Preserving Our Past

A regular feature about the historically significant buildings in Whitefish Bay

Jan. 18, 2008


The G.B. Van Devan House


4601 N. Murray Ave., Whitefish Bay, WI 53211

4601 N. Murray Ave.

One of the Ernest Flagg Stone Masonry Houses of Milwaukee County, this residence was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 12, 1985, and became a Milwaukee County Landmark in 1979. This one and one half-story Flagg System house faces east. The exterior walls are limestone. The original asphalt shingles on the roof have been replaced by tile-colored shingles. The house is U-shaped and window and door openings are asymmetrical. There are five pairs of ridge dormers, four gable dormers, and three chimneys with distinctive round openings. The original garage is attached.

The living room has a limestone fireplace. There is a beam and girder ceiling and casement windows open inward. A long hallway opens off the vestibule and has access to the living room at one end and a bedroom at the other. There is a stairway to the second floor in the center. There is a partial basement and laundry room on the first floor. This had a door to the garage but that has been closed off. Hinges of the type described by Flagg in his book are used throughout the house. The bathroom is one step above the level of the upstairs hall. There is a grate in the ceiling of the hallway for ventilation from the ridge dormers. There is a walk-in attic. Partitions between rooms are 1 3/4 inches thick. A door on the second floor leads to the flat roof of the garage. In the larger bedroom there is a fireplace with a metal hood which is similar to one described on plate 51 of Flagg's book. It has the family crest of the original owners on it.

The house is architecturally significant because it is one of a group of stone masonry houses built designed by renowned architect Ernest Flagg and built in accordance with his unique methods of construction by local builder Arnold F. Meyer & Company Inc. It is also significant because it is one of a group of a row of three Flagg System houses which have been designated as Milwaukee County landmarks. There are five Flagg System houses in this neighborhood.

Ernest Flagg (1857-1947) obtained his architectural education at the Atelier Paul Blondel, Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In 1897, he won the competition for the Singer Building in that city, and in 1907, completed the tower, all in Beaux Arts eclectic style. At the time, the Singer Tower with its 45 stories and 612 feet of elevation was the tallest office building in the world. Among his many commissions include the United States Naval Academy buildings at Annapolis, the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C., and St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.

He devoted the end of his career to designing affordable, yet aesthetic housing. In 1922, at the age of 65, he wrote a definitive work on the subject entitled: "Small Houses: Their Economic Design and Construction (Essays on the Fundamental Principles of Design and Descriptive Articles on Construction)." The essays describe a system for building houses that employ "mosaic rubble" outside walls constructed using a slip-form technique, solid plaster interior walls, and extensive use of ridge-dormers or ridge skylights, to use the space under sloping roof rafters.


Note: Please respect the rights of private property owners when viewing this or any of properties listed in this column.



About "Preserving Our Past"

The Village of Whitefish Bay is a community of residential neighborhoods, punctuated with an attractive walking district of fine stores, excellent schools and vibrant houses of worship. It is filled with homes and other buildings that are architecturally rich, well-designed and maintained, and diverse in character.

Its residents have contributed much to the broad cultural, political, economic and social history of the area. And its residents are interested in maintaining their connections with an historic past.

To help maintain these connections, the Historic Preservation Commission is in the process of identifying buildings and historic sites that it believes may be architecturally significant or historic. On a weekly basis we will feature a building or site from our inventory.



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