Take a trip around town to explore Milwaukee's rich architectural history. Due to Milwaukee's expansive and diverse heritage, the city and its surrounding areas are filled with a variety of different types of buildings.
MUSEUMS & ATTRACTIONS
Possibly Milwaukee’s most recognizable architectural feature is the Milwaukee Art Museum, which graces the city’s lakefront skyline. In 2001, the museum added a stunning addition designed by world-renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. The museum holds more than 30,000 permanent works and is among the nation’s finest collections of American decorative arts, German Expressionism, folk and Haitian art and American art after 1960.
Established in 1855, the North Point Lighthouse is an architectural and historic treasure. Located on a high bluff in Lake Park, one of Milwaukee’s oldest public parks, the lighthouse remained operational until its deactivation in 1994. It stands 74 feet high and its keeper’s quarters and lighthouse are open for touring.
Extraordinary stage talents Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt were undeniably the most revered acting team in American theater history. Their beloved retreat, Ten Chimneys, remains virtually unchanged since they first applied their enchantingly personal décor and assembled its historic furnishings and diverse collections. The 60-acre estate is nestled in the rolling Kettle Moraine of southeast Wisconsin, approximately half an hour from Milwaukee.
The Pabst Theater was built in the tradition of the grand European opera houses in 1895 by brewing magnate Captain Frederick Pabst. One of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the U.S., the Pabst hosts approximately 100 events per year, including music, comedy, dance, opera, and theater activities.
The Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion represents the epitome of America’s Gilded Age splendor. Completed in 1892, this Flemish Renaissance Revival jewel is a testament to the hard-earned success of Milwaukee’s original beer baron. This national treasure has been lovingly restored to its original grandeur and features fine period furniture and architectural details.
Just west of downtown on West Burnham Street, six of the known 13 Frank Lloyd Wright American System-Built Homes are found in his native state. The homes were completed in 1916 for moderate- and low-income families, a special interest of Wright’s. Tours are available by reservation. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa was also designed by Wright. It is one of Wright’s last works and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Milwaukee City Hall is a National Historic Landmark and an excellent example of classic Flemish Renaissance architecture. Upon its completion in 1895, City Hall was the second tallest building in America, exceeded only by the Philadelphia City Hall. Inside, an expansive atrium of 20 by 70 feet rises up eight stories. The bell tower stands 353 feet, inhabited by a 22,500-pound bell named Solomon Juneau, after Milwaukee’s first mayor.
The 20-story Wisconsin Gas Building is Wisconsin’s finest Art Deco skyscraper and is considered a masterpiece of form, distinctive for its cascading masses, jazzy brick patterns and terracotta friezes. Atop the building is a 21-foot tall plastic weather flame. This famous flame contains hundreds of feet of neon and argon filled tubes, and when lit, forecasts the weather.
The Mackie Building, also known as the Chamber of Commerce, is a Victorian landmark built in 1879 to house what was once the world’s largest grain exchange. The Italian Renaissance-style space is rich with frescoes, stained glass, columns, arches and carvings. Gargoyles guard each corner of the bell tower atop the building.
The Mitchell Building is one of the country’s finest examples of French Second Empire architecture, a style based upon Parisian buildings designed during the reign of Napoleon. It was built in 1876 by the man who also built the Mackie Building, Alexander Mitchell, a banker and railroad and lumber businessman.
The Iron Block Building was built in 1861 and is a landmark of special architectural significance. It belongs to a vanishing breed of American structures with facades entirely composed of cast iron.
WEST WISCONSIN AVENUE
The Milwaukee Public Library opened its doors to the public on October 3, 1898. This imposing structure is a combination of French and Italian Renaissance styles, built of Bedford limestone. The hand-carved, limestone staircase was the focus of the recent $8.3 million restoration.
Formerly the mansion of Alexander Mitchell, The Wisconsin Club was constructed in 1848. Artists from Europe were commissioned to adorn the interior of Mitchell’s home with elaborate, handcarved mahogany woodwork, stained glass, plaster and inlaid tile. The Grand Staircase in the East Hall of the house includes 24 lion’s heads that took one craftsman seven years to build. The Oriental Room (South Lounge) features more than 1,600 hand-carved pansies on its ceiling. Famous and noteworthy guests include Julia Ward Howe, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, Prince Henry of Prussia, General Grant and Presidents Cleveland and Roosevelt.
The shining, copper-plated dome of the Basilica of St. Josaphat has stood guard over the city for more than a century. Created from materials from the razed Federal Building in Chicago and patterned after St. Peter’s in Rome, the Basilica was dedicated in 1901. Interior highlights include: stained glass windows imported from the Tyrolean Artists’ Guild in Austria, detailed oil paintings of biblical scenes adorning the walls and inner dome and ornamental plasterwork finished in gold leaf.
Believed to be the only medieval structure in the Western Hemisphere dedicated to its original purpose, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, stood for more than 500 years as part of a French estate in the Rhone River Valley. Preservationists moved the chapel to the U.S. stone-by-stone in the 1920s and to the Marquette University campus in the 1960s. Legend has it that Joan of Arc prayed before the early Gothic altar and kissed the stone where she stood as she finished, and that stone has forever remained colder than those that surround it.
Gesu Church, built in 1894, is a Milwaukee landmark with its twin Gothic spires and exquisite stained glass windows. The spiritual center of the Marquette University campus, Gesu Church is a Milwaukee Archdiocese parish administered by the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic order commonly known as the Jesuits.