By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 06, 2010 at 9:10 AM

Unless you've got a great memory, you most certainly will not recognize the buildings in the first photo accompanying this story. Adding the skyline view in the second photo won't help many of you, either.

That's because the Milwaukee Public Museum long ago shuttered its outdoor Pioneer Village -- think of it as a much-downscaled Old World Wisconsin -- down upon which you can look these days from MacArthur Square. But not for long.

But there's no hint of the wood-frame buildings -- located outside, behind the museum -- from inside. And museum maps just show a blank space where the village is.

"I did a little digging and found the Pioneer Courtyard opened in 1985," says Carter Lupton, the museum's curator of ancient history. "It was primarily used for Education Department programs dealing with rural pioneer life, explaining and demonstrating various activities like cooking, candle-making, etc."

After the Milwaukee Public Museum building was constructed in 1963, one plan included building a planetarium in the space later occupied by the Pioneer Village, which, says Lupton, was a component of the museum's wizard wing.

In 1990, while the museum was hatching the idea for an IMAX theater, there was talk of building the new dome theater in the Pioneer Village space, but as we all know, that didn't happen. The Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater is located on the southeast corner of the museum site at 800 W. Wells St. The Daniel M. Soref Planetarium -- Wisconsin's largest planetarium -- shares the theater.

Lupton says he remembers some staff pancake breakfasts in the village, noting that some of the Pioneer Courtyard's public programs also included pancakes.

Soon, the buildings will be replaced with blank space, too. Lupton confirms that the structures in the Pioneer Village will be demolished this year, probably over the summer.

"I don't recall exactly when it closed but it's probably been close to a decade," says Lupton.

"At first it was leaking through the roof, and there was some thought of dealing with this, but then later it was declared structurally unsafe."

When I stumbled upon the buildings again for the first time in years recently, I was taken aback. I'd forgotten all about them. I have a vague memory of wandering around the Pioneer Village once or twice, but the mental pictures are very, very hazy and I can't even be sure I'm remembering correctly or that I was ever there.

I asked around and realized that I'm not alone. Calls to my 500-odd Twitter followers, co-workers and some friends not only yielded zero memories of the Pioneer Village, most people I asked responded with a bleary-eyed, "the pioneer what?"

When I asked some folks at the museum, none could answer definitively, either. One thought it was built in the mid-1980s, another thought it dated to the early '60s and still another had arrived too late to have any experience with the village.

Most suggested I contact Lupton, who tells me there although the soon-to-be-vacant land is on the museum's radar, there is currently no plan for the Pioneer Village footprint behind the museum.

"There are, to my knowledge, no immediate plans for anything to replace it," he says, "though the space is under consideration for the museum's strategic space renewal." 

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 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.