Christian Wahl may be coming home to Lake Park.
At its meeting on Monday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. in City Hall, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission approved an application from Milwaukee County Parks to move a bust of Wahl – who helped develop Milwaukee’s park system and Lake Park in particular – from Harriet Tubman Park on the North Side to Lake Park.
The application moves to the Common Council for final approval.
The 32x25x18-inch sculpture, made by Italian-American artist Gaetano Trentanove in 1903 – two years after Wahl’s death – sits atop a 72-inch tall granite base. The bust was dedicated on July 13, 1903 in Lake Park.
"Judge George H. Noyes made the presentation speech, the bust remaining with the American flag,” wrote Ellis Baker Usher of that event in his “Wisconsin: Its story and biography, 1848-1913, Volume 5.”
“As Judge Noyes ceased speaking Clauder's Military Band struck up ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ while Cyril Gordon Weld, the grandson of Mr. Wahl, cut the cord that held the national colors about the bust, and the flag fell, disclosing the features of Christian Wahl."
The park now named for abolitionist Tubman, 4750 N. 48 St., was dedicated to Wahl – who has been called the father of Milwaukee’s parks – in 1956 and the bust was moved there four years later.
When the County Board changed the name of Wahl Park to Tubman Park in September 2020, Lake Park Friends sought to return Wahl’s bust to its original site and the park that Wahl loved best of all.
"In 2020-21 we raised $15,000 from our membership to cover the cost of repair and restoration of the bust and its move between parks," says Lake Park Friends President Anne Hamilton.
"We are excited to welcome him back to the park!"
Though the sculpture originally stood between the porticoes of Lake Park’s pavilion, and by 1923 it was moved to a spot across the path east of the North Point Lighthouse.
Upon its return it would be installed in a new location at the entrance to the park at Wahl Avenue and Belleview Place.
According to the application to the HPC, “The bust would be situated in a site of open grass, facing south down Wahl Avenue, also named after Christian Wahl. Restoration efforts are currently underway to renew the sculpture materials through a local art foundary that specializes in monument maintenance.
“It is intended that the sculpture will be located in the center of the grass area identified in the accompanying site photos. There will be 6'+ of grass around the plinth on all sides to allow for proper landscape maintenance and a setback from the adjacent paths.”
Born in Pirmasenz, Bavaria in 1829, Wahl arrived here in 1846, settling with his family on a farm five miles south of Milwaukee.
After mining for gold in California and traveling as far as Peru and Australia, Wahl landed in Chicago where he and his brother started the Wahl Brothers Glue Company, which grew into the biggest glue maker in the country.
Selling the business to Chicago magnate Philip Armour, Wahl served on the Common Council and the school board and, stationed in Berlin, as vice consul during the Franco-Prussian War.
Returning to Milwaukee, he bought a house on the East Side and in his retirement was a president of the City Park Board during its early years.
(NOTE: This article first ran on Nov. 29 and was updated to show the result of the HPC discussion.)
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.