By Amy Grau Special to Published May 31, 2015 at 11:56 AM


This word may immediately trigger some to stop reading. For others, it may entice them to read more. Either way, one of my favorite things about Historic Milwaukee Inc.'s Doors Open Milwaukee is that it is the one time of the year where people can enter various denominations of churches — whether it be walking into that one church that has always intrigued them or by visiting all 22 churches thus far that are participating in September’s event — without feeling any sort of commitment, unless you want to. You go in, you look, you learn, you leave.

No matter what religion you are, or if you don’t believe in religion at all, I highly recommend visiting churches during Doors Open Milwaukee. As Colter Sikora mentioned in the April Doors Open Milwaukee blog, "Churches and other institutions in seemingly ordinary neighborhoods are critical hubs for the lives of generations of people who have lived there." Churches are interesting to visit not only because of their beautiful architecture and sometimes centuries-old history, but because many of Milwaukee’s churches have created, and still create, community. To be able to go inside and learn about the history of a church and how it has impacted the community surrounding it is sometimes the first step to understanding the area as a whole, and how it has evolved into what it is today.

Churches have participated in Historic Milwaukee, Inc.’s Doors Open Milwaukee from all over the city and in many of the surrounding Milwaukee suburbs from a bevy of denominations: The Basilica of St. Josaphat, which received over 1,500 people during the event last year on just one Sunday afternoon; St. Mary and St. Anthony Coptic Orthodox Church in Oak Creek, which received close to 400 visitors during the event last year; St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, which received over 500 visitors on one day during the event last year; and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which received over 900 visitors during the event last year, to name just a few. Every year since the inception of Doors Open Milwaukee in 2011, churches have been well-received and understood as a base for gaining an understanding of the city as a whole – with no strings attached.

When touring churches during the event, some take you into their main worship spaces, some take you behind-the-scenes, some take you on tours detailing their elaborate stained glass or artwork and some explain the construction of the building and the architecture. All of these offer you the opportunity to learn the history of the building, the beauty, the people who use it and how it all plays a role in the community and built environment surrounding it.

Building community

Wauwatosa is just one of the many new suburbs to Doors Open Milwaukee this year that will offer some great new churches to explore during the event. And it is probably not a coincidence that the city of Wauwatosa, which seems to grow and evolve on an almost daily basis, has quite a few thriving parishes of various denominations within.

If you know Wauwatosa at all, chances are you have heard of Christ King Parish, 2604 N. Swan Blvd. The Very Reverend Fr. Phillip Bogacki, pastor at Christ King, is looking forward to opening Christ King Parish’s doors on its 75th anniversary year to the public for an in-depth look for the first time during Doors Open Milwaukee. With over 4,000 individual parishioners and close to 1,500 families as members, this church is a solid representation of a thriving Catholic parish that has played a role in helping to shape its community. Two-, three-, and even four-generation families attend on a regular basis, most living within a couple of miles radius from the church. Over 400 children attend K-4 to eighth grade at the school attached to the church, and yet there are no buses. There is little need for them when many of the children live within blocks of the church’s location.

Did you say tunnels?

Established in 1939, Christ King Church was designed by Brust & Brust Architects, constructed between March 1955 and December 1956, when it was dedicated. Although large enough to hold 1,000 people, its Colonial/Georgian style offers a dignified simplicity in which function and form have been well thought out for sacred worship and flow.

Visitors during Doors Open Milwaukee will not only learn the history of the church through guided tours and historical pictures on display, but will also be able to tour above the arched ceiling, peeking down into the church for an aerial view.

During the event, you will be able to tour under the church as well, which includes an extensive tunnel system in the basement that runs right under the pews on the main floor. 

The tunnels lead to two giant boilers, which engineering students from surrounding schools have come to study and are still functioning and used today.

In addition, visitors will be able to visit the sacristy and walk behind the front altar of the church, where there is a ‘secret’ hallway leading from one side of the altar to the other with a small, square peekhole in the center of the hallway looking into the church from behind the altar. This was designed for clergy to be able to see when it is time for them to approach the altar for certain occasions and Mass, and is still used today.

Check here for times to visit Christ King Parish during Doors Open Milwaukee 2015.

This new site to the event is just one of the 22 churches and over 131 free sites – as of May 15 – thus far to visit for free during Doors Open Milwaukee 2015. Visitors of all ages are welcome to all participating sites during Doors Open Milwaukee.

Since I am mentioning Wauwatosa as a new place to visit this year during Doors Open Milwaukee, I have some more exciting news. Not only will Christ King Parish, the Lowell Damon House and the Chapel at Wauwatosa Cemetery – founded in 1841 by pioneer settler Charles Hart – be part of the event for the first time this year, but the Eschweilers will also be opening their doors for the first time during the event.

The red brick Eschweiler buildings – all built in 1912 except for the 1936 power plant – were designed by noted architect Alexander Eschweiler and housed the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. All five buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They have been the cause of much debate and conversation by preservationists, architects, developers and historians alike. If you have ever driven past the Eschweilers, chances are you may have been intrigued enough by their impressive stature atop the hill east of Highway 45 on the County Grounds to want to take a peek inside. Now is your chance.

New to Doors Open Milwaukee 2015: Eschweilers / Echelon at Innovation Campus

This site, located at 9810 Echelon Ln. in Wauwatosa, will be open both days during Doors Open Milwaukee from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

Echelon at Innovation Campus, developed by the Mandel Group and designed in partnership with HGA, is the newest apartment community available in Wauwatosa. First occupancy is anticipated for early September, with additional apartments being constructed and becoming available through the fall months. Built on the historic Eschweiler grounds, the look of the six newly constructed apartment buildings – comprising 188 apartment homes – will complement the style of the historic Eschweiler buildings that they are built around.

Designed by Alexander Eschweiler and erected on the County Grounds in 1911-12, the four historic buildings originally served as the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. The buildings have served other purposes over the years but were largely left neglected the past few decades. Many have admired the buildings from afar; this is your opportunity to visit them up close and see how Mandel Group is bringing new life to the property that has so much history and mystery.

Tour the main historic Eschweiler building that is being renovated to serve as the Admin building for the apartment community, as well as offer meeting rooms for use by the Wauwatosa community. Tour one of the six buildings currently under construction on the grounds, with a model apartment available to view.

Ring that bell!

Finally, an area of Doors Open Milwaukee where I can personally say I’ve visited or taken a tour at almost all of them: public tours! Unlike the in-depth tours during Doors Open Milwaukee featured last month, which involve a small fee, public tours are free to the public. If tickets are needed, they are distributed the day the tour is given on a first-come, first-served basis at 10 a.m. at Doors Open Milwaukee headquarters, which is Milwaukee City Hall at 200 E. Wells St. Some public tours do not require tickets. All ticket or non-ticket information is indicated within their individual tour listings. There may be a few more tours added to this list closer to the event, so be sure to check back for updates on the website.

Special note: The City Hall Bell Tower Tour is back in Doors Open Milwaukee this year after not being able to take part in the event last year due to construction. If you have not taken the Bell Tower tour, I highly encourage it. I also recommend the Soldiers Home tour. And the Department of Transportation tour. And the Jones Island tour. Did I mention the Hank Aaron State Trail bike tour? Or the Port of Milwaukee bus tour? The Milwaukee Food & City Tours shuttle? And the … OK, I Iike them all ... as does everyone else, so be sure to get to City Hall early for your tickets (if needed) the day of these tours. Two tickets per person. They go fast. And they are all worth the wait.

Speaking of worth the wait, check out the new Doors Open Milwaukee website! You don’t have to wait to start planning your weekend on September 19 and 20. Close to 75 percent of the event is already up on the website. 

Next month in June’s Doors Open Milwaukee blog, eat lunch with the firemen, Keith Stachowiak – architect at Uihlein Wilson Architects – and I as Keith gives you a sneak peek at what you can explore during the event at Milwaukee Fire House Engine #2. Also, you will get a behind-the-scenes look at our Doors Open Milwaukee photo shoot, as well as a few other surprise shares in advance to take note of while exploring this year during Doors Open Milwaukee 2015.

Amy Grau Special to
Amy Grau is the program manager for Historic Milwaukee Inc.'s annual Doors Open Milwaukee.