Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Milwaukee. Photo courtesy of the General Services Administration.

6 ‘Doors Open’ Spots You Absolutely Have to Visit This Year

History, architecture and Milwaukee fans can come together to explore the old and new structures and institutions of the city for two days of free tours thanks to Historic Milwaukee.

In 2017, Doors Open Milwaukee allowed 26,000 people to make 117,000 site visits across the county in two days, learning about landmarks and businesses that sometimes go under the radar.

Now in its eighth year, Doors Open Milwaukee will open the doors of more than 170 buildings for free tours from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sept. 22-23. Almost every building is open both days, all day, so there’s plenty of flexibility for your exploration.

There will also be a block party both days on Michigan Street (between Broadway and Water Street) featuring kid-friendly activities, food, DJs from WMSE 91.7FM, and the new streetcar from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday.

Many of the tour-able buildings are usually closed to the public, such as certain sections of Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. But Doors Open Milwaukee, which is organized by Historic Milwaukee, Inc., aims to highlight the best architectural and historical aspects of the city regardless of their day-to-day status.

“If it’s your first time participating, it’s best to identify a neighborhood you want to explore,” says Historic Milwaukee Special Events Director Grace Fuhr, adding that Historic King Drive in the Harambee Neighborhood, Historic Mitchell Street and the City of Oak Creek are all being highlighted this year. “A stat we’re really proud of is that 66 percent of the people who participated last year visited a neighborhood they’re unfamiliar with, and most of them said they would visit again.”

Carma Laboratories

9750 S. Franklin Drive, Franklin

Carmex Made in WisconsinIf you hate chapped lips or if you love pipe organ music (or if you fit in both categories), then Carma Laboratories in Franklin is worth a stop.

Although Carma is almost 80 years old, its 40,000 square foot facility was built less than 15 years ago.

And, for some reason, there’s a still-working pipe organ on the factory floor. To find out why it’s there (and to hear it be played), you’ll have to go and visit. But make sure to stop in on Saturday the 22nd; it won’t be open on Sunday.

Pinehold Gardens

1807 E. Elm Road, Oak Creek

Image of Hello Falafel from Odd Duck by Artemio Photo.

If you’re still not sure what this whole “urban gardening” thing is, Pinehold Gardens is a prime example of it.

This 21-acre farm grows everything from beets to escarole to squash to tomatoes to basil to maple syrup, and it’s only 20 minutes from Downtown. (Yes, yes, we know you don’t grow “maple syrup,” but you get the idea.)

If you can’t make it out to Pinehold during Doors Open, its produce can still be found at Oak Creek Farmers Market every Saturday through October or find it on menus at local restaurants like Goodkind, Bavette and Odd Duck.

Lopez Bakery

1100 W. Historic Mitchell Street
Lopez Bakery’s Facebook page

If you get hungry during a weekend of Milwaukee exploration, Lopez Bakery would be a good spot to grab lunch or dinner.

It specializes in huevos rancheros, empanadas, fresh tortilla chips and sweet churros. Although most people outside of the neighborhood don’t know about it, Fuhr called it “an institutional bakery” because of how popular it is on Mitchell Street.

Milwaukee Federal Building

Federal Courthouse wedding photo. Photo by Front Room Photography.

517 E. Wisconsin Ave.

364 days a year, visitors are not allowed to take photos inside Milwaukee’s federal courthouse. However, on Saturday the 22nd, Doors Open tourists are allowed to bring out their cameras and cell phones to capture the “spectacular building,” as Fuhr calls it. According to the U.S. General Services Administration, it is “one of the last bastions of Romanesque Revival architecture in the Midwest.”

The building was completed in the twilight of the 19th century and became an official Milwaukee City Landmark in 1972. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year.

Restoration projects in the second half of the 20th century helped restore the beacon to its original grandeur, although it was still tough to ignore the marble mosaics on the walls and skylight within the vast lobby.

With the right framing, the courthouse is reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film set.

5 Points Art Gallery & Studios

3514 N. Port Washington Ave.

This funeral home-turned-art gallery will be open to the public for the first time during Doors Open 2o18.

As the property has been repurposed (at a cost of over a quarter-million dollars), many of the original features — wooden beams, cream brick, stone fireplaces, stained glass — have been preserved.

Besides being a gallery, 5 Points will also have seven workspaces for working artists. The owner, painter Fatima Laster, also has plans to live in the building and rent out two other apartments on the second floor.

America’s Black Holocaust Museum

401 W. North Ave.

A project years in the making, America’s Black Holocaust Museum plans to finally reopen this fall after closing in 2008. It will be receiving a well-deserved “Welcome Back!” by opening its doors this month for public tours of the new museum, located on the same corner where the original museum stood.

In short, the purpose of the museum is to make sure that Milwaukeeans (and Americans) don’t overlook the atrocities carried out against black people throughout U.S. history.

Exhibits also highlight the individuals who made a positive impacts on the civil rights movement. The ABHM’s founder, Dr. James Cameron, receives ample recognition throughout the museum, having become a well-respected author and speaker after surviving a lynching in August 1930 in Indiana.

Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee

Photo of a Milwaukee Road freight train headed from Seattle to Chicago. This train carried a cargo of tea from Japan and China. The locomotive shown is an electric EF-1. Photographer: Asahel Curtis
1928 picture of a Milwaukee Road freight train. Photo by Asahel Curtis, public domain.

215 E. National Ave.

Far older than the streetcar, the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee shows an appreciation for steam-engine locomotives and those fancy-schmancy bullet trains. If it runs on rails, you can might be able to find a scale model of it here.

The club’s building is actually inside of a former train station, constructed in 1916, and sits underneath still-used railroad tracks alongside the Kinnickinnic River on the south side.






Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan