Many modest, frame, raised houses like this can be seen in South Side. It is a “Polish flat,” a two-family dwelling with the main living unit in the house above and a second apartment in the basement. A century ago, Polish flats provided affordable housing for thousands of Milwaukee’s working-class immigrants. As a vernacular house type, it looks simple enough, but questions remain why no other working-class ethnic immigrants adopted this design and why it was built only in Milwaukee.
Hundreds of Polish flats were built between about 1890 and 1915, when Polish immigrants and ethnic Germans from Poland arrived in Milwaukee. The Jahnke House was similar to houses built before the turn of the century, begun as conventional single-family cottages that were later raised on masonry or wooden basements to create the lower apartment. Its upper part was built around 1890 on another site. The clapboard cottage features scaled-down trappings of Queen Anne style, including a large three-part front window and an attractive wooden front porch, trimmed with the mass-produced spindle work. Sometime between 1911 and 1913, Jahnke bought this cottage, moved it to its current location, and placed it atop a tall concrete-block basement to create the characteristic lower-level apartment. Jahnke lived in the top unit with his wife.