There’s no better way to get a peek inside Milwaukee’s most interesting – and often most historic – sites, many of them typically off limits to the public, than Historic Milwaukee Inc.’s annual Doors Open Milwaukee event.
The free, weekend-long affair, which takes place at sites all over town, runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19 and 20. A complete list of sites and information on special ticketed locations and more can be had here.
Be sure to check the schedule as not all sites are open for the entire weekend.
Historic Milwaukee has asked me to list some of my favorite sites included in this year’s event and they are below (in no particular order), followed by a few of the sites that top my wish list.
Enjoy and please remember to respect the sites. And bring your kids so they’ll develop an appreciation for Milwaukee’s rich history.
1. Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility,
700 E. Jones St.
For years, I was curious about THAT Milwaukee smell. Then I toured Jones Island and learned it’s the smell of Milorganite production. This is a fascinating tour; one of the best in town.
2. McIntosh/Goodrich Mansion (Wisconsin Conservatory of Music), 1584 N. Prospect Ave.
The Conservatory has filled one of Milwaukee’s loveliest Gold Coast mansions with music. Try and find the sweet spot in the lobby where you can hear sweet sounds wafting from every direction.
3. Pevnick Studios, 527 N. 27th St.
There are a number of cool old schoolhouses in Doors Open, including Henry Koch’s 8th Street School, the former Peckham/Jackie Robinson Middle School converted to the Sherman Park Senior Living Community and Best Place, located in the old Jefferson School, the oldest surviving public school building in town. Pevnick is located in the old Clybourn Street/Mary Hill School. Check out the amazing radiators in each of the old classrooms and be sure to get an eyeful of Steven Pevnick’s flowing creations.
4. Milwaukee Fire Education Center & Museum, 1615 W. Oklahoma Ave.
A double whammy here. You get a peek inside one of Charles Malig’s unique bungalow firehouses, plus you get to experience perhaps Milwaukee’s best unsung museum. Make it a three-fer, because you also get to meet the enthusiastic and engaging retired firefighters for whom the museum is a labor of love and passion.
5. Forest County Potawatomi’s Wgema Campus, 900 N. 33rd St.
Check out the former Concordia College campus, which the Forest County Potawatomi are working to renovate and bring alive again. You absolutely must focus on exploring Eugene Liebert’s fine Albrecht Hall. Then pop across to see the gym where the Kareem-era Bucks practiced.
6. Federal Courthouse, 517 E. Wisconsin Ave.
Don’t miss the opportunity to see inside this imposing Milwaukee landmark, which isn’t always easily accessed due to heavy security. The atrium is stunning, but peek around by the elevators, too, in the northwest corner to see a great old building directory to see where the steamboat inspectors’ office used to be.
7. Robert Anderson Municipal Building / Town of Lake Water Tower, 4001 S. 6th St.
We’ve all seen this South Side landmark from afar, but get inside and go up to the big open space beneath the tank for one of the most memorable experiences.
8. 5th District/Garfield School (West Allis Historical Society), 8405 W. National Ave., West Allis
I know, I know, another school, but I’ve gotta be me. Anyway, this 1887 Herman P. Schnetzky-designed schoolhouse is in an amazing state of preservation. Really, really fine.
9. St. James Episcopal Church, 833 W. Wisconsin Ave.
The church is beautiful – a true Downtown landmark – and this is a rare opportunity to see inside. Be sure to go to the basement to see some tombstones left over from when this site was the old Spring Street Burying Ground. Don’t worry, they moved all the bodies ... or did they?
10. Wells Street Vertical Lift Bridge, 101 E. Wells St.
I think everyone has dreamed of working or living in Milwaukee bridge house. You can’t likely move in, or get hired, but you can pretend for a few minutes. Charles Malig’s Kilbourn Avenue bridge house a block north is also open during DOMKE.
The top five places I hope to visit this year:
1. 720 N. Old World Third St.
I’d be eager to see how they converted the old Wisconsin Hotel into apartments.
2. Milwaukee Gas Light Company
2122 W. Mount Vernon Ave.
Here you can not only look inside Alexander Eschweiler’s imposing Milwaukee Gas Light campus in the Menomonee Valley, but also see the Zimmerman Architectural Studios historical displays and peek up into the tower that’s about to get new life as a craft brewery. Eddee Daniel will also have his photographs on display.
3. Milwaukee Bank Building
210 E. Michigan St.
A rare opportunity to see inside the oldest commercial building in Milwaukee, begun in 1856, and typically off-limits to non-members of the Grand Avenue Club.
4. Florentine Opera Center
926 E. Burleigh St.
I noted the exterior in my little Riverwest architectural walk and here's my chance to see the inside.
5. City of Milwaukee/Waukesha Materials Recovery Facility
1401 W. Mount Vernon Ave.
I love these sites that let us see how Milwaukee works on a daily basis. A visit to this recycling facility is the perfect complement to a Jones Island tour (see above).
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.