In Milwaukee History Commentary

Go behind the scenes at more than 150 Milwaukee landmarks, including the Federal Courthouse, during Doors Open MKE.

10 must-see Doors Open MKE sites

There's no better way to get a peek inside the city'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. on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24. A complete list of sites and information on special ticketed locations and more can be found 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).

Enjoy and please remember to respect the sites. Also, bring your kids so they'll develop an appreciation for Milwaukee's rich history.

1. La Lune Collection

The history of Mario and Cathy Costantini's La Lune Collection is interesting and so is the history of its home in Riverwest. But what I think you'll find most fascinating is just how alive with activity the complex is because, from the outside, it often looks completely and misleadingly silent.

2. Railway Exchange Building

This landmark red sandstone building has gotten a new luster thanks to the stewardship of owner Patti Keating-Kahn. Learn more here.

3. Irish Cultural and Heritage Center

The home to the Milwaukee Irish Cultural and Heritage Center was built as a church and designed by important Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix. It's a gorgeous and historic building you won't want to miss.

4. Grace Lutheran Church

Designed by Henry Koch, Grace Lutheran Church is a Downtown landmark that's in a fine state of preservation. Read my story – including a visit down below it – here.

5. Milwaukee Fire Education Center and Museum

If there's one rarely mentioned but thoroughly must-see museums in Milwaukee, it's the Milwaukee Fire Education Center and Museum, located in one of five bungalow firehouses and run by passionate, knowledgeable and personable retired firefighters.

6. Best Place

In addition to pioneering the return of beer to the former Pabst Brewery – which is now again exploding with beer culture – Best Place's complex includes Captain Pabst's great office AND the oldest surviving Milwaukee Public Schools building.

7. West Allis Historical Society

The West Allis Historical Society has tons of interesting and priceless historical artifacts, images and records of the birth and development of 'Stallis. But, to me, the best part is its home: the gorgeous Romanesque Revival schoolhouse designed by Herman P. Schnetzky in 1887.

8. U.S. Federal Courthouse

Speaking of Romanesque Revival, there is perhaps no better example – surely no more high-profile example – in Milwaukee than Willoughby J. Edbrooke's U.S. Federal Courthouse, with its soaring tower, on Wisconsin Avenue. It's rarely accessible to the general public and it's absolutely beautiful inside, so don't miss this opportunity.

9. McIntosh/Goodrich Mansion (Wisconsin Conservatory of Music)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music 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.

10. Wells Street Vertical Lift Bridge

I think everyone has dreamed of working or living in a 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. Here's an interesting look at what became of an earlier Wells Street Bridge house.

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