Michael Horne

Villa Terrace Will Host 100 Events For 100th Anniversary, Charts Vision For Future

And check out that renovated kitchen.

By - Apr 6th, 2024 11:00 am
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, past and present. Photo by Michael Horne.

Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, past and present. Photo by Michael Horne.

In this post-pandemic era, any museum not rethinking its plans for the future will likely face a dire one.

Consumer preferences have changed, as have tastes and the very modes of communication. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts may prove to be a key for the survival of many institutions, including the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., which states, “Our focus is on establishing more diverse, accessible and inclusive programs, exhibition and outreach.”

Jaymee Harvey Willms, executive director since May 2022 delivered that message to 150 supporters of the Friends of Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum Ltd. gathered at the museum Thursday. She addressed how she adjusted the organization’s focus post-COVID. Her checklist for the future includes:

  • Engaging with the community
  • Expanding events
  • Changing how we market ourselves
  • Maintaining financial accountability
  • Doing stuff that makes Milwaukee more Milwaukee

As she pondered these and other issues, it became clear to her that the museum needed more than a Mission Statement — it needed a Vision Statement, she said, articulating it succinctly: “Everybody is invited; you’re not just welcome.”

She gave examples of how she puts that into practice: The rise of remote work meant that many people were doing their jobs from home. Well, why not take your laptop and do some spreadsheeting from a terrace overlooking Lake Michigan? Your studio apartment lacks that amenity. We’ll put some coffee on for you. Please be careful not to trample the folks spread out on mats doing their free yoga breathwork, accompanied by live music. Oh yes, the kids are off school for the summer, and enjoying structured activities here amidst the plein air painters and the food trucks. Who knew summer camp could be in a castle? Down in the basement, an artist-in-residence is working in a small studio. Willms said, “We have these empty spaces. Let’s use them.”

Building to Celebrate Centennial in July

The empty spaces to fill and the filled spaces to maintain are located in the former Lloyd R. Smith House, which is the only home here designed by Milwaukee-native David Adler (1882-1949).

The residence, completed in 1924 at the midpoint of his career, was one of 45 country houses the architect designed, with 27 being in the Chicago area, mostly, like Villa Terrace, perched on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan.

In 1967, the Smith family donated the building to house the decorative arts collection of the Milwaukee Art Center (now Museum).

House museums were quite in vogue at the time, when people could get the latest interior decoration tips by studying artifacts arranged in period rooms in an “adaptation of a 16th century villa of rural Northern Italy,” located in the urban Northpoint district of 20th century Milwaukee.

After seven years, the museum transferred ownership of the building to the county, retaining its collections there.

After a 2002 fire, the museum cleared out its holdings, so the museum had to search for a new focus. It gained a significant permanent collection of the works of Cyril Colnik, Milwaukee’s celebrated ironsmith. Elaborate weddings were held on the grounds, providing needed revenue, but little in the way of exposure to the public at large. Competition in the wedding field has increased, with many couples opting for destination weddings in barns or old warehouses rather than Renaissance palaces.

For the Centennial Celebration of the building, Willms plans 100 events — many free or low-cost — over the course of the summer.

“Villa Terrace aims to become a place that all Milwaukeeans can enjoy and afford,” says Megan Holbrook, committee chair and immediate past president of the group. The Centennial Celebration will occur July 10-13. There will be a free performance day on the 10th. Later that evening Luz Nocturna will be an evening of music, dancing and light projections ($25), culminating in a 400-drone light show designed by Ray Chi that will illuminate the entire lakefront at 9 p.m., simulcast on WMSE 91.7FM (If you want your organization’s name in lights, it will run you $25,000.) The Jazz Centennial Gala will be July 13 from 5-10 p.m., where a portion of the $1 million the friends hope to raise will come from raffling off a “classic gray 2003 BMW Z4” convertible.

“No Matter Where I Serve My Guests, It Seems They Like My Kitchen Best”

While the event was underway, a television reporter who planned to interview Holbrook in the restored “Cook’s Kitchen” (née“Butler’s Pantry”) instead had to relocate to the library. There were simply too many people crowded into the kitchen to observe the changes made there, while Kyle Cherek, in the main kitchen, outlined changes to come in that space.

The remodeled room, once closed off from the home by swinging doors, is now open and sports a few surprises, including a safe, which is open, displaying silver pieces behind windows.

A variety of china and crystal items are displayed in the reconditioned glass-windowed cabinets in the room, painted blue and lit to great effect. The space indeed was popular, with neighbors Mark and Grace Thomsen taking a look around just steps away from Andy Nunemaker (who used to live across the street). Neighbor Jeff Bentoff, Jeff Sherman and Mark Kass made a trio. This week Kass announced he would leave the Milwaukee Business Journal editorship he had held for 21 years to head the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame. Ted Bobrow made the way across the river, while siblings Pat and Virginia Small took a look around. Virginia played a large role in the Olmsted Bicentennial last year, when a show was held here curated by Annemarie Sawkins, also in attendance.

County Supervisor Peter Burgelis attended, and said he is already packing up to relocate to City Hall, now that he has been elected alderman. He’s learning the ropes already, as he said he had been advised by a new colleague that if he had any questions to simply inquire of City Clerk Jim Owczarski. Sound advice! Burgelis stood next to Patrick Mutsune of Baird, attending solo while husband Brett Timmerman remained at home taking care of their young and increasingly mobile toddlers. Linda Honold, the President of the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin was at the event, as was Andrea Taxman, an active volunteer. Willie Johnson, Jr., who remains on the county board visited. Bayside Trustee Liz Levins and her husband Herb Zien chatted with Ken Leinbach, the retiring head of the Urban Ecology Center, who knows a thing or two about grassroots fundraising for a community organization.

More Kitchen Work to Come

In 1930 the kitchen was not quite so crowded, but you would be unlikely to find any of the Smith family in the north wing of the home — three levels reserved for service use and servant housing then, and for storage for decades since.

Down in the cellar was a Man’s Room, Kitchen Storage, Laundry and a giant Coal Storage Room to feed the Boiler Room, which was curiously located across from the Cold Air Room. The basement also held two interior stairs, and one for the coal man to enter downstairs, as well as a passageway that was not designed for the tall.

On the main floor was the Butler Pantry, which we have visited, the Cook Pantry, Servant Hall, Servant Room and the actual kitchen. Upstairs was a Dressing Room, Linen Sewing Room and three servant bedrooms. Although the Smith family represented the WASP segment that dominated society in the era, their servant roll was quite ecumenical. Jean Mc Cardy, 40, was from Scotland, Habba Lugner, 29, was German, Zovi Toni, 40, a chef, was from Austria, Lola Kiepe, 29, the second maid, hailed from California, while native Wisconsinite Millie Hankey, 45 served as a cook.

A portion of the basement is now the artist in residence’s studio, while plans are underway to modernize the other spaces.

Other priority projects include replacing the aging elevator (not original to the home) and having a replica created of the Hermes sculpture which is the centerpiece of the entry courtyard.

The sculpture, wrapped in plastic for the winter, consists of a 1st century torso (including the naughty bits) to which had been attached sometime in the 16th century the necessary rudiments to create a dashing image of Hermes.

The piece is noticeably deteriorating, and has been scanned so that a replacement could be cast that would withstand the Wisconsin winters, which are particularly harsh on tile, brick, limestone and the other elements of Villa Terrace. The sculpture was mounted in 1967 atop what had been an outdoor fountain, which is one of the few things more liable to winter destruction in this climate than hobbled-together ancient sculptures.

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One thought on “Villa Terrace Will Host 100 Events For 100th Anniversary, Charts Vision For Future”

  1. Thomas Gaudynski says:

    Sounds exciting.

    Love the Hermes statue picture Michael.

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