The Blake House is our headquarters at 936 South Main Street, Racine, and we are very proud of it because it represents one of our first and longest-running rescue operations. We now own it outright and have completed returning it to representative condition. We use one of the ground-floor apartments for our offices, but we rent out most of the remaining ones. The second ground-floor apartment would make a very gracious office close to downtown and to the court house, and it is currently available for rent.
About the Blake House
The Blake House is cited as a “key building” in Racine’s Southside Historic District which was placed on the United States Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places on October 19, 1977.
It was built in 1868 for George and Roxilana Bull. George was a merchant of a dry goods store. Their commercial success was part of the economic prosperity between the Civil War and the Depression (1865-1873). A successful business afforded them the luxury of having a new house commissioned. The Bulls chose to build in the Italianate Villa Style. Five years later, Lucius and Caroline Blake purchased the house (1873), and their name has remained on it ever since.
Blake was a Vermont native who came to Racine in 1835 and became involved in a wide variety of manufacturing enterprises, including fanning mills, rubber clothing, trucks, farm implements, stoves, nails and tacks, woolen mills, real estate and banking. Some historians credit Blake with giving industry its start in Racine.
After Lucius Blake’s death in 1890, the Blake family continued to own and occupy the house until 1926 when it was sold and became a boarding house. Then, in 1952, the Beth Israel Sinai congregation bought the property which had been converted to five apartments. By late 1976 the Congregation’s parking problems and the deteriorated condition of the building had led them to consider demolition of the house.
In response to concerns within the congregation and those from four civic organizations, negotiations began which would ultimately satisfy the congregation’s need to retain control over its adjacent property and the preservationists’ goal to preserve one of Racine’s most significant buildings.
A rather unique twenty year lease based in large measure on the good-will and trust between the signers, created a viable solution for all interests. Blake House Restoration, Inc., a separate non-profit corporation, was formed by the coalition of sponsoring organizations: Preservation-Racine, the Junior League of Racine, Racine County Historical Society, and Racine Urban Aesthetics. Representatives from the founding groups continue to compose the board of Blake hose Restoration, Inc..
Restoration work began in the spring of 1977. Volunteers scraped Spanish plaster from walls, restored parquet flooring and mantels, removed old linoleum and temporary walls, cleaned attic and basement areas, painted walls and woodwork, installed new sub-flooring, stripped and repainted shutters, removed rotting porches and dozens of other projects required to have the five apartments occupied and producing income by late 1977. The painted brick exterior was stripped and chemically cleaned and extensive repairs were made to the chimneys, fascia, bay windows, doors and hardware and to the heating, electrical and plumbing systems during the summer of 1977.
The project’s success depended upon the Junior League’s three year commitment of volunteers and $15,000 in funding as well as Preservation-Racine’s large corps of volunteers and long-term pledge of financial support. In addition to more than six thousand hours of volunteer labor logged by 1985 there were many generous contributions by tradesmen, merchants and other benefactors.
A significant grant from the Johnson Wax Fund in 1978 funded total restoration of the rear porch. Gifts from the Racine County Historical Society and other contributors provided vintage lighting fixtures and hardware. Low interest loans from the City of Racine’s Architectural Conservation Loan Fund financed custom storm windows and screens in 1978 and installation of a new roof in 1979. Army Reserve members removed the non-original front porch and Boy Scouts assisted in cleaning and landscaping work.
A water leak between the first and second floors caused extensive damage to original ornamental plaster crown moldings in 1981. Although the ceiling and pipes were repaired it was not until 1983 that the ornamental plaster moldings throughout the house could be brought back into condition. At that time, funds were provided by Preservation-Racine, Racine Urban Aesthetics, and the Junior League to have them restored by Luczak Brothers Inc., a nationally renowned Chicago firm whose credits include restoration of the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom.
In 1982 a grant from the Johnson Wax Fund and another loan from the Architectural Conservation Loan Fund made possible the removal of a large picture window from the front façade and restoration of the two arched windows to their original appearance. The house was tuckpointed and the wood trim was repainted that summer.
By 1985 restoration and maintenance costs had totaled over $65,000 and an estimated $33,000 in volunteer wages had been contributed. This is what Preservation Racine was founded for: to preserve and to encourage the preservation of historically and architecturally significant buildings like the Blake House. We look on this ongoing project as our gift to the City of Racine and our demonstration of the effectiveness of voluntarism and community cooperation.
In 2016, Preservation Racine completed the re-creation of the original porch that adorned the front of the home.
Racine’s Blake House committee continues to restore and maintain the
property and raise funds for the project. The house is not open to the
public but is frequently open during the annual Preservation Racine tour
of historic buildings.