As anyone who has driven down the 600 block of 5th Street—and/or hung out at the 5th Street Fuel Cafe—can tell you, the patio of the old La Fuente restaurant (625 S. 5th St.) looks…a little rough. In fact, it looks like it’s been bombed. Repeatedly. Here it is this morning:

The 5th Street La Fuente closed in November 2017, after 26 years in business. (The La Fuente on Bluemound Road remains open.) Soon after, the owner of Nomad World Pub, Mike Eitel, signed a one-year lease for the building and converted it into a pop-up soccer bar called Nomad Nacional. The site hosted World Cup events in the spring and summer of 2018, but has been unused since. The once-colorful and vibrant patio has seen some shit, though:

Not that the crumbling ruins will remain much longer. In August 2020, the Mandel Group announced plans to demolish the old 5th Street La Fuente to make room for a proposed six-story, 144-unit apartment building (complete with underground parking and a “penthouse-style clubhouse”). Oh, and not only would the old La Fuente have to be demolished to make way for the new development, the entire east side of the block would have to go.

“The building would run from Bruce to Pierce streets, between a mid-block alley and Fifth Street,” said the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It would replace the former La Fuente restaurant, a one-story industrial building and three-story apartments. [Mandel Group President Ian] Martin said the developers would help residents of that existing apartment building relocate to comparable or better housing.”

Photo: JLA Architects

And yes, that one-story industrial building is the one with the Selena mural. (The Mandel plan includes “multiple spots with planned murals.”) Here are all the buildings in question:

Construction on the new apartment building was slated to begin in spring 2021. That construction appears to be moving forward: An Instagram post from the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance notes that a demolition permit for the site has been applied for, and that it could be approved later this month. The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance is…unpleased with the situation:

It’s disappointing to learn that demolition permits have been applied for to raze an entire block of buildings in Walker’s Point at 603, 605, and 625-31 S. 5th Street in order to build a large new apartment complex.

Especially distressing is the planned demolition of the existing 1901 apartment complex at the corner of 5th and Bruce, which currently provides affordable homes for a number of residents who will be displaced by the new development. Demolishing our historic buildings is not only about the building but the real people whose lives are impacted by losing their homes and community.

Economic realities make constructing new affordable housing virtually impossible. Older buildings, however, provide naturally occurring affordable housing…housing that in this case will be erased from the Walker’s Point landscape and replaced with something less affordable.

Preservation is not opposed to development, but we believe there are always win-win solutions that can allow preservation and new construction to coexist.

The cost of demolition is not just the loss of history, it is far too often the loss of home for many.

We’ll keep you posted on the demolition. In the meantime, enjoy the bombed-out patio of the old La Fuente on 5th while you still can. [h/t Bryan]

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Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.