PictureGarden Homes Construction, 1923
The Garden Homes housing project is the nation’s first and only municipally-built, public housing cooperative. The property, composed of 105 living units in 93 free-standing buildings constructed between 1921 and 1923, is bounded by North 27th Street and West Ruby, North Teutonia and West Atkinson avenues. Its origins can be traced to the 1910 municipal election of the nation’s first Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel. One of the planks of the Socialist platform was construction of city-built, low-cost homes for workers. Although Seidel failed to make public housing a reality during his term, Daniel W. Hoan, the city’s second Socialist mayor, succeeded.

PictureGarden Homes Construction, 1923
In 1920, the lack of adequate working-class housing was the key issue in the community. The Garden Homes Company was formally incorporated in 1921 under new legislation that allowed the formation of public housing corporations. It was originally intended to provide housing for families earning a modest $1,200 to $1,500 a year. Occupants would purchase housing corporation common stock equal to the value of the house. Monthly payments would be spread over 20 years that were to cover interest, taxes, upkeep and other fixed costs. The project would be financed through sale of preferred stock with 5% per annum dividend which would be purchased by city and county governments and other investors. The goal was a home built at a cost of $4,500, about 25% less than a comparable home, which a family would own, or be owned by the cooperative.

PictureAerial Section of Garden Homes, 2016
Not everyone was in favor of this project or loved the idea of public housing. According to a Milwaukee Sentinel report some opposed the plan because it "hinted something strongly of Sovietism” and some believed it did not guarantee individual ownership of the homes.  Some thought success with this project would bolster the Socialist Party in the county, and other business leaders, real estate boards, and politicians were upset about the high, union scale wages being paid to the workers. The Town of Wauwatosa and Town of Milwaukee were upset about plans by the City of Milwaukee to annex the area. Milwaukee, however, eventually won a decision in 1925 in the Wisconsin Supreme Court that approved the annexation. Some disgruntled Garden Home residents wanted individual titles to their properties so that they could sell them at appreciated values.  This led to the cooperative being disbanded in July of 1925. With this change to individual ownership, the Garden Homes Company functioned only to sell the housing stock and pay off all loans—a process that took more than ten years. By the late 1930s only about 40% of the original tenants still lived in the subdivision.

The Garden Homes Historic District in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
Despite its problems, Garden Homes was an exercise in American ingenuity. Costs were cut by using a standardized building plan and production line techniques utilizing the crews of tradesmen to work from one house to the next performing the same job each time. But most of all, the Socialists showed the citizens of Milwaukee that when they made a promise, they kept it. 

By Steve Daily
Director, Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear


 
 
PictureMilwaukee Water Treatment Facility, 1910
When Daniel W. Hoan was elected mayor in 1916, he asked the U.S. Public Health Service to examine the condition of Milwaukee’s water and see if they would recommend a filtration plant. He also directed that work be resumed on the long-time pet project of the Socialists, the Linnwood Avenue intake which had begun in 1912, but had been halted when funding ran out. The Public Health Service report recommended immediate construction of a modern filtration plant to prevent “morbidity and mortality from typhoid fever now caused by the polluted water supply.”  

PictureRiverside Pumping Station on Milwaukee River
Hoan’s appointment of a committee in 1917 to study the problems of filtration and a water treatment plant took two years.  During this time, completion of the Linnwood Avenue intake in 1919 started delivering cleaner water to the citizens of Milwaukee.  Mayor Hoan fought with those who did not see the need to build high priced structures to filter and treat the water, and those large customers who argued about having to pay higher prices for cleaner water such as the breweries and tanning industries.  Some opponents suggested waiting until the sewerage treatment plant was completed before deciding whether to build filtration plants, which was what the Common Council voted to do in 1922.  

'Sewer Socialists' were so called because they cared about 
the health of the citizens and providing good drinking water. 
PictureNorth Point Pumping Station, Lincoln Memorial Dr.
Finally in 1933, with the help of Milwaukee’s new city engineer, Joseph Schwada, and his campaign to educate the citizens about Milwaukee’s water and the need for filtration, that Mayor Hoan and the Socialists were able to declare victory. The Common Council under Socialist August Strehlow passed a resolution to build the filtration plant in June of 1933. Construction began on the Linnwood Avenue Water Purification Plant in 1934 and it went on-line in 1939.


PictureJones Island Sewage Treatment Plant
So it was not until June 26, 1925 when the Jones Island Sewage Treatment Plant opened that further discussions and work began to bring more modern filtration and pumping stations. But it was not to be an immediate thing. Some members of the Common Council, major industries, and some civic groups continued to fight against filtration. They argued that the new Jones Island Sewage Treatment Plant had not been in existence long enough to study its effects on Milwaukee’s water quality. The fighting raged on over the years with some pointing out that, after all, Milwaukee had won the Healthiest City award in 1929 and 1931. Others pointed out that this was because of Milwaukee’s health department, not the quality of the water. 

By Steve Daily,
Director, Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear