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The accidental origin of the iconic car house in Milwaukee

"I thought that this is crazy. But you know what? Crazy is okay."
Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 07:26:54-04

MILWAUKEE — One of the most unique homes in Milwaukee gained its notoriety completely by accident.

If you've ever driven down Humboldt Boulevard in the Cream City, you've probably seen the house with old cars planted into the ground. It doesn't have an official name, but it's known locally as the 'Car House' or 'Riverwest Car House'.

"Everyone knows this house," co-owner of the home, David Jones, said. "You mention the house with the buried cars in the front yard and everyone knows our house."

The home at 2659 Humboldt Blvd. got its name because there are two chopped up Cadillacs, half a Volkswagon Beetle, and a Ford Model T in the yard. One of the Cadillacs looks like it could fit in with Cadillac Ranch in Texas.

riverwest car house

It all happened on accident back in July of 1998. Jones had created a wall around his front yard and removed the grass so it was easier to maintain. But it looked a little plain.

Tony Balistreri, David's husband and other co-owner of the home, mentioned to his friend he needed to get rid of the old Cadillac. He got it as part of a deal for another car. He had to accept the Caddy, but he just didn't have any purpose for it.

"I said, yeah I'd like to cut it up and stick it in my front yard, and he says, 'well where would you cut it?' I said I'd probably cut it right across the roof. And he reached into his truck, and he grabbed a big saw and he cut right across the roof," Balistreri said.

With nothing else in the yard, Balistreri decided to put the car in the ground.

That night the unexpected happened. Tons of cars lined up along Humboldt Boulevard to see the half a Cadillac sticking in the ground. The fire department stopped by and the cops did too. It was a spectacle. That was the unintentional start of iconic home.

"Then that night, the excitement of the neighborhood, we had cars actually backed up looking at the thing," Jones said.

riverwest car house

That was just the beginning. One day while the two were driving, Balistreri spotted a VW bug on the side of the road. He made a U-turn, pulled over, and bought the car. Another day while shopping for parts at a junkyard about an hour and a half away, he stumbled upon the Ford Model T. Of course, he bought it.

Balistreri wasn't going out of his way to find these cars. He just stumbled upon them. However, when he saw those cars, he knew they would look good in the yard.

"Yeah, I thought that this is crazy. But you know what? Crazy is okay. You know what, we need crazy in this world," Jones said.

The couple eventually got their hands on another Cadillac that they said belong to Ms. Wrigley, the wife the entrepreneur William Wrigley. They put that in the yard too. Then there are the statues. They didn't even buy those. They were given to them.

Now, 24 years later since the Cadillac was planted in the ground, the home has become a popular destination for families and pedestrians. It's part of a circuit people visit along with the iconic Boathouse and the lake front.

So what's the future look like for this home?

"I'm pretty set. I would like a sign right over here somewhere that says 'lot full.' I don't think I have room for another car," Balistreri said.

Eventually, they won't live in the house anymore, but their legacy will persist.

"The thought that after you die to maybe be remembered for something and I guess it's kind of nice to know that maybe 25, 50 years from now when people are sitting around having a family reunion and pulling out old pictures or something like that, someones going to say, 'oh I remember that house.' Look at the house with the cars on the East Side,'" Jones said.

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