Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Is the Marcus Center a Historic Building?

Two architects have nominated 1969 building for historic designation, which would slow redesign.

By - Jan 28th, 2019 04:16 pm
Marcus Center Campus Master Plan Rendering. Rendering by HGA.

Marcus Center Campus Master Plan Rendering. Rendering by HGA.

The proposed development of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts could be required to go through a redesign if the city designates the building and its campus as historic.

Jennifer Current, landscape architect at Quorum Architects and Mark Debrauske, principal and architect at the Tredo Group, filed an application with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to have the 3.65-acre property added to the city’s list of locally-designated historic structures.

Dan Kiley designed landscape. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

Dan Kiley designed landscape. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

The designation, should it be approved, would require that any future changes to the building’s exterior, including the grove of Horse Chestnut trees designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley, are subject to city oversight.

Historic designation would not scuttle the center’s redevelopment, proposed in early December, but would establish design standards to guide future modifications. Planned exterior changes would be required to comply with those standards and receive a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission. Should the commission reject any such changes, Marcus Center officials could appeal the decision to the Common Council.

The Marcus Center board hired architecture firm HGA to design a series of changes to the county-owned facility. The goal, according to a press release, was to “secure its vitality for the next 50 years.” Those plans include a number of exterior changes to the building, including replacing or expanding the use of glass to connect the Brutalist structure with the surrounding area. New concession and lobby spaces along the building’s west and south sides are intended to provide more “visual connections” between the grounds and building.

The grounds of the campus at 929 N. Water St. would be redesigned as well, with the tree grove and fountain replaced with an entirely new layout. Marcus Center executive director Paul Mathews told Urban Milwaukee in December that those changes were designed to make the area more accessible and engaging.

Should the city approve the permanent designation, the 50-year-old performing arts center would be the youngest, historically-protected building in town. The building was designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, with the surrounding public grounds designed by Kiley. An addition was built in 1992.

While the historic commission and Common Council debate permanent designation, a temporary historic designation could be issued. That designation would effectively prevent any changes to the building’s exterior or grounds for up to 180 days.

Placing the building’s status in limbo could impact the timeline for construction. Mathews told Urban Milwaukee that he expected work to begin in 2019 on the first phase of the changes. The center also recently held an open house to showcase UW-Milwaukee student design concepts for a broader cultural campus to be created around the Marcus Center.

Debrauske told Urban Milwaukee he is looking for the “‘and’ solution, where the current needs are met while preserving the inherent value of the original design.”

The commission’s next scheduled meeting is set for February 4th. An agenda has not been released. The commission is required to hold a hearing on the nomination within 45 days.


If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

Related Legislation: File 181570

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Is the Marcus Center a Historic Building?”

  1. Richard Schreiner says:

    Is it my imagination, or does the artist’s rendering of the treeless Kiley space look like MacArthur Square (the disliked and largely unused space east of the courthouse)? Yeech!

    I note also that the artist’s perspective is from someone floating in the air over Red Arrow Park – a perspective that conceals how the space might look from ground level and whether it would entice people in, or like MacArthur Square, repel them.

    I hope the tree grove will be saved and continue to provide a quiet, shaded space during the summer.

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    I think we should save the Chestnut trees. I have had many brown bag lunches under their shade, and I have met friends who also worked downtown enjoying the shade under those trees.

  3. Mary says:

    You used a photo by Tom Bamberger to illustrate this. He wrote an article back in 2014 about
    Kiley’s work at the MAM:

    In Public
    How Weʼve Abandoned Dan Kiley

    The great landscape artistʼs work for the Milwaukee Art Museum is being diminished by neglect. Part II in a series.
    By Tom Bamberger – Jan 16th, 2014 11:46 am

    I am wondering if he has he expressed an opinion about this work of Kiley’s and its fate?

    also: this is a matter of national interest:

    “Milwaukee rushes toward a zero-sum choice that could eradicate a Kiley landscape”

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us