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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, April 21, 2014

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Sherman Park still one of Milwaukee's most vibrant areas


Perched high above the street, upon a horse that stands on a pedestal at the foot of Sherman Boulevard, General Frederick W. Von Steuben gazes southeast toward the center of the city.

Since 1921, the likeness of the Revolutionary War hero has stood at the intersection of Lloyd and Lisbon, at the gateway to the Sherman Park neighborhood from downtown (though technically this spot is two blocks south of the Sherman Park border). From his vantage point, Gen. Von Steuben was a witness to the arrival of settlers in what became one of Milwaukee's most distinguished neighborhoods.

Sherman Park sits on the near northwest side of the city, just four miles from downtown. It's bounded by North Avenue on the south, Capitol Drive on the north; 60th Street and 30th Street Industrial Corridor form the west and east boundaries of the neighborhood.

Ever since it started out as a destination for the up-and-comers of the city, Sherman Park has held a prominent spot in the roster of Milwaukee neighborhoods. Why does Sherman Park seem to be in the forefront of our civic consciousness? Perhaps it's because it showed us how neighbors can unite to defeat a common foe, or maybe because in Sherman Park, Milwaukeeans see the best attempt we've made at mounting racial divisions.

When the Milwaukee Parks Commission developed a tract of land into West Park (now Washington Park) in the 1890s, it marked the beginning of a stream of settlers to what had been a rural area. Largely made up of third & fourth generation German-Americans, those who migrated to Sherman Park came from Milwaukee's closer-in neighborhoods.

The beer barons and corporate presidents remained closer to the city, living on the mansion-lined boulevards of Highland Boulevard, State Street and Grand Avenue. It was those in the next notch of the social strata, the vice-presidents, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers and middle managers of the day, who settled in Sherman Park. These good German "burghers" built smart, sturdy bungalows, and homes in Arts & Crafts and Period Revival styles, marked by ornamentation and high craftsmanship.

Washington High School is a four-story, brick, English Tudor structure on Sherman Boulevard, halfway between Washington Park and Sherman Park. The impressive architecture, in sharp contrast from the sterile school buildings built in recent years, makes it easy to imagine when Washington was one of the most prestigious secondary schools in the Milwaukee area.

Washington's graduates include some of Milwaukee's most prominent native sons -- Senator Herb Kohl, Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bud Selig, actor Gene Wilder, NBA star Latrell Sprewell, former Governor Lee Dreyfus, former White House counsel Abner Mikva, and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Newton Minnow (remembered for his labeling of the television industry as "a vast wasteland").

In 1971, the Sherman Park Community Association (SPCA) was born. At a time before neighborhood associations had become a staple for change and advocacy in urban areas, the SPCA broke new ground.

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