By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 21, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Every year I like to share a few must-see sites during Historic Milwaukee’s annual Doors Open Milwaukee, which has quickly grown into one of the most fun and well-attended events in the city.

With Doors Open moving online like everything else this year, there wil be fewer buildings, and the tours will be in-depth online explorations.

You can find a full list of buildings and details here at the Doors Open website, but in the meantime, here, once again, are my picks for some of the best sites to check out during this year’s event.

Click the bold name of each venue to read more about it.

Happy exploring!

The Knickerbocker with John McGivern

On Sept. 30 at 6 p.m., John McGivern will lead a tour of the Knickerbocker on the Lake, where he lives, as well as its surrounding Yankee Hill neighborhood. This is sure to be the highlight of this year's Doors Open. This is a ticketed event and details are here.

Best Place

Currently Best Place in The Brewery District on the site of the old (and the current) Pabst Brewery, this 1850s buildings is the oldest surviving public school building in Milwaukee. It was later sold to Pabst, which used it for offices and other purposes. It's a gem of a place and one that owner Jim Haertel is passionate about.

Burnham Block

Frank Lloyd Wright, like many before and after him, had a vision for creating easy to build modest, affordable housing – called American System Built houses – and a stretch of them was built on Burnham Street just off Layton Boulevard. One has been fully restored and work continues on another.

Dubbel Dutch

A former double house on Marshall Street has been beautifully converted into one of the area's newest – surely among its most unique – hotels. It's open now but you can get a virtual tour during Doors Open.

The Fortress

The unique old F. Mayer Shoe and Boot Company factory and offices building in Brewers Hill was completely renovated a couple years ago into apartments and some office space. Here's your chance to see inside, including up in the castle-tower-like apartment at the top!

GRAEF / Grand Avenue

The local consulting firm GRAEF has converted the old food court at The Grand Avenue mall into its new Downtown offices and now you can see that transformation. Sorry, no bourbon chicken samples.

Model Railroad Club / Allis Station

This unusual building built into a train trestle in Walker's Point has long been home to a pioneering Milwaukee model railroading club but before that it was a train station heavily used by factory workers in the area. See what remains of the original station.

Story Hill Firehouse

One of five bungalow-style firehouses designed by Charles Malig for Milwaukee – all of which survive, though only one remains a working firehouse – has been converted to a beautiful events venue on the West Side. Check it out!

20-Ton Studios

If you're like me, you've always been curious to see inside these former Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company substations that are dotted around the city. Here's you opportunity to peek inside one that's been converted to artists studios.

Wisconsin Black Historical Society

Clayborn Benson's labor of love for decades, the Wisconsin Black Historical Society has information and eye-opening displays, archives and a giant events space in a complex that includes a former movie theater, neighborhood library and firehouse.



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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.