Escaping the cold at the Domes
At some point, most Milwaukeeans have visited the Mitchell Park Conservatory. Of course, they may look at you dumbfounded when you call it that. Better known as “the Domes,” these three geodesic biospheres have contributed to Milwaukee’s unique architectural landscape since the first one opened in 1964.
The Domes have been part of the vernacular and field trip experience for Wisconsin folk and visitors for almost five decades now, and they have remained a source of solace — a place to escape the area’s harsh winters. Sitting at rest in the Domes can give you a bigger-than-life feeling, like you own the place.
While the Milwaukee County Parks System does a fair job with upkeep and happenings (the organization won a national award in 2009 for its efforts), it’s location is far enough away from downtown that the rush of crowds thins every now and then, allowing for moments of solitude.
Recently, the Conservatory revived itself from possible financial ruin with a nighttime LED display, renovations to its glass panes and surrounding facilities, and the second season of Music Under the Glass concerts. At present, the vibe feels like a delicate balance between renaissance and forgotten treasure.
On the day we visited — a Monday morning when admission is free to Milwaukee residents — there was a large pack of senior living transport vans and family minivans moving about as a high school orchestra completed a concert. As people departed, the quiet soon returned.
In the show dome, a giant Christmas tree is flanked by a giant Nutcracker princess and holiday flora like poinsettias and holly. In one corner, there is a lion’s head remnant from the once-gorgeous sunken water garden that was dismantled in the 1980s due to budget problems.
In the desert dome, cooler temperatures and an illuminated blue sphere create a uniquely quiet atmosphere; you pretty much expect a coyote to pop out from the cacti. It’s in this dome that you can read or canoodle in the adobe-like gazebo. It’s also the right time of year that many of the trees are in bloom and bearing fruit. Unfortunately, the pommelos are too high to pluck.