. All Whitefish Bay homes of this design feature a brick veneer on the first floor and surrounding the gabled front room, and half-timbered stucco on the majority of the second floor.

This somewhat more modest home appears to represent an attempt to create a more affordable English Tudor Revival home during the early stages of the Depression, yet retaining some of the features that made the ‘Studi-O-Home’ attractive. As one example, it continues to feature a valued front room.

John Douglas Edwards and his wife Myrtle lived in this residence for almost a decade – reflecting the importance of the construction business in Whitefish Bay to the Edwards Company.

John D. Edwards was born on August 26, 1893 in Spencer, Iowa, before moving to Madison Minnesota as a youth. He reportedly had an early interest in sales of various products, starting at the age of 14. He came to Milwaukee in 1918 at the age of 25, engaged in sales and promotion work. In 1922 he was named to lead the Securities Department of the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company (predecessor to We Energies) – a position he held for only a short while.

He married Myrtle Johnson of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and they had three children, J. Douglas, Annamae and Richard.

Edwards incorporated the John D. Edwards Company on April 9, 1925, along with Charles H. Blackburn and Edward W. Strauss. The 1929 Annual Report lists Wesley L. Hess as a director and secretary and George A. Kemnitz as director and vice president – showing that both architects (Hess and Kemnitz) were actively involved with the firm at the time the homes covered by this application were built.

A 1943 article in the Milwaukee Sentinel reports that the John D. Edwards Company was reorganized following the death of Mr. Edwards and notes that, “Edwards built more than 1,000 dwellings in the Milwaukee area, concentrating in the last few years on large scale, low cost housing projects. He was just completing a new experimental type of home … when he died.” The article also noted that the Company had featured various developments in prefabrication to reduce building costs. His son, J. Douglas Edwards, headed up the reorganized company following his father’s death.

In addition to homes of the Studi-O-Home design of which at least seventeen were constructed in Whitefish Bay, the John D. Edwards Co. also built homes of different styles and design. The firm contributed significantly to the first-rate housing stock within the Village.




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