10 Must-See Buildings at Doors Open Milwaukee 2020

This popular event has had to adapt this year, but there are still a lot of fun ways to participate.

Doors Open Milwaukee is an annual event featuring some of most historic and unique buildings around the city. This year, the event is being held virtually, with free online tours of about 85 Milwaukee buildings and 16 neighborhoods, from now until Oct. 11. Tours are offered through a range of photos, videos and 360 virtual reality.

Grace Fuhr, the events director at Historic Milwaukee, said that while COVID-19 has affected Doors Open in many ways, there is still a lot for people to do and explore.

“Because we had all of these great partnerships with buildings that we’ve worked with for the past 10 years, we were able to pull together some really amazing virtual content for everyone to see,” Fuhr said.

Here are some must-see buildings being featured this year.

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1. The Warner Grand Theater/Bradley Symphony Center

The historic Warner Grand Theater “transports the audience to another time and place” and is home to some of Milwaukee’s “finest art deco architecture,” according to Historic Milwaukee’s website.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is currently restoring and renovating the Warner Grand Theater and Symphony Center on West Wisconsin Avenue. The renovation hopes to provide a “1930s ambience with 21st century amenities,” and will include state-of-the art acoustics, a 1,650 seat theater and more.

While some in-person events may be possible in January 2021, the Bradley Symphony Center will officially open in September 2021.

2. Dubbel Dutch

This 1898 English Renaissance mansion was originally saved from destruction in 1985 by the City of the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission, but was abandoned for many years. Juli Kaufmann of Fix Development, Patrick R. Jones of Ramsey Jones Architects and Andy Braatz of Braatz Building recently came together to restore the building and transformed it into a small hotel for guests to stay in.

 According to the website, “Cued by the prominence of Flemish-style shaped gables crowned with finials on this double house, an architectural detail prevalent in Milwaukee design of the era, combined with the Flemish-Dutch spelling of the word ‘double’, the owners pay homage to the home’s history and architecture by naming their new hotel, Dubbel Dutch.”

3. 88Nine Radio Milwaukee

88Nine Radio Milwaukee is a non-profit and non-commercial radio station located in Walker’s Point. Radio Milwaukee’s goal is to “use music and stories to create a more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee,” according to Historic Milwaukee’s website.

Although the building is currently closed to the public, you can stay connected by listening to music and stories at 88.9 FM or online at radiomilwaukee.org.

“This year’s Doors Open event is generally a more accessible way for people to tour a building,” Fuhr said. “Anyone with a computer and access to the internet can do these tours at anytime, so it is a little bit easier to interact with in that sense.”

4. America’s Black Holocaust Museum

This museum was founded by a lynching survivor named James Cameron, and it showcases United States history through the lenses of African Americans. Some exhibits include the trans-Atlantic slave trade, auction blocks and the civil rights movement.

A virtual museum is also available at www.abhmuseum.org.

5. Black Cat Alley

Black Cat Alley is Milwaukee’s first outdoor art gallery with a small garden on the East Side..

This unique gallery was developed by a group of community members and artists back in 2015 to 2016, and it now contains 21 murals by 24 artists from Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Columbus, Berlin and more.

Aside from buildings, online visitors can learn about entire neighborhoods, experience water tours, art activities, performances and more. Take a look at some of these new additions as well.

Explore 16 Milwaukee neighborhoods, including Sherman Park, Menomonee Valley and the Historic Third Ward through the neighborhood activity book, which can be downloaded here. Each neighborhood tour provides a map, gives an overview of the area and suggested places to visit.

6. Water Passport

Rivers and lakes are a big part of Milwaukee. Enjoy virtual tours of Fund for Lake Michigan Water Passport sites and learn more about the city’s industrial, commercial, civic and residential development. 

7. Alice’s Garden Urban Farm

Harvesting, conserving and appreciating water is a principle value at Alice’s Garden. The garden is currently running a rainwater harvesting project, which allows them to collect, filter and store water from a nearby playground to use for crops. You can learn more about Alice’s Garden, agriculture and sustainability in their virtual tour.

8. Jones Island Water Reclamation Plant

Jones Island Water Reclamation Plant opened in 1926 and was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1974. They were one of the first facilities in the world to produce a fertilizer through their water reclamation process, called Milorganite®, and are known for spearheading the field of wastewater treatment technology.

This site offers videos for guests to view online, including a virtual tour, the process of making Milorganite® and tips for managing your own water usage and where it falls at home.

9. Art Activities

“One of the themes, almost unintentionally, is public art throughout Milwaukee,” Fuhr said. “A lot of it is because of the murals that we are seeing throughout our whole city.”

Several art projects to do at home can also be found on Historic Milwaukee’s website, which include mapping your neighborhood, model building and creating treasure boxes. These videos were made with Artists Working in Education’s Art Truck Studio.

10. Performances

Access Contemporary Music, a nonprofit music organization, partnered with Historic Milwaukee to produce music for Doors Open locations around the city, and can be found online. The virtual video performances feature Milwaukee’s City Hall and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society.

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Skyler Chun is an editorial intern at Milwaukee Magazine. She is currently a sophomore at Marquette University studying Journalism and Digital Media.