Preserving Our Past

A regular feature about the historically significant buildings in Whitefish Bay

April 20, 2007


The Herman Reel House


4640 North Lake Drive, Whitefish Bay, WI 53217

4640 North Lake Drive

Sited on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in the Village of Whitefish Bay, the Herman Reel house is an imposing Tudor Revival-style residence. It is characterized by Eclectic English Tudor design, quality craftsmanship, and ornate interior detailing. Constructed between 1928 and 1929, the exterior walls are constructed of stucco and stone from the quarries in Lannon, Wisconsin, with some half-timbering on the second level.

Designed for Milwaukee merchant Herman Reel by noted Wisconsin architect Richard Philipp, this residence clearly evidences Philipp's ability as a designer of merit. Richard Philipp was a widely known Milwaukee architect who was the original consultant in the planning of Kohler Village. He designed many homes and buildings throughout Wisconsin. Among his buildings were the Marshall and Ilsley bank on East Wisconsin Avenue, the great chapel at St. Joseph's Convent on South Layton Boulevard, the original five buildings on fraternity quadrangle at Lawrence College in Appleton, the Schuster Department stores and several buildings in Kohler to include the building now known as the American Club, the Kohler Design Center, the Kohler General Office Building, various factory buildings, a church and the Riverbend Farm mansion. Finally he, along with Hermann J. Gaul, are listed as the architects for Holy Hill Monastery in Washington County. In discussing the works of the architect, architectural historian Richard W. E. Perrin stated that, "It was the adaptation of the Tudor English forms that Richard Philipps's ability as a designer was most evident.

The original owner, Herman Reel was born in Witten, Germany in 1868, the son of Adolph and Jeannette (Rosenberg) Reel. As a young man, Reel studied law at the Milwaukee University Law School, which was subsequently merged into Marquette University. He was admitted to the bar in 1897, although he was never engaged in the practice of law.

After working for his father for a time, Herman began his own enterprises. In 1912 Reel began the publication of a Trade Journal, which he called 'The Progressive,' for the fur and wood trades. In 1914, with the assistance of his sister, he opened a retail house on Grand Avenue in Milwaukee. At the time, it was reported that he had the largest specialty store of the kind in the country and that his customers were served only in individual booths or rooms. Herman Reel married Blanche Ullman in 1904, a daughter of Joseph Ullman of Appleton, Wisconsin. They had three sons - Robert, Adolph and Frederick.

Subsequent owners of the residence include Herbert Spenner, one of the most prominent members of Milwaukee's German American community. An attorney, Spenner served as legal representative for the governments of West Germany and Austria in Wisconsin for 20 years. He was president of the German-American Societies of Milwaukee and of Goethe House at the Central Public Library. He was active in efforts to establish a sister city relationship between Milwaukee and Munich.

The current owner has a complete set of the original drawings, which are beautifully illustrated with elaborate detail, and are on record at the Milwaukee Architectural Archive which is located at the Milwaukee Public Library.

Architect's original drawing


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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