By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 27, 2024 at 8:28 AM

The "pagoda house" in the Washington Highlands is for sale!

If you frequent this hilly Tosa neighborhood with its winding streets, you know which house I mean. It’s the one at 6194 Washington Circle, at Two Tree Lane, with the pagoda-style roof and the Asian lantern outside.


The house is on my daily commute and I pass it all the time in my running shoes, too. A month or more ago, I noticed the occupants moving out and today there is a listing online offering the four-bedroom, 3,600-square-foot home for sale.

Built in 1924 (or 1922, depending on your source), it’s a beautiful gem of a house, with a built-in pool out back. The asking price is $850,000.


Before the Highlands subdivision was developed early in the 20th century, it was part of Pabst farmland used for growing hops and other purposes.

The Pabst family created the Washington Highlands Company in 1918 and homes began to rise, including ones for Fred Miller and others.

There are a number of legends about the Highlands, including that its roads were laid out by planner Werner Hegemann to resemble a German military helmet from above.

There is also a legend about this specific house, though I couldn’t find any proof of it in old newspapers, though I did find a 1979 recounting of that legend.

The home was reportedly built for the Toy family, owners of the famous Toy’s Chinatown Restaurant in Downtown Milwaukee, during Prohibition.

A Milwaukee Journal article says that the legend suggests, “the Toy family never moved in, but the builder of it and his wife eventually did. Also according to informal local history, that building was the friendly neighborhood bootlegger.”

Local lore says the Toy family was barred from moving in by restrictive racial covenants, which did indeed ban people of color from occupying homes in the neighborhood.

One potential wrinkle in this story – which may or may not be true – is that historians seem to agree that the house reflects the Japanese “irimoya-yane” roof, not Chinese architecture.

In fact, the style – which was in vogue in the early 20th century – was dubbed, "Japanese Exotic," according to the inventory form for the neighborhood in the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, the City of Wauwatosa says it does not have a surviving building permit for the house, which could help clarify the matter.

The home was indeed occupied by a building contractor – Charles Raulf and his wife Lillian – though, I can't say whether or not Raulff was a basement brewer or distiller.

These days, in theory, anyone who can afford it can live in this stunning house (though it's still illegal to distill at home). Whoever does buy it will have to accept that I will gawk at it every single time I pass by.

Outside, it’s clearly a stunner. But inside, it also is beautiful, judging from the photos in the listing.

living roomX
polygonal roomX

There’s a uniquely shaped fireplace, hardwood floors, three full baths, a two-car garage, a polygonal room, an updated kitchen with custom cabinets, a finished basement that also has a fireplace and a bar, and more.

You can read more about the house and see many photos in the listing, which is here.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.