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Wauwatosa Cemetery Chapel could become local historic site

July 23, 2012

The Wauwatosa Cemetery Board would like to see the chapel on the property designated as a local historic site.

The board submitted a nomination application and a hearing was held earlier this month to consider the chapel's significance.

"(The commission) considered the history and current appearance of the building and voted unanimously to recommend local designation because of its role in Wauwatosa history and as a fine example of architecture," said Brian Faltinson, city Historic Preservation Commission chairman.

The chapel was built in 1852 as the First Baptist Church. In 1888 the congregation moved to a new building and Frederick Underwood - son of minister Enoch Underwood - purchased the church, according to nomination papers filed by the cemetery board. It became an armory until the Wisconsin Light Guard disbanded in 1914.

At that time, the church was moved to the cemetery and received renovations to make it a chapel with a Greek Revival-style portico. The chapel is an example of the changing funeral practices of the early 20th century, when people moved wake services from homes to a cemetery chapel.

The nomination next goes to the city's Community Development Committee for consideration July 31, City Planner Tammy Szudy said.

Approval would make the commission the design review board for any future improvements that require a building permit. Local designation may also allow the cemetery to apply for grants to help rehabilitate the building.

About a decade ago the commission sponsored a study of the cemetery and there has been interest in looking into the eligibility for the chapel on the National Register of Historic Places. However, there are no plans for the commission to sponsor a national designation, Faltinson said.

"It would be up to the Wauwatosa Cemetery to pursue National Register listing," he said.

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