Family plans to keep "purple house" alive
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When the city of Milwaukee sent Florian Meler a letter ordering him to paint his newly-purchased home, he complied.
"He was irritated. He didn't like people butting into his business," says Meler's son, Justin. "So he painted it his favorite color. Purple."
The home, located on the southeast corner of 43rd and Howard, was originally a "dingy yellow color" according to Meler. He says the city continued to "nickel and dime" his dad and sent him numerous letters over the years about the state of his yard.
"Every time he got a letter, he painted another flower on the house," says Meler, 36.
Once, the city sent him a bill for having tall grass, so Florian Meler tore out his lawn and filled it with gardens and wood chips instead. As an arborist for the city, he had access to plenty of fresh chips.
When the elder Meler built a six-foot fence around the property, the city deemed it too tall for a front yard, and so he cut it shorter, painted it purple and hung toilet seats from it with the photos of his least favorite aldermen in the middle.
"My dad wasn't crazy. He was eccentric, but not crazy," says Justin Meler. "He liked color and flowers and healthy food before it was popular."
Meler and his wife, Karla Webler, bought the home in 1993. Meler, a Vietnam War veteran, purchased it with a loan secured through the VA.
The neighborhood was always divided on the purple house. Some found it to be an eyesore, and others appreciated it as a quirky, iconic landmark.
Recently, 95.7 Oldies put a photo of the purple house on its Facebook page and it garnered more than 2,300 likes, almost 1,000 comments and 300 shares.
The inside of the house, according to Justin Meler, was much like the outside. All of the cupboards were painted different, bright colors. One room was filled entirely with plants and there were trees in the living room.
The family had a lot of pets, too. They adopted two German shepherds and animals were twice abandoned in their yard by other people: a Conure parrot and later a small, white dog.
"Someone just dropped the bird off, cage and everything, in the front yard one day," says Meler. "And they threw that little dog right over the fence."
Florian Meler believed he was going to live forever and drank a kombucha mushroom drink every day. He never ate food in restaurants and grew much of his food himself. He also raised rabbits and sometimes ate them, too.
As a daily exerciser, the Meler's father built a second-story workout space atop the house. Its only access was a metal spiral staircase on the outside of the home.
Despite his plan to defy mortality, Florian Meler passed away in 2007 from an accidental prescription medication overdose at the age of 63. His wife, grief stricken and in poor health, passed away from a breathing / heart attack two years later.
Their son, a technician at St. Luke's Hospital who lived in the purple house with his parents from 1994 to 2002, wanted to keep it. After his dad's death, he talked with his mother about completing the necessary paperwork that would have willed the home to him, but she never got around to it.
"She wanted to, but she was freaking out. My dad was her world and she couldn't let go or move forward and then it was too late," Meler says.
Eventually, a bank offered Meler a $16,000 loan for the property, but on the condition he would tear down the house, which was in need of major repairs and had a black mold problem.
The situation became a catch-22.
"In order to get the loan, I had to tear down the house. And I didn't want to tear down the house, and even if I did, I would have been left with an empty lot and no money to develop on it anyway," says Meler.
The purple house was sold as a foreclosed property to David Stainbrook. His company, G&S Construction & Remodeling, tore it down in 2010 one piece at a time. Instead of dumping the debris in a landfill, Stainbrook gave the salvaged wood and materials to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.
The plan was to build an environmentally friendly house on the lot, but apparently his funding fell through. There was a sign for a long time that promised the corner lot was going from "purple to green" and then later, another sign stated the project was "delayed / possibly cancelled."
Today, the lot is vacant, and the Melers want to buy it back to create a community garden with a purple gazebo to honor the purple house and Justin's parents.
"It would have been better to have a purple house than an empty lot," says Vicki Meler, Justin's wife. "Now we just want to put something there to honor Florian, Karla and my husband's former home."
Thanks for the article, Molly. I live near where the purple house once stood and recently while driving by I noticed it was gone. I wondered what had happened to it. Always thought it looked kind of cool.
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