High Hopes for Vacant Auction House in Milwaukee's Sherman Park Neighborhood

If you've ever driven down Sherman Boulevard through the Sherman Park neighborhood, you've probably noticed a large, strikingly elegant building with a "for sale" sign out front.

The building's domed auditorium.
Credit Adam carr

At least one person thinks that in the right hands the former auction house could play a vital role in transforming the Sherman Park neighborhood.

Years ago, Wolfgang Rosenau attended auctions in the space in his work as an antiques dealer. He befriended the owner of the Schrager Auction Galleries, a friendship which continued after Al Schrager moved his business online in 2010. The building has been vacant ever since.

The day before owner Schrager died in 2013, Rosenau promised him that he would find a suitable buyer.

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service's Edgar Mendez first reported on the building. He says neighbors are intrigued by the building; it's a mystery as to what's inside.

Located across the street from Sherman Park, the building houses a 1,400 seat domed auditorium. Built in the 1920s, it was originally the Third Church of Christian Science. In 1980, the building became Schrager Auction Galleries headquarters and has sat empty for the last five years.

Mendez thinks that it is going to take a concerted effort to find a use for the Schrager building, which would involve the city and other agencies that are doing work in the area to work together.

"It's nothing new - groups getting together and investing in a neighborhood," he says. "It's going to take a concerted effort, such as the Near West Side Partners in the Marquette neighborhood, to turn this neighborhood around and turn this building into an asset for the community again."

Rosenau's hope for the building first started taking shape after he attended a Black Men in Prison forum in the library downtown.

"(I) was made aware of all of the shortcomings in that neighborhood. The police chief...listed off five zip codes of high crime areas - all black, of course - and a gentleman stood up and said 'Mr. Police Chief, I'll tell you why that is' and listed off six or seven things they don't have in that area," Rosenau says. "And it was really obvious that kids really have nothing to do but see if that door is unlocked or if that key is in the door. They get in trouble doing that, that's normal. And, they really have no other options."

He learned of the many groups trying to resolve these social issues in Milwaukee.

"I think this building, if the right organizations – five, six, seven of them...that have the same goal in mind – could connect, unite and use the building constructively, they could be of so much help to so many different problems there," says Rosenau.

Rosenau is not exactly sure what this would look like. Right now, he is talking with people in the neighborhood, attending brainstorming meetings at St. Matthew's church and gathering ideas.