The accidental origin of the iconic car house in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood

MILWAUKEE – One of Milwaukee’s most unique homes rose to fame completely by accident.

If you’ve ever walked Humboldt Boulevard in the Cream City, you’ve probably seen the house with old cars stuck in the ground. It has no official name, but is locally known as “Car House” or “Riverwest Car House”.

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

The house at 2659 Humboldt Blvd. gets its name from the fact that there are two chopped Cadillacs, a half-Volkswagon Beetle and a Ford Model T in the yard. One of the Cadillacs looks like it could fit in Cadillac Ranch in Texas.

James Groh

It all happened by accident in July 1998. Jones had created a wall around his front yard and removed the grass to make it easier to maintain. But it looked a bit simple.

Tony Balistreri, David’s husband and another co-owner of the house, mentioned to his friend that he had 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 had no purpose for it.

“I said, yeah, I’d like to cut it and stick it in my front yard, and he said, ‘well, where would you cut it?’ I said I’d probably cut it on the roof. And he reached into his truck, and he grabbed a big saw and he cut on the roof,” Balistreri said.

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

That night, the unexpected happened. Tons of cars lined up Humboldt Boulevard to see half a Cadillac stuck in the ground. The firefighters came and the cops too. It was a show. This was the unintended start of the iconic house.

“Then that night, the excitement of the neighborhood, we backed up cars watching the thing,” Jones said.

riverwest car house

James Groh

It was just the beginning. One day, while the two were driving, Balistreri spotted a VW bug on the side of the road. He turned around, stopped and bought the car. Another day, while shopping for parts at a junkyard about an hour and a half away, he came across the Ford Model T. Of course, he bought it.

Balistreri made no effort to find these cars. He just bumped into them. However, when he saw these cars, he knew they would look great in the yard.

“Yeah, I thought it was madness. But you know what? Madness is fine. You know what, we need madness in this world,” Jones said.

The couple eventually got their hands on another Cadillac which they believe belonged to Mrs Wrigley, the wife of entrepreneur William Wrigley. They also put that in the garden. Then there are the statues. They didn’t even buy them. They were given to them.

Now, 24 years later, since the Cadillac was driven into the ground, the house has become a popular destination for families and pedestrians. It is part of a circuit that people visit along with the iconic Boathouse and the lakeside.

So, what does the future of this house look like?

“I’m pretty ready. I would like a sign right here somewhere that says ‘lots full’. I don’t think I have room for another car,” Balistreri said.

Eventually, they will no longer live in the house, but their legacy will live on.

“The idea that after you die maybe something will be remembered and I guess it’s kind of nice to know that maybe 25, 50 years from now when people are sitting at a family reunion and come out old photos or something, someone’s going to say, ‘oh I remember this house.’ Look at the house with the cars on the east side,” Jones said.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip

Previous Local gardener wins prize, Girl Scouts visit police: Community News Update
Next Hilliard District Files Police Report Against Morgan Harper