Despite the threat of rain, more than 600 people learned the history of a slice of Wauwatosa during Saturday's Tour of Homes.
The tour, sponsored by the Wauwatosa Historical Society, focused on the Wellauer Park neighborhood. Participants found out about the founder, design and historical trends of the subdivision, which was designed in 1916.
Each of the seven houses toured were filled with docents who provided historical information. Each open room had at least one docent in it, pointing out the home's architectural features and explaining the historical relevance. More than 100 volunteers took part.
For $17 a ticket, tour-goers learned about Frank Lloyd Wright, the garden city movement, the Tudor architectural style and home decoration.
The Wellauer Park neighborhood, bounded by Wisconsin Avenue and Bluemound Road, spanning 68th to 76th streets, was originally Switzerland-born farmer Jacob Wellauer's land. He amassed 160 acres.
The land was subdivided after Wellauer's death in 1916 and designed to follow the garden city movement by Wauwatosa architect Frank Cushing Smith. The garden city movement originated in England in the early 1900s and incorporated foliage, bushes and curving streets to encourage self-sufficient urban spaces. The movement's influence also is seen in the Washington Highlands neighborhood.
"I would not say that the Washington Highlands and Wellauer Park are the same, but they are definitely similar, at least in their conception," said the tour's architectural historian, Traci Schnell.
The neighborhood, while not a city of its own, follows the style with curving streets and generous amounts of green space.
Many homes in the neighborhood followed turn-of-the-century styles including Tudor, prairie and French-provincial. Each home has a history, and those histories were written by Schnell and given to tour-goers.
Tour-goers also learned about the lives and stories of the current and former homeowners. Some ex-Wellauer Park residents include: a traveling shoe salesman, a construction company owner, the founder of Clark Super Gas and the former president of Dunlap and Frankiewicz meats.
"I don't think you can truly appreciate a building — that is, aside from its architectural merit — until you know its history," Schnell said.
The oldest house in the neighborhood is owned by Mark Wakefield and was designed by Russel Barr Williamson, manager of Frank Lloyd Wright's Milwaukee office. Wakefield's built-in bookcase is lined with books on Wright's history and connection to Milwaukee.
Wakefield hadn't heard of the historical society's tour of homes until a representative of the organization knocked on his door. He said he had no worries about the 600 people in his home and might go on next year's tour himself.
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