In Milwaukee History Commentary

Go behind the scenes at more than 170 Milwaukee landmarks, including the newly renovated Milwaukee Fortress, during Doors Open MKE.

10 must-see Doors Open MKE sites

There's no better way to get a peek inside the city's most interesting – and often most historic – sites, many of them typically off limits to the public, than Historic Milwaukee Inc.'s annual Doors Open Milwaukee event.

The free, weekend-long affair, which takes place at sites all over town, runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23. A complete list of sites and information on special ticketed locations and more can be found here.

Be sure to check the schedule as not all sites are open for the entire weekend.

There are more than 170 sites on tap this year – as well as more than 30 expert-led tours (that require tickets) – and here are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order.

Enjoy and please remember to respect the sites. Also, bring your kids so they'll develop an appreciation for Milwaukee's rich history.

1. Town of Lake water tower

You may not know its name, but you've seen the Town of Lake Water Tower and Municipal Building, 4001 S. 6th St. – I guarantee it. The nine-story unpainted concrete tower, with its domed top, is the most recognizable landmark on Milwaukee's South Side between the airport and the dome of St. Josaphat. The view of the underside of the water tank is one of the most dramatic interiors in town. Don't miss it.

2. Railway Exchange Building

This landmark red sandstone building has gotten a new luster thanks to the stewardship of owner Patti Keating-Kahn. Learn more here.

3. Irish Cultural and Heritage Center

The home to the Milwaukee Irish Cultural and Heritage Center was built as a church and designed by important Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix. It's a gorgeous and historic building you won't want to miss.

4. Old Allis Station in Walker's Point

While old timers and history buffs regularly rue the loss of the Milwaukee's grand old train stations the Everett Street and Lake Front Depots two former passenger stations quietly survive. One of them is the former Allis Station, tucked beneath the tracks in Walker's Point, now home to a model railroading club. Subway tile, a ticketing window and other details survive in this hidden in plain sight gem.

5. Milwaukee Fire Education Center and Museum

If there's one rarely mentioned but thoroughly must-see museums in Milwaukee, it's the Milwaukee Fire Education Center and Museum, located in one of five bungalow firehouses and run by passionate, knowledgeable and personable retired firefighters.

6. Best Place

In addition to pioneering the return of beer to the former Pabst Brewery – which is now again exploding with beer culture – Best Place's complex includes Captain Pabst's great office AND the oldest surviving Milwaukee Public Schools building.

7. The Fortress

As the hulking complex of buildings in Brewers' Hill known as The Fortress prepares to welcome its first residents, you can take a peek inside what was once home to the F. Mayer Boot & Shoe Co. factory. If you're lucky, they'll let you up in the crenelated tower, which boasts some pretty fine views.

8. U.S. Federal Courthouse

Speaking of Romanesque Revival, there is perhaps no better example – surely no more high-profile example – in Milwaukee than Willoughby J. Edbrooke's U.S. Federal Courthouse, with its soaring tower, on Wisconsin Avenue. It's rarely accessible to the general public and it's absolutely beautiful inside, so don't miss this opportunity.

9. McIntosh/Goodrich Mansion (Wisconsin Conservatory of Music)

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music has filled one of Milwaukee's loveliest Gold Coast mansions with music. Try and find the sweet spot in the lobby where you can hear sweet sounds wafting from every direction.

10. Pleasant Street Bridge House

I think everyone has dreamed of working or living in a Milwaukee bridge house. You can't likely move in, or get hired, but you can pretend for a few minutes. Charles Malig's Kilbourn Avenue bridge house a block north is also open during DOMKE.


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