Milwaukee “Open Doors” for historic tours

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Milwaukee once again opened its doors for “Doors Open Milwaukee” on Sept. 21 and 22. A unique and relatively new experience; current program manager, Amy Grau, explaining the history and attractions of the two-day event, noted it’s in its third year in Milwaukee and is managed by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. Founder George Wagner created Doors Open Milwaukee after visiting similar events in different cities across the country.
One hundred and thirty-four buildings participated in this year’s event. There were a number of new buildings this year. There were a few on the outskirts of Milwaukee including William K. Walthers, which is the largest model train production and distribution company in the world. Havenwoods Environmental Awareness center was also a new building this year. A featured new addition was the Gas Light building.
Across the street from the Gas Light building is the Federal Courthouse. This is the second year the Federal Courthouse participated in the event. Once the U.S. Post Office, courthouse and custom house, remnants of the old U.S. Post Office remain. Metal frames remain a part of the fixture in the atrium.
The north building of the courthouse was built between 1892 and 1899 and there was additional construction from 1929 to 1941. Oddly enough in the ceremonial courtroom, a part of the north building, the date above the clock is 1897. The tour guide was not quite sure why that was, but it may have been that the ceremonial courtroom was completed that year.
The ceremonial courtroom had a ladies’ balcony because it was improper for women to be on the courtroom floor. Before the courtroom was complete, women were allowed on the floor so the balcony became obsolete. The current judge presiding in the ceremonial courtroom is Judge Lynn Adelman.
The tour took us in the centennial courtroom as well. The current Judge Rudolph Randa bulked the drawing of the eagle in the courtroom because the judge didn’t think the eagle looked strong enough, according to the tour guide.
One visitor wanted to see the building because she knew the building as a child as the U.S. Postal Service and wanted to see the new renovations. She also helped on Judge Adelman’s campaign and came from Shorewood for the tour.
Another Doors Open historic building, Milwaukee City Hall, was the third largest building in the country when it was built in 1895. The architecture is based off the Rathaus (city hall) in Hamburg, Germany. The bell first rang in 1896 and stopped at one point because a mayor was afraid it was “hurting the tower,” but, in reality, he didn’t like the bell. Tickets for the city hall bell tower tour on Sunday were distributed by 7 a.m.
One visitor sought to see the Milwaukee City Hall after he had been employed as the bell ringer some 50 years earlier.
The Common Council Courtroom is the room where the aldermen meet. The room is sprinkled with Latin phrases around the pillars. According to the tour guide, an alderman was an artist and he painted the Latin words on the pillars. People didn’t like it because they wanted everything to be in English.
The courtroom has had a host of important visitors, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Teddy Roosevelt. President Roosevelt was even shot while visiting Milwaukee, according to the tour guide, Alderman Mike Murphy. President Roosevelt was on his way to a speech and had his glasses case, which was metal, and his speech, which was fairly thick, in his breast pocket. After he was shot in the chest, he proceeded to give his speech, even pointing out he had been shot. After over 45 minutes, he went to the hospital to be treated.
Calvary Presbyterian Church, near the downtown Milwaukee Area Technical College campus, can be seen from Interstate 43. It has a beautiful red exterior with a green tower and therefore is known as “The Big Red Church.” Inside is a labyrinth, used for prayer and meditation and is open every first and third Monday to the public, according to one parishioner from Shorewood. The labyrinth is painted on the floor of the church. Painted on the stain glass windows are flowers native to Wisconsin.
These are only a few examples of so many buildings on display during this event. It’s safe to say that Milwaukee has a rich and beautiful history in architecture and has fascinating roots. For all 134 buildings, Grau’s, favorite is a building with a view. “The U.S. Bank, the tallest building in Wisconsin is one with a great view, and no matter if you’re into architecture or a little kid or no matter who you are, you’re going to enjoy that one.” One visitor toured the U.S. Bank and said she could see all the way to Holy Hill.
New buildings are joining the line up each year. One never knows what one can discover just by opening the doors and discovering our very own backyard.

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