Like a Phoenix — 1018 Williamson

What’s happening with that abandoned house on Willy Street?

Brandon Cook purchased 1018 Willamson after the home was given a reprieve from demolition if a buyer could be found. Photo by: Gary Tipler

Brandon Cook purchased 1018 Willamson after the home was given a reprieve from demolition if a buyer could be found. Photo by: Gary Tipler

Many of us have noted the recent changes to the formerly abandoned 1890s house at 1018 Williamson. It’s the doings of Brandon Cook who has an unmitigated enthusiasm for renovating old buildings.

Most people would wonder, why did 1018 Williamson appeal to Brandon – a building that had been both gutted and derelict for about 24 years? The house had “good bones” but needed someone committed to renovating it.

“When I first looked inside, I thought, this could be great. What a fantastic opportunity to redo everything. What needed to be done was very clear. And I could put it back together to the best of my ability. I had an accepted offer within an hour,” Cook said. “Everything about this project is a labor of love. How can I make the best installations?”

Brandon closed on the property in 1018 Williamson in March, 2015, and began planning the renovation. He and his architect Doug Pahl of Aro Eberle put together a plan for two, two-story apartments — a second floor flat with the attic and the ground floor coupled with a finished basement. It included a rear addition as most houses in the neighborhood historically have them.

1018 Williamson in the summer of 2014. File Photo

1018 Williamson in the summer of 2014. File Photo

After initial contacts with Amy Scanlon, the City Plan Department historic preservation staff, he brought it to the attention of the Marquette Neighborhood Association Board (MNA) and Preservation and Development Committee (P&D) of MNA as an informational proposal.

P&D is a group of neighborhood residents who have met regularly to review and discuss development proposals and infrastructure improvements for over a dozen years. With the general neighborhood approval, Cook then took it before Landmarks, where it was approved.

The new floor plans and construction plan included placing a new cast concrete foundation beneath the house to eliminate a host of problems and to create additional quality living space. Entirely new plumbing, electrical and heating systems and finishes were required since there was nothing left of the interior aside from wood subfloors and stud walls.

Brandon’s first task was to finish gutting it, then Heritage house movers lifted the house on cribbing while the old stone foundation was removed all within about three days. It was replaced by a poured concrete foundation after which some neighborhood objected to the rear addition.

That, coupled with two other things slowed the project for several months — the timing of the new foundation being readied for a construction crew, and, the unforeseen degree of structural modifications for the existing framing. There was a significant amount of dry rot, and an inadequacy of joist framing to support finishing the attic for habitation. In addition, the whole building had a structural twist that had to be corrected, and the walls weren’t plumb.

The new windows were installed with the exterior moisture barrier some weeks ago, the plumbing and electrical are roughed in, the insulation and vapor barriers completed, and drywall is in the works. The exterior will feature the original porch, which Brandon handstripped of paint, along with new wood siding and trims to match the originals.

Though behind schedule, the project will be completed for leasing in advance of the fall rental season. One apartment will be finished as soon as possible to serve as a model for the second one.

Brandon is also finishing details on a couple other buildings he owns and is working on his own house in the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood, in which he’s lived for the past couple years.

Local boy does good

Brandon Cook, at work on his daunting renovation of 1018 Williamson Street. Photo by: Gary Tipler

Brandon Cook, at work on his daunting renovation of 1018 Williamson Street. Photo by: Gary Tipler

Brandon was born in Madison, grew up in Waunakee, and has lived in Madison for the past seven years, during which time he’s renovated several run-down buildings.

He had a very early start. At age 12, he started a lawn care business that he operated for several years. Upon graduating from high school, one of his clients, a builder, offered him a job in construction.

“I was like a Swiss army knife – I did everything”, Cook said.

Years later, his boss later offered him, an investment share of 40 percent of a small restaurant in Brookfield in a building they were building, and where Brandon seized the opportunity and served as owner/operator/investor.

At the same time, Brandon attended classes at UW-Whitewater and UW-Milwaukee for a couple years. The restaurant needed feeding, so Brandon worked to get his sales license and then a broker’s license in real estate, and worked for his boss/business partner for a while before selling the restaurant.

Brandon started his own business in real estate when he bought a house Fitchburg to expedite a condo purchase for the sellers. He moved into the house and worked on it to resell it within about 10 months.

He looked at condos in Madison for himself, but decided to get a three-unit rental property on Dayton, and launched a new career to work on his own that also provided a place to live. He still owns that rental property along the others he’s bought since.

A neighbor in need

The iconic Willy Street Art Center following a fire in March 2016. Courtesy: Sharon Kilfoy

The iconic Willy Street Art Center following a fire in March 2016. Courtesy: Sharon Kilfoy

On March 17, a fire broke out in the basement of Sharon Kilfoy’s house next door that houses the Williamson Street Art Center, where she teaches art methods for kids.

The fire was contained to one room in the basement, but caused extensive smoke damage throughout.

Brandon has helped with the recovery since, and she said, “Brandon’s been remarkably helpful. He’s been a very good neighbor. He helped take care of removing fire damaged refuse, helping to find contractors, and with his upbeat manner has been a great blessing to me at this time.”

Alder Marsha Rummel noted, “It’s great that this house is being renovated — that there is someone giving it the love that it needs.”

This Thursday, April 28 from 5 to 7 p.m. neighbors are welcomed to an open house at 1018 Williamson to see the renovation in progress. Visitors will be able to see plumbing and electrical roughed in, insulation, vapor barriers and drywall, just days before the walls are closed in with drywall.

Free and open to the public, it is hosted by Brandon Cook and the Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge, the Marquette Neighborhood’s history and preservation group. View the photo archives of the Friends of Historic Third Lake Ridge at and “Historic Third Lake Ridge” on Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “Like a Phoenix — 1018 Williamson

  1. This is so wonderful to read! I saw him sanding outside and am so impressed with all that he’s doing to keep the integrity of the home, improve the neighborhood, and make for a lovely living situation.

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