Looking for a slice of Tuscany right here in Milwaukee? Look no further than Villa Terrace (2220 N. Terrace Ave.). The home and magnificent Renaissance Gardens recreates classic elements of a 16th-century Tuscan landscape while accommodating the fickle Wisconsin climate with roses, hydrangeas and more, among wrought-iron sculptures overlooking the lake. Squint a little and you could mistake it for the Mediterranean.
Villa Terrace is holding its biennial gala on Saturday, July 20, from 5:30-11:00 p.m. In partnership with Mount Mary University, the event Fiori di Alta Moda (Flowers of High Fashion) will showcase student designs inspired from the floral life in the Renaissance Garden. This is the first year they’ve incorporated a fashion element into the event. In the past, they’ve used different Italian themes to coincide with the style of the villa and gardens, but this year they decided to support the work of local fashion students.
Gala Chairperson Carmen Anderson said she was determined to showcase the creativity and talent of Mount Mary students after she heard that Milwaukee is one of the worst fashion cities. There will be nine different designers showing a cocktail dress inspired by an element in the garden. Yours truly will be a judge for the competition and the winner will go home with a $2,500 scholarship donated by benefactors of the gardens.
This is the only party held outside in the gardens. The entire area is tented for a gourmet dinner from Shully’s and wine pairings from Zilli’s. There will also be live music and dancing, and 65 different auction items including a trip to New Orleans, all to raise funds for maintenance of the garden. “The fishpond and the juniper trees are two area of concern,” Anderson said. “We need to fully restore the basin and fix the 90-year-old plumbing,” a project they estimate will cost about $80,000.
And this is no ordinary fishpond. A dramatic water stairway flows down past three terraces of flowering crab-apple trees to the pond, used historically to keep the daily catch fresh. Anderson admitted, “It hasn’t deteriorated due to lack of care, its just there are so many things to maintain every year and it’s 90 years-old, we have to decide what our priorities are every year.”
The home itself has an interesting history. The Italian Renaissance-style villa was designed and built by architect David Adler in 1923 as the home of Lloyd Smith of the A.O. Smith Corporation and his family. In the ‘60s, Mrs. Smith gifted the villa to the county and they turned it into a museum, which features fine and decorative arts dating from the 15th through to the 18th centuries, as well as changing exhibitions.
The volunteer-run board and a part-time master-gardener maintain both the upkeep and administration for the gardens. The Friends of Villa Terrace began their work in 1997, led by landscape architect Dennis Buettner to revive the garden, focusing on the classical elements of the original landscape.
For more information and to purchase tickets for the event this weekend ($250 per person), contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (414) 376-9110.
If you can’t make it this weekend, be sure to at least visit the Renaissance Gardens (with a spectacular view of the lake) before summer is over (although it is open all year, weather permitting). And don’t forget about Café Spora Mare – free Sunday morning music in the plaza at Villa Terrace through September.
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Images by Jenna Kashou.