Opening new doors to Milwaukee

By: TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

September 15, 2016


Submitted photo 

An exterior door at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa displays religious symbolism.

This weekend, venues in and around Milwaukee - many rarely accessible to the public - will welcome visitors at no cost. Some will be open Saturday, others Sunday, still others both days.

That’s the focus of Doors Open Milwaukee, a program put on each year by Historic Milwaukee Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to heighten awareness of Milwaukee’s history, architecture and preservation efforts.  

This year’s DOM, the sixth, will also include walking tours.  

“Historic Milwaukee is proud to offer this two-day annual event to the public,” said DOM program manager Grace Fuhr.  

Sites representing the city and a few of its suburbs range, according to DOM, “from churches to office buildings, theaters to worksites, museums to hotels” - about 165 locations in all.  

Twenty-five of the sites, divided into several categories, are described in subsequent paragraphs. Several others are mentioned parenthetically.  

Five walking tours, each requiring advance purchase of a $10 ticket, are cited in the final segment below. Tickets will be required at certain free sites as well.  

Places of worship  

  • Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 9400 W. Congress St., Wauwatosa. The 1961 church, futuristic-looking yet  resembling Turkey’s ancient Hagia Sophia, was Frank Lloyd Wright’s last major project. (Another suburban Wauwatosa church, Christ King Catholic, notable for its tunnel system, is also a DOM venue, at 2604 N. Swan Blvd.)
  • Basilica of St. Josaphat, 2333 S. 6th St. Anyone who hasn’t visited the city’s largest Catholic church should certainly do so - and why not this weekend? Modeled on St. Peter’s in Rome and constructed from the remnants of a razed Chicago federal building, St. Josaphat’s boasts one of the world’s largest domes and an interior of unforgettable beauty.  
  • Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1209 N. Broadway. The mother church (1901) of the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, designed by Armin Koch, will have musicians performing  for visitors.  
  • Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 1100 N. Astor St. Immanuel has the distinction of being the oldest parish in Milwaukee. A highlight of the 1875 limestone church (which was recently added to): four Tiffany stained glass windows.
  • Islamic Society of Milwaukee, 4707 S. 13th St. This edifice, converted from a public school and expanded, is a mosque and religious school complete with office facilities - and is the largest Islamic structure in Wisconsin.  
  • St. Joan of Arc Chapel, 1415 W. Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee’s oldest building at six centuries of age, the now regularly used chapel was donated and shipped piecemeal to the Marquette University campus 50-odd years ago. Legend has it the chapel’s namesake knelt in prayer on one of its stones. 


  • Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, 839 N. 11th St. Rooms in this repository, which focuses on the period between the two World Wars, replicate stores and other businesses; there are changing exhibits, too. At least a portion of the building dates back almost to the Civil War.  
  • Harley-Davidson Museum, 400 W. Canal St. This place has been called the city’s “number-one attraction.”
  • Milwaukee Fire Museum, 1615 W. Oklahoma Ave. The building’s holdings include fire trucks from the era of its construction as a fire station (1927), plus the department’s original 1947 Cadillac ambulance. Visitors will have guided or self-directed tour options. (The site at which Milwaukee’s firefighters and police are trained, the Safety Academy at 6680 N. Teutonia Ave., will receive guests on Saturday.)  
  • Milwaukee Public Museum, 800 W. Wells St. This nationally known natural history museum will be offering a free program in its Soref Planetarium.  
  • Milwaukee School of Engineering Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway. The Grohmann, which boasts a rooftop sculpture garden, traces “the evolution of work from farming and mining to steel production and glassblowing.” Its artwork dates to the 16th century.   
  • Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 W. Center St. Visitors will be able to take in a PowerPoint presentation on the state’s African-American history from 1760.  


A unique rooftop pool and sundeck can be seen at the Catholic Financial Life building in downtown Milwaukee as part of Doors Open Milwaukee this weekend.  


West Allis Sites  

  • City Hall, 7525 W. Greenfield Ave. Visitors will be able to go on the roof for “unique views of downtown West Allis and the State Fair grounds” and to sit in the council chambers chair of the mayor of Milwaukee’s largest suburb and Wisconsin’s 11th-largest city. (Milwaukee’s City Hall, 200 W. Wells St., is a DOM site as well.)  
  • Farmers Market, 6501 W. National Ave. The West Allis edition is the metro area’s largest open-air market and longest continuously run farmers market in Wisconsin.  
  • Fire Administration Building, 7332 W. National Ave. Visitors to this vintage 1930 fire department headquarters building will also have the opportunity to tour the working firehouse next door.  
  • Garfield School, 8405 W. National Ave. A school no longer, this cream city brick structure once simultaneously  served elementary and high school students. Dioramas abound in the 125-year-old building, whose artifacts include a doll collection, an antiquated voting machine and a player piano that patrons are welcome to work.  
  • Inspiration Studios, 1500 S. 73rd St. This one-time mortuary includes a theater, gallery and studio space. An abstract photography exhibit will be in progress, and exhibitor Rosie Hartman will be present.  
  • West Allis Lodge No. 291, 7515 W. National Ave. Dating back 86 years, this Masonic Temple continues to serve the oldest fraternal organization in the United States.

Miscellaneous venues  

  • American Red Cross, 2600 W. Wisconsin Ave. Those who visit, Fuhr said, “will experience a day in the life of a ‘Red Crosser’ and discover “what it’s like to be part of the Disaster Action Team.”  
  • Anderson Municipal Building, 4001 S. 6th St. Named for a colorful and controversial Milwaukee alderman and originally the water tower and offices for the old Town of Lake, this edifice offers an arresting view of Milwaukee’s skyline.  
  • City of Milwaukee/Waukesha County Materials Recovery Facility, 1401 W. Mount Vernon Ave. Visitors will see “recyclables and the machinery that prepares them for sale.” The facility that represents a partnership between neighboring governments will be closed Sunday.  
  • Hyatt Regency Milwaukee/Polaris, 333 W. Kilbourn Ave. Recently reopened, Polaris has been renamed VUE. It is the city’s sole rotating rooftop restaurant.  
  • MSOE - WMSE Radio, 820 N. Milwaukee St. Situated in Krueger Hall, former site of a tire store, this college station with its volunteer DJs provides an eclectic mixture of music all day, every day.  
  • Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. This ornate performance space from 1895 is among the oldest “continually operated” playhouses in the country.  
  • Tripoli Shrine Center, 3000 W. Wisconsin Ave. If St. Josaphat’s is Milwaukee’s version of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Shrine Center is the city’s answer to India’s Taj Mahal. Drinks and entertainment will be available.

$10 Walking Tours  

  • Brady Street. Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m; 60 minutes. Meet at St. Hedwig’s Church at North Humboldt Boulevard and East Brady Street. The neighborhood was once Milwaukee’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.  
  • Kilbourntown. Sunday, 1:30 p.m.; 75 minutes. Meet at the Central Library, 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. The former Pabst brewery is among this old West Side walk’s stops.  
  • Menomonee Valley. Saturday, 9 a.m.; 90 minutes. Meet in the park in front of Central Wire, 3700 W. Milwaukee Road. Participants may well hear that, “when Milwaukee was the Machine Shop of the World, the Menomonee Valley was its engine.”  
  • Milwaukee Photo. Saturday, 10 a.m.; 120 minutes. Meet at 172 N. Broadway. Historical information, along with photography tips, will be shared during a stroll that will wind up at the lakefront.
  • Six Points. Sunday, 1 p.m.; 90 minutes. Meet in the parking lot of Beans & Barley, 1901 E. North Ave. This East Side tour’s patrons will see, among other things, what once was “a Mafia don’s headquarters.” For ticket info, locations’ days and hours and additional details:

Defining ‘Favorite’

For an insider’s input, we contacted Grace Fuhr, program manager for Doors Open Milwaukee. Eschewing our term “favorite,” Fuhr mentioned a handful of “special” or “new” DOM sites, including Annunciation Church.

Additionally, Fuhr cited Catholic Financial Life (1100 W. Wells St.), Journey House Packer Field (South 22nd and West Pierce streets), Milwaukee Blacksmith (518 E. Erie St.), Milwaukee French Immersion School (2360 N. 52nd St.) and Wadhams Gas Station (1647 S. 76th St., West Allis). In an email, the program manager noted that, “for the first time, visitors of the Catholic Financial Life building will have an opportunity to visit the on-site All Saints Chapel and view the city from  the building’s rooftop oasis (which includes) the city’s only rooftop pool/sundeck.” She further noted that the “synthetic turf football field was donated to Journey House by the Green Bay Packers (who had) used the field as part of their practice facility” in bygone decades. Journey House is an anti-poverty institution of which youth sports is one component.

Fuhr labeled Milwaukee Blacksmith “the star of a (current) History Channel show” and invited the public to “come and watch as (a) blacksmith and his sons use the same historical techniques” that produced the ironwork decorating some of “Milwaukee’s finest buildings.” She added that tourgoers at French Immersion - formerly Steuben Junior High School - “will see original artwork and details, including decorative tilework.”

The West Allis filling station, Fuhr wrote, “is a rare reminder of a once prominent regional chain of over 100 pagoda gas stations. Roadside scholars consider Milwaukee architect Alexander Eschweiler’s pagoda design to be an iconic design in gas retailing history. (The building) contains historical displays (and) will be open to the public for the first time since 1978.”

The Wisconsin Historical records Advisory Board is teaming with DOM this year “to showcase archival collections (on Saturday) that are not otherwise open to the public,” Fuhr said. For an archives list:

Fuhr said that a block party featuring food trucks, music and children’s activities has been with DOM, on East Michigan Street between North Water and North Broadway streets. She added that DOM “will feature music performed by Access Contemporary Music.” For more info,

- Tom Jozwik