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Madison City Council shelves neglect ruling on historic Langdon Street house

Madison City Council shelves neglect ruling on historic Langdon Street house

Suhr House

On June 24, the city's Landmarks Commission found that the Suhr House, 121 Langdon St., is undergoing demolition by neglect. The property owner appealed the ruling July 3. 

Madison property owner Harold Langhammer will have more time to complete improvements on the historic Suhr House on Langdon Street after the City Council decided not to vote on a finding of demolition by neglect. 

On Tuesday, the Council referred the decision back to the Landmarks Commission for reconsideration Sept. 16. If Langhammer makes the necessary repairs, the council directed the commission to rescind the demolition by neglect ruling. 

“Through a number of financial and personal catastrophes (Langhammer) had, he did fail to get this property fixed up in a timely fashion,” David Sparer, an attorney acting on behalf of Lanhammer said. “What we’re hoping to have with this appeal is … more time to get the repair done.” 

Sparer said Langhammer ran into complications when bids for construction work were too costly and when a buyer for another building he was planning to sell to pay for the repairs backed out. 

The building needs repairs to front, side and rear porches, tuckpointing of damaged masonry, and a new arched storm window. Sparer said the work will be completed in the next two weeks.

If the repairs are not completed, the commission will send the measure back to the City Council.  

Council President Shiva Bidar, who represents District 5, said the demolition by neglect ruling worked the way it was intended. If the repairs are not completed by the deadline, Bidar said she would sustain the ruling.

“If what we want at the end of our process is to get the building to be brought back to its previous glory, I think we’ve achieved our goal and that language has worked,” Bidar said. 

The declining condition of the Suhr House, 121 Langdon St., and the property owner’s failure to make repairs led the Landmarks Commission to issue the first demolition of neglect finding. Langhammer appealed the decision June 3.

Demolition by neglect is the process of allowing landmarks, landmark sites or improvements in historic districts to decay, deteriorate, become structurally defective or fall into disrepair in any other way, according to the city's Historic Preservation Ordinance. The finding is meant to motivate property owners to repair and maintain historic properties. 

Former Landmarks Commission Chair Stuart Levitan, who opposed Langhammer’s appeal, said the house is historic for architectural, historic and cultural significance. He also said the city has been attempting to push Langhammer to make repairs for the past three years.

“This is the kind of building that the demolition by neglect ordinance was designed to protect to make sure that buildings did not get so far out of hand that it is unsalvageable,” Levitan said. 

John Suhr, a German immigrant who moved to Madison with his wife Louisa, built the house in the French Victorian Style. Suhr worked for a Madison bank until 1871 when he established his own “German-American Bank” to serve many of the German immigrants in the area. 

The Suhr family once entertained President Grover Clevland at the residence.

The house was designed by prominent local architect John Nader. It was designated as a landmark in 1974 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

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