The city of Monona and the owner of the former San Damiano Friary have reached an agreement that will give the city four months to put together a “community coalition” to buy and preserve the property’s 10 wooded acres and 132-year-old former home of Allis-Chalmers heir Frank Allis, the city announced Tuesday.
As one of the last largely undeveloped pieces of property on Lake Monona, the former friary at 4123 Monona Drive is expected to command a steep price should its owners, the De Pere-based St. Norbert Abbey, agree to sell. Appraisals done in 2011 and 2016 put its value at $10.3 million and $8.6 million, respectively, according to city officials.
Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor said the city could contribute money toward its purchase, but wouldn’t take ownership. A statement from the city says the City Council is “not interested in the city being the sole financial contributor to acquiring the property, but rather serving as an intermediary to determine if a collaborative partnership of stakeholders could be formed to pursue a purchase agreement with the Abbey.”
Maintaining the Allis home, which is designated a city landmark, would likely be expensive.
Late last year, the abbey applied for a permit to demolish the home, saying water leaks, asbestos contamination, lead paint and other problems made it too expensive to maintain.
The abbey withdrew the permit request in late January after the city’s Landmarks Commission delayed action on it. The city’s historic preservation ordinance gives the commission the power to delay demolition of a structure for six months so that the city and the property owner can come up with a way to save it.
Ann Waidelich, curator for the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society, which focuses on properties that were formerly a part of the town of Blooming Grove, said in December that the home has been significantly altered since it was built and doesn’t have some of the features — such as a grand staircase or leaded glass windows — that could enhance a historic structure’s importance. But she pointed to the home’s single central chimney serving several fireplaces as one of its nicer attributes.
Under the agreement announced Tuesday, the abbey agrees not to sell the property for at least four months and “requests that only realistic purchase offers be brought forward for consideration,” the city’s statement says.
The two sides are expected to meet in two months to discuss any progress toward finding a buyer.
The Allis home was originally part of an estate built by the heir to one of the men who founded Allis-Chalmers, which manufactured farm equipment and other machinery.
It was deeded to St. Norbert in 1929 and was used as a place of study for budding Norbertine priests until 1975, when it was leased to a Detroit-based Catholic religious order as a retreat and home for semi-retired priests. That’s when it became known as the San Damiano Friary.