Hidden a few blocks from the bustle of Prospect Avenue is a historical gem that Milwaukee residents may overlook in the shadow of the many large estates that line the lake. Designed and built in 1923 by architect David Adler, the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum is a Mediterranean marvel taken straight from northern Italy. Originally built for Lloyd R. Smith, the estate was first named Sopra Mare which translates to “Above the Sea”. Regally perched on a bluff high above Lake Michigan the name is fitting to the setting. For a bit of history on the location, Mr. Smith was the president of A. O. Smith Corporation which was founded in 1874 by Mr. Smith’s father and uncle. At origination, the A.O. Smith Corporation made bicycle frames but later evolved into steel pipes that transformed the oil and gas pipeline industry. Sopra Mare was a private residence for forty years until being donated to The Milwaukee Arts Center in the 1960’s by the Smith family. Today Villa Terrace houses historical artwork and is open to the public for tours as well as for event rental.
I recently toured the museum to learn more about using the space for events and in particular wedding ceremonies and receptions. The space is breathtaking and extremely functional for any couple who is anticipating a more limited guest list. Guests enter the museum through the sculptured open air courtyard that in the summer months is filled with blooming flowers, setting the tone for remainder of the ceremony. Proceeding through The Great Room, complete with its ornate chandeliers and two fireplaces, guests walk onto the Terrace de Luna which gives way to a spectacular view of the Renaissance Garden and Lake Michigan below. In the summer months, ceremonies are held on the terrace and can hold no more than 120 persons. (This also includes an option to have the ceremony indoors if the weather is less than perfect.) Stone benches and a staircase waterfall complete the many artistic and unique elements of the museum that will leave your guests feeling as if they’ve left the city and are now guests at your Italian countryside estate. After the ceremony, guests are free to mingle and explore the garden and many parts of the museum at their leisure which is an added perk for the couple looking to steal away for some private pictures in the hidden garden passages below.
After speaking with Katie Shorts, the event coordinator at the Villa, I can see why the space fills up very quickly. And while the gardens won’t be in bloom, the Villa can also be reserved for indoor ceremonies during the winter months as well. Sure only a few brave souls may stroll out onto the patio, but there is still something dramatic about the thought of you and your loved ones celebrating inside with the warm glow of the chandeliers and peering outside to a snow covered garden.
For more information on the Villa Terrace Museum as well as information on their event packages you can go to the website at: http://www.villaterracemuseum.org/weddings.html.