Zillow Gone Wild revives interest in unique, mid-century modern home long-known in Green Bay

ALLOUEZ - Since the 1960s, the Ottum House has turned heads across the Green Bay area. In November, the internet found out why.

You understand why when you first see it. An angled, parabolic roof juts up from one side of the 4,300-square-foot home, almost requiring a double-take. Then there's the "Fond du Lac shore stone" exterior walls that provide a hint of what awaits inside the five-bedroom, four-bath home built almost 60 years ago that exemplifies mid-century modern style. There's shag carpet, stonework, a sunk-in living room, the dining table with built-in lazy Susan, and original fixtures and wood paneling throughout.

The custom-built home at 3200 Waubenoor Drive has drawn Green Bay area residents to the east side neighborhood for a low-speed look since it was first built. A worldwide audience got the chance to bask in all its unique glory when Zillow Gone Wild — a social media brand curated by BuzzFeed's Samir Mezrahi which highlights interesting homes for sale on the real estate website Zillow — shared the property listing with its 1.2 million Facebook followers on Nov. 23.

The custom-built, mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, features a parabolic roof that juts up from the 4,300-square-foot residence.
The custom-built, mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, features a parabolic roof that juts up from the 4,300-square-foot residence.

As of Dec. 2, the post garnered more than 8,400 reactions, 3,200 comments and 2,100 shares. The comments, as one would expect on Facebook, cover a range of opinions and include myriad suggestions about what should and shouldn't be done to the house. Some missed the "nautical theme" in the structure's design, others debated how mid-century modern it was, several got a "The Brady Bunch" vibe from the pictures. Some gave a hard pass; others deemed it perfect.

Commenters debated whether the character and style was worth the move to the Green Bay area, though winter was an oft-cited impediment. Local residents, some of whom toured the home, shared more photos and bits of the home's history with its newfound audience. In general, though, many people found at least something to enjoy about the "time capsule" of a mid-century modern home.

The mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, is a five-bedroom, four-bath residence finished in 1964 and features many original design elements.
The mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, is a five-bedroom, four-bath residence finished in 1964 and features many original design elements.

Mary Sandoval, a Realtor with Shorewest who listed the property, said the social media interest resulted in a lot of emails and more requests to tour the home. She said the current owner reduced the selling price by $10,000 to $365,000 to capitalize on the attention.

"We always say there's cookie-cut houses and then there's this. This totally has some character to it," Sandoval said.

But Sandoval also said the online attention added to an ever-growing pool of memories and stories about the Ottum house. Neighbors stopped by during open houses to tell Sandoval their memories of the home. Research and information from commenters turned up more accurate information about the home's history, such as when it was built (not 1958, but 1964).

The more she heard, the more special the already-unique property became. So Sandoval and Carri Busse, another Shorewest Realtor and fan of mid-century modern style, went searching for any history they could find about the home, finding details in Green Bay Press-Gazette archives to complement the local stories and online comments. It all feels like it has the makings of a book, Sandoval said.

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A 'daringly different,' contemporary design

Dr. John and Margaret Ottum created a stir on the corner of Waubenoor Drive and Auburn Street almost as soon as the 28-foot steel trussing for the triangular, faintly sail-shaped roof went up.

The Ottums broke ground on their custom-designed home in April 1963 and work finished in 1964. John, an ophthalmologist in Green Bay, and Margaret commissioned Shiocton architect Learned M. McCreedy to design the exterior. The Ottums helped design the interior to meet their family's needs: One wing of the first floor featured rooms and spaces for their children, another wing was for common areas like the kitchen and living room, and the second floor is described as an owners' suite.

The Ottum family and their unique home were featured in a profile by Ginnie Erdmann in the "Women's Features" section of the Sept. 27, 1964 edition of the Press-Gazette, about five months after the family moved in.

In May 1966, the home would be featured in the Service League of Green Bay's Parade of Homes II, organized to support children's programs in Brown County. A picture of the Ottums' sons in the living and dining rooms ran with the Parade of Homes announcement, and it survives in the Neville Public Museum's photo archives today.

A photo from May 1966 shows the five Ottum children playing and studying in the family room of their mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr. in Allouez, Wis.
A photo from May 1966 shows the five Ottum children playing and studying in the family room of their mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr. in Allouez, Wis.

The Ottums seemed to enjoy the theories neighbors and passersby crafted to explain the design, saying "people seem to appreciate something daringly different." They also took in stride the extra attention that came with the head-turning home. Friends would show up with a housewarming gift in the hopes of getting a tour while a steady stream of pedestrians and motorists would find their way to Waubenoor Drive. Some of the attention, today, sounds more than a little cringe-worthy — they mentioned strangers knocking at the front door to ask for a tour.

The Ottums provided answers to some common questions and observations from local residents and social media commenters, too.

The parabolic roof was borne of function more than anything. The roof design kept Green Bay snow from piling up on the lower, flat roof. A street-level look at the home shows the roof channels rain and snow straight into a garden bed. The shape also created a shaded porch or perch the Ottums said proved a popular party spot that stayed cool on hot, summer days.

The funky cupola above the main entrance is just a design element, though the Ottums told the Press-Gazette neighbors speculated it was a birdhouse or bell tower.

Regarding the home's design, the Ottums do not mention being inspired by the design of a ship or desirous of a nautical theme. Archives coverage indicates they asked McCreedy to create for them "a contemporary house of wood and stone that would be different."

But even then, well before social media, the Ottum house drew a crowd.

"There's hardly a soul in town who hasn't hopped in the family chariot and driven past v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y at least once ... and in some curious cases, at least once a week," Erdmann wrote in 1964. One neighbor told Erdmann they ordered their kids not to ride bikes on weekends because of the distracted drivers; another noted a parade of cars began at 8 a.m. and continued past sunset.

The mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, is a five-bedroom, four-bath residence finished in 1964 and features many original design elements, including a sunken living room.
The mid-century modern home at 3200 Waubenoor Dr., Allouez, is a five-bedroom, four-bath residence finished in 1964 and features many original design elements, including a sunken living room.

More unique, more of a challenge

The more unique a home, the smaller the potential pool of buyers tends to be, which can make it more of a challenge to sell when it does come on the market.

Such was the case when the Ottum home went up for sale in November 1985 for $149,500 in an ad that highlighted the sunken living room, Fond du Lac shore stone and some cash for decorating, according to Press-Gazette archives. By March of 1986, the price had dropped to $120,000.

Its current price, $365,000 is in line with nearby, current home values in Allouez as well as comparably-sized properties, Sandoval said. It also puts it in a segment of the housing market ― existing homes priced $350,000 to $500,000 ― where demand is high and available inventory remains low. In October, the inventory of homes for sale in that price range could meet statewide market demand for 3.1 months, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, well below the six months of inventory that represents a balanced or healthy housing market.

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Interest has increased with the newfound wave of social media attention, but the property has received few offers. Sandoval, the home's listing agent, said she understood the home would not appeal to every house hunter out there. Plus, she said it's a large home that will likely need some updates and modernization.

"It's a big project for anyone that comes in if they want to update that house because of the square footage," Sandoval said. "It's not going to be for everyone."

Still, she said after learning so much about the property's history and design, it's hard not to hope the property retains its mid-century modern design elements inside and out.

"I hope it stays the same style," Sandoval said. "I hope whoever comes in doesn't change it much."

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or jbollier@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffBollier

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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Internet goes wild for mid-century modern house for sale in Green Bay