Doors Open Milwaukee

Your key to the city

On Sept. 22 and 23, more than 125 buildings will be on display as Historic Milwaukee, Inc. hands over the keys to the city for Doors Open Milwaukee.

By - Sep 17th, 2012 04:00 am

More than 125 of Milwaukee’s buildings will be open to the public for Doors Open Milwaukee, Sept. 22-23. (Photo: Brian Jacobson)

For many people, going to downtown Milwaukee is a treat. Whether the trip is to attend one of City’s great festivals, to watch a game, catch a show, or dine at one of several fine restaurants, the lure of city lights is one that continues to draw people to the Cream City by the thousands. But, after a few hours of fun, many people simply head back home—and right past some of Milwaukee’s greatest treasures.

The inside of Milwaukee’s City Hall. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

For the second year, Historic Milwaukee Inc. is giving everyone a key to the city.

Even those who dwell within the city’s boundaries have never seen Milwaukee quite like this.

Doors Open Milwaukee is a weekend long invitation to explore the history and the stories of the myriad of structures across the county. On Sept. 22 and 23, more than 125 buildings will be on display—from Milwaukee’s oldest structure, the mid 15th century St. Joan of Arc chapel on the Marquette University campus—to some of the city’s newest and most innovative centers, like the Urban Ecology’s newest branch in the Menomonee Valley.

It’s a chance for anyone who has wondered what was behind those doors to bust them wide open.

“People can come inside and experience interior spaces that they usually aren’t able to get into,” said George Wagner, Doors Open Milwaukee program manager. “It was a chance for us to broaden the scope of the kind of people who are usually exposed,” to the sights, he said.

More than 10,000 people participated in Doors Open Milwaukee last year, he added.

The event is free to the public. In addition to seeing the ins and outs of 125 different buildings, visitors can also participate in 43 in-depth tours. Each tour is about one hour long, Wagner said.

Though the event is free, tickets are needed to participate in the tours, and can be picked up at City Hall the morning of the event. And while people are there, they can also get a tour of Milwaukee’s political epicenter, and walk up to its tower to ring one of the oldest bells in the city.

Children are encouraged to pick up their very own passport, which will be stamped at designated locations. Adults are encouraged to get in on the fun, too. An adult passport is one dollar. It’s a great way to get the whole family in on the adventure, said Wagner.

Milwaukee Central Library. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

“We have some really iconic buildings,” he said, including 45 new sites, and the Allen-Bradley clock tower at Rockwell Automation, the Basilica of St. Josaphat, the North Point Water Tower, the Clock Shadow Building, the Pfister Hotel and the Federal Courthouse, among others.

Each building offers a new insight into the city. Beside the bundle of facts that visitors will learn–like how the Milwaukee Public Library on Wisconsin Avenue has four more stories of books beneath its floors–Wagner hopes the event will bring awareness to the architectural gems that line Milwaukee’s streets. With that he hopes more people will get involved to drum up the resources to maintain its preservation.

“Living in a beautiful environment helps people’s mental health, because we like to see beautiful things,” Wagner said. “It’s worthwhile to focus on this event. It gets people to start thinking in a deeper way.”

Dozens of guides will be available on the tours, which will feature everything from churches, to office buildings, to theaters, work sites, museums, hotels, clubs and universities “of architectural, cultural and commercial interest.”

See below for TCD’s photo gallery from last year’s Doors Open Milwaukee.

For more information and for a brief description of each building open for the event, visit

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