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Sometimes Old Is Just Old

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Sometimes Old Is Just Old

CREATED Jun 30, 2012

Too often around here we lose sight of a basic reality: Not everything old is historic - and not everything historic is worth saving.

Take the Sydney Hih complex at the corner of 3rd and W. Juneau.

I remember going to a bar in the main Sydney Hih building back in the 70s.  Frankly, the place struck me as a dump back then.  An interesting dump - but a dump nonetheless.  And that was almost 40 years ago.

The main Sydney Hih building was built in 1876  - so it's certainly old.  As a part of Milwaukee's counter-culture movement in the 1960s and 1970s, you can perhaps argue that it has some historic significance.  Regardless, it's long past time for the building to come down.

The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission has been trying to block the demolition of Sydney Hih by issuing a temporary historic designation.  It doesn't appear that this will work because the building has been declared unsafe and is the subject of a raze order.  On Tuesday, a Milwaukee Common Council committee took the first steps towards ringing down the final curtain for the building. A final decision should come on July 6th.

 Still, this presents an interesting question as to what should be done to save other old buildings?

In the case of Sydney Hih, the building has been neglected for years.  As a result, it is simply financially impractical to try to renovate it.  

On top of this, the building probably serves as a deterrent to other development in the area.  I mean, do you want to invest $30 million in a new condo development only to have your building stand across the street from a firetrap that is ready to collapse?   

The lesson of Sydney Hih is that if we want to preserve older buildings, we need to do it sooner rather than later.  And this means proactively trying to find private developers willing to invest some cash to preserve Milwaukee's past.

We also need to recognize that buildings - even historic ones - have life spans.  Sometimes a building just outlives its shelf life.  Not every building is Constitution Hall and not every building can be saved.

As for Sydney Hih, thanks for the memories ...