What’s the oldest house on my block? Why is 73rd street so wide? Did Liberace live on Milwaukee Street? WHS research volunteers look for answers to a lot of stuff like that. Every few years, we get this one: Is the Washington Highlands designed to be shaped like the Kaiser’s helmet?
For context, here is a map of the streets in the Washington Highlands.
And for reference, below is Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing the Highlands a Pickelhaub.
Note that “Pickel” means “pike” and not what it sounds like.
We see the resemblance (minus the pike): At the southeast corner, Washington Circle curves up, over and around, flaring out in the southwest corner where it meets Milwaukee Ave. So this one is a maybe?
Here’s what Travis Mann, one of our researchers, found:
The Highlands was designed by Werner Hegemann, an internationally known city planner and architect from Germany, and Elbert Peets, an American, in 1916.
An author and intellectual, Hegemann moved to the US during WW1, then moved back to Germany in 1921. After criticizing Hitler and the Nazis, he was forced to flee to the US with his family in 1933.
Hegemann worked on the designs of the industrial village of Kohler, Wisconsin, prior to designing the Highlands. Peets went on to design Greendale, which has areas with similar curves flaring out to the main road (Northway and Range, Oakwood Lane and 60th, for instance).
Designed on principles of England's “Garden City Movement,” the Highlands’ curving streets meander along topography, intersecting few streets. The topography aligns with the curves at Milwaukee Ave. and Washington Circle, as well as the curve on Washington Circle before connecting to Martha Washington near Milwaukee Ave. The topography around the Milwaukee/Martha Washington junction also appears to have a “U” shape along Martha Washington and Washington Circle.
In sum: Unusual bends in the streets in the Highlands as they follow the topography might have been the source of the rumor of Hegemann’s design depicting a Kaiser’s helmet. Fueled by anti-Germanism during WWI, the myth stuck around despite the lack of evidence.