Basilica of St. Josaphat

7 of the Most Beautiful Pieces of Architecture Milwaukee Has to Offer

Look up! The buildings you pass every day may have a story to tell.

Contrary to popular belief, Milwaukee isn’t called the Cream City because of its affinity for frozen custard or frothy beers. It actually takes its name from a special type of brick culled from the Menomonee River Valley that was once the envy of architects and designers around the world. And beautiful buildings – made of wood and stone and that beloved brick – can still be found throughout the city. Here are a few favorites.

Quadracci Pavilion

In 2001, architect Santiago Calatrava designed and oversaw the construction of this sweeping expansion to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s existing footprint. The addition, which juts out over the harbor and resembles the prow of an immense steel and glass ship, is now one of the most iconic components of the city’s skyline.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Burke Brise Soleil. Photo by Fritz Juseak/Milwaukee Art Museum.
Wisconsin Gas Buidling. Photo by Aidan Wakely-Mulroney/Flickr.

Wisconsin Gas Building

Rising 20 stories above the bustling avenue below, the Wisconsin Gas Building is one of the finest examples of art deco architecture in the state. Its terracotta friezes draw the eye upward, toward a 21-foot, four-ton weather flame that forecasts the weather when lit. An infamous prohibition-era speakeasy was once located inside the high-rise.

Burnham Block

There are 13 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed American System-Built Homes scattered throughout Wisconsin, and six of them are located right in Milwaukee. The homes, located along Burnham Street, west of downtown, were built for lower-income families and include energy-efficient, cost saving features still emulated by architects today.

Pabst Mansion. Photo courtesy of Pabst Mansion.

Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion

Curiously, a clan of brewers and an assortment of archbishops have both called the Flemish Renaissance Revival building home – The Pabst family sold the estate to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1908. No one lives in the mansion these days, but it’s still open for tours and is every bit as opulent as it was when it was first built.

North Point Lighthouse

One of the older structures in the city, the 75-foot lighthouse was operational from 1855 to 1994. The lens of the lighthouse, which can be examined up-close during daily tours, emits no less than 1,300,000 lumens and is visible from 25 miles away.

North Point Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of North Point Lighthouse.

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The gleaming, copper-plated dome of the basilica is one of the brightest jewels in the city’s architectural crown. The exterior resembles Rome’s famed St. Peter’s Basilica. And the interior – dotted with stained glass windows and gilded throughout – is every bit as awe-inspiring.

The Basilica of St. Josaphat. Photo by Susu Jabbeh/Flickr.

Pfister Hotel

Built in 1893 in a Romanesque Revival Style, the hotel is a favorite among arty types and visiting cultural luminaries, maybe partly because of supports a local artist and narrator each year, through a popular residency program. It also houses the world’s largest hotel collection of Victorian art.

The Pfister Hotel. Photo courtesy of Marcus Hotels.



Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.