Our Information

About Us


Riverwest an interesting, affordable neighborhood

By Tom Tolan
of the Journal Sentinel staff
January 04, 1999

The way Norm Terapak sees it, the Riverwest neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by hot housing markets.

It only makes sense things should be warming up along Humboldt Blvd., too.

Terapak, owner of Terapak Realty and Management Inc., 1693 Humboldt Ave., regularly lists properties in Riverwest and points to improved property values in the Brady St. area to the south, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee area to the east and the booming Brewers Hill neighborhood to the southwest.

"East of the river, it's hard to find a duplex that stays on the market more than a couple weeks if it's in good condition," Terapak says.

Some of that housing demand is spilling across the river, driving up prices of duplexes, especially in that part of Riverwest north of Locust St., he says.

John Herschede is a Realtor with Federated Realty Group. He also owns several apartment complexes along Humboldt Blvd. in Riverwest. He's seen Riverwest benefit from the popularity of surrounding areas, but says Riverwest still presents a bargain for renters and home buyers.

Rents along Humboldt, he said, run from $350 to $550 per month for one- and two-bedroom apartments. Across the river on the east side, the same apartments would rent from $495 to $750 a month, he said.

"We used to run blind ads," said Herschede -- ads that gave no address -- but now there's no trouble filling vacancies. He adds that many of the people he rents to on Humboldt would prefer to live east of the river but can't afford it.

Home prices, meanwhile, vary widely in the neighborhood, depending on location and condition of the house.

There are currently nine single-family houses for sale in the neighborhood, ranging in price from $19,900 for a home on N. Booth St. to $275,000 for a near-mansion on Gordon Place, according to Metro Multiple Listing Service.

Herschede estimates that a typical single-family home of about 2,000 square feet along Humboldt sells for $85,000 to $125,000. West of Humboldt, however, those homes would sell for much less.

"The largest number of sales in the last year were in the 60s and 70s," Terapak said.

But despite these improvements in the housing market, Riverwest won't necessarily change drastically, says Ald. Mike D'Amato, or become a gentrification magnet like Brewer's Hill.

D'Amato, who represents the north end of the neighborhood and who used to head its now-defunct community organization, ESHAC, says Riverwest "is what it is -- a working class neighborhood . . . a good place to buy a starter home.

"You're not going to turn a bungalow into a mansion."

Whatever Riverwest is, though, it's an interesting place to be. Always has been. The neighborhood has one of the most varied histories in the city.

The area along what's now the north end of Humboldt Blvd. first developed in the 1880s as a summertime gold coast for some of the city's German business elite.

The neighborhood to the south and west became a Polish neighborhood in the early 1900s, when Polish immigrants moved north from the St. Hedwig's Parish area around Brady St. and founded St. Casimir's Parish at Bremen and Clarke streets and then St. Mary of Czestochowa at Fratney and Burleigh streets.

Their houses -- many with Polish flats and rear cottages -- can still be seen, especially in the neighborhood's older southern half.

Since the 1960s, there has been immigration from Latinos (mostly Puerto Ricans) and African-Americans.

The neighborhood is also home to numerous UWM students, and a well-organized community of artists -- they hold an annual walking tour of their studios.

The arts scene is one of the things that attracted Tom Landre to the neighborhood.

Landre, who owns the Jackpot resale shop directly across from the Fuel Cafe, 818 E. Center St., says that coffee house, a center of social life for the neighborhood's 20- and 30-somethings, is one of the institutions that attracted many of his friends to the area.

That, and the lower cost of housing compared to that east of the river.

Then there's Gertie and Jack Winiarski, who've lived in the neighborhood all their lives. Both were baptized at St. Casimir. They also were married there 60 years ago in May and have lived in the same house on N. Pierce St. for 57 years.

For them, the place is not part of the housing market -- it's home. And the neighborhood's social center is not Fuel Cafe -- it's St. Mary of Czestochowa.

Jack assists at Mass at the church on weekdays, they visit the parish's sick, and the two often ride up to Oneida Casino near Green Bay on bus trips sponsored by the parish.

"The church means everything to us," says Gertie.

Riverwest: A Community History

"You could argue that it was the Milwaukee River, threading its way between glacial ridges, that determined the future character of the Riverwest neighborhood. By digging a deep valley, it created steep banks that would be attractive to the wealthy families who built summer homes here in the 1880s, to the operators of private parks and resorts, and to the middle class families who settled in the area permanently. By carving a wide crescent as the neighborhood??™s eastern border, the river ensured that the Green Bay trail ??“ today??™s King Drive and Green Bay Avenue ??“ would be the main route north from the early village of Milwaukee, cutting straight across the crescent. You could argue that land values dropped sharply between the road and the river, putting the eastern fringe within the financial reach of the poor Polish immigrants who settled here in the 1880s and 1890s. Finally, by falling 18 feet just below North Avenue, the river provided the perfect setting for a dam, which supplied power for the mills, factories and tanneries that provided work for the Poles and for other working-class people who followed."

This is an excerpts from Tom Tolan??™s Riverwest: A Community History, which was published in June 2003. It can be purchased for $10 at the Riverwest Co-Op or Woodland Pattern Book Center.

Tolan wrote the history 20 years ago, as part of the Milwaukee Humanities Program, a federally funded organization based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and he's updated it over the last several years.

The Riverwest History Society, a committee set up solely for this purpose, published the book. Milwaukee historian John Gurda headed the committee and edited the book. Riverwest resident Kate Hawley was the book??™s designer.

Money for publication came from grants from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Harry and Mary Franke Idea Fund, the Inbusch Foundation and Outpost Natural Foods. Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit COA Youth and Family Centers (Children's Outing Association), which helped revive the book for publication.

The Riverwest History Society continues to look for photographs, possibly to use in future editions of Tolan's book. Family photos, pictures of businesses and of recreation, church, and ethnic events all would be helpful.

Of special interest are old photos from the everyday life of the Polish-American community surrounding St. Casimir and St. Mary of Czestochowa parishes; from the first integration of the neighborhood in the 1960s, and of the old St. Elizabeth??™s Parish on First and Burleigh; from the Puerto Rican and larger Hispanic communities that arrived here in the 1960s and 1970s; and from the neighborhood activism and the counterculture movements of the 1970s and 1980s.

Riverwest in the Media

This article in the Journal Sentinel
Overview and links to Riverwest in Local Media
Riverwest Grocery Co-Op and Cafe
Riverwest Investment Co-Op
Riverwest Neighborhood Association
Riverwest Neighborhood Network


About our association



RNA meetings are open to the public and are typically held on the second Tuesday of each month at 7PM.

You can usually find the next meeting time, date, and agenda at the RNA website (my-rna.org), the Riverwest Neighborhood Network (riverwestneighborhood.org), or the Riverwest Currents (riverwestcurrents.org)


Anyone may attend the meetings; however, you must live in Riverwest (or on/east of Richards St. in Harambee, Brewers' Hill, or Williamsburg Heights) in order to be a constituent member. Only constituent members are eligible to vote and run for office in RNA elections and on other matters requiring a vote.

Email us

Other Riverwest Organizations

Riverwest Neighborhood Network
The Riverwest Currents (Newspaper)
Riverwest Grocery Co-Op and Cafe
Riverwest Investment Co-Op

Sponsored Links
Advertise Here!

Promote Your Business or Product for $10/mo


For just $10/mo you can promote your business or product directly to nearby residents. Buy 12 months and save 50%!


Zip Code Profiler

53212 Zip Code Details

Neighborhoods, Home Values, Schools, City & State Data, Sex Offender Lists, more.