Master sand sculpture artist Ted Siebert turns attention to a more permanent legacy

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)-- Just like any kid, Ted Siebert's love for building sand castles started at an early age.

"I was like all of the kids at eight, pushing sand together into volcanos," Siebert said.

Siebert never outgrew his desire to create new worlds on the beach.

"I must have talked incessantly about it in my 20s," Siebert said.

Siebert's passion transformed basic sand castles into replicas of real life palaces and beyond.

"It's just your imagination," Siebert said. "It's fun stuff to work with, and we take it to the Nth degree."

After more than 600 sculptures, the owner of The Sand Sculpture Company can pretty much make anything you can think of out of sand, water and a little bit of diluted wood glue.

"Everything we do is all natural," Siebert said.

His team built the world's largest sand sculpture park and broke Guinness World Records.

"We get to work on a scale that's just unimaginable for most people," Siebert said. "I've done a sculpture as large as 33,000 tons, which is 1,500 semi-truck loads of sand. That took us three months to build. 70 artists."

Right now, Siebert is working on a larger-than-life guitar at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Miami Gardens.

"We know we have charmed lives. We've gone to places that people just can't even imagine," Siebert said.

His so-called charmed life recently came into perspective.

"Last year, I got diagnosed with cancer. It was serious," Siebert said.

A death sentence and months of chemotherapy forced Siebert to think about what he was going to leave behind.

"Almost all of my work, you know, washes away in time or is torn down," Siebert said.

Until now.

"What we're standing in is a national historic property that is in Concordia part of Milwaukee," Siebert said. "Miller Brewing is right over there, and Marquette University is over here, and Miller Park is over there."

Siebert is trading in his hands and sand for power tools and lumber. His latest project has been around for more than a century, and after he's done with it, likely a century more.

"This is kind of my permanent thing that will outlive me by about 100 years or so," Siebert said.

The Concordia mansion comes with a long history. Designed by architect Carl Ringer in 1900, the Tudor style home is known as the H.G. Goll House, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The first owner was bank teller Henry Goll, who was convicted for embezzling money from First National Bank in the early 1900s.

"I have stripped it down to the bare studs, and there's no money here," Siebert said.

Decades later, the home became a fraternity house. A few Marquette alumni stopped by to share stories after Siebert first bought it, which only made him feel even more connected to his new purchase.

"Every spring break, they had a beach party down here, and they'd shovel 20 tons of sand through this little window about this big. Of course, the freshman all had to do it," Siebert said. "They go, 'You don't have any idea how much work that was.' Oh, yes I do. I know exactly how much 20 tons of sand to shovel is. Nobody knows that as well as I do."

The home was since abandoned. It sat empty for 12 years, until Siebert bought it in 2019.

"You should have seen it two years ago," Siebert said.

Siebert is determined to rehab and modernize the home, while also paying tribute to its original character.

"There's a buffet over here. Everyone tells me to save it, and I'm like, do you know how much work that's going to be? But, I'll do it. It's important," Siebert said.

It won't be easy, but Siebert is no stranger to a challenge.

"Sand sculptures are the same way. We have things collapse on us all the time, and sometimes faced with that adversity, you just go in with even that much more fervor, and you bang out something you're like, that's the best save we've ever done.

This save will likely be his greatest, and one Milwaukee will remember even after the tide turns.

"It would be nice to have this house finished, and say well, he also did this," Siebert said. "He brought this house back to live."

Siebert expects to have the home finished in about 18 months.

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