Built in 1939, the building at the intersection of 49th Street, Roosevelt Drive and Keefe Avenue operated as a gas station for 2 generations by the Copeland family. After Walter Copeland, Jr. retired, the property was sold in 1989. Neither of the 2 subsequent owners did much with the location and it essentially sat vacant for almost 10 years.
Grasslyn Manor, a neighborhood organization, formed in the mid-1990’s to attempt to acquire the property and convert it into a coffee shop. They came up with the name Sherman Perk. One major accomplishment was the successful enlistment of neighbor Cliff Leppke who led the process to register the property on Milwaukee’s list of Historic Properties. The building is one of the few remaining unaltered examples of Streamlined Moderne architectural style gas stations in the country.
Fast forward to May, 2000: Cliff tells me the building was scheduled to be razed by city order since it was tax delinquent, condemned due to deterioration and contaminated due to fuel leakage over the years. A meeting arranged by the Sherman Park Historic Preservation Council was held the following week to discuss any final attempts to save the building. My wife, Patrice, and I attended to express our interest in reviewing the prospects of developing a coffee shop.
A significant piece of legislation conceived by Assistant City Attorney Gregg Hagopian, had just been passed by the State legislature to address challenges faced by municipalities throughout the state in dealing with tax delinquent, contaminatedproperties. This statute – 75.106 – became the tool that facilitated the saving of the gas station. Our project was the pilot case in the state under this new law. The parties included the City of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
After almost 5 months of negotiations between our attorney, Perry Friesler and our environmental consultants with the city attorney’s office and the DNR, the foreclosure process began in late October, 2000 and concluded in March of 2001. A court date of April 9, 2001 finalized the process. We were now the proud owners of a tax delinquent, condemned, contaminated gas station!
Our environmental consultants guided us to financial resources (Brownfield Renovation Grants) at the City, County and State level to help reduce the cost of remediation and restoration of the property. On April 10, 2001 the removal of the underground storage tanks began. The restoration of the building started in early May and on August 20, 2001 we held our Grand Opening of Sherman Perk Coffee Shop. In attendance were representatives from the Governor’s office, the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, County Supervisor, Mayor Norquist, Asst. City Attorney Gregg Hagopian, staff from the Redevelopment Authority, Milwaukee Economic Development Corp. and the Department of Community Development, representatives from the Sherman Park Community Association, neighboring religious organizations, local businesses and many supportive neighbors, friends and relatives.
Although Pat and I originally thought we would have been open by September of 2000, our family is extremely proud of the results of converting the gas station into a neighborhood coffee shop. We applied for and received confirmation from the National Park Service that the restoration was acceptable by their standards and the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Landmarks.