Did you know the origins of Milwaukee's famous 'Domes' stretch back over 120 years? Get to the know the history of the Mitchell Park and it's horticultural conservatory.
Mitchell Park was one of the first five parks created as part of the Milwaukee Parks Commission, which formed in 1890. Work soon began on transforming Mitchell Park into a horticultural destination, with plantings of tulip gardens and willow trees and the construction of a lily pond and boating lake.
Work on a glass conservatory, inspired by London's famous Crystal Palace, began in 1898. The 9,101 square foot building was designed by Milwaukee architects H C Koch & Company, and cost $24,473 to construct. The building included a center pavilion with an east and west wing. The conservatory opened to the public in 1899 and a few years later a sunken garden with formal flower beds was also created.
"The citizens of Milwaukee can be proud of this magnificent building. During the fall the chrysanthemum show was attended by thousands of people, and during the winter months the conservatory was well patronized by the public, all of whom expressed their entire satisfaction over the splendor of the exhibits, consisting of different varieties of palms, ferns, flowers and herbaceous plants." - 1899 Parks Commission Report.
The conservatory remained a popular attraction for decades, however, as visitor numbers to the conservatory began to decline in the 1940s and 1950s, the decision was made to demolish the aging building and replace it with a modern facility.
Color Postcard of the Gardens
Spanish moss hanging from the roof
Color postcard of the seasonal mums show
Transformation to the Domes
In 1955 a design competition was launched for a new design for the conservatory. Milwaukee architect, Donald L. Grieb, won the competition with his beehive-shaped conoidal glass domes. Construction began in 1959 and lasted until 1967. The total cost of the project was $4.5 million.
In 2013 a new series of propagation greenhouses were constructed next to the Domes. Six of the greenhouses are used to grow plants for display in the Domes, and the seventh, known as G7, is an event space used for weddings, catered events and other special events.
Mitchell Park Domes Under Construction
Lady Bird Johnson dedication, 1965
First Lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. (Lady Bird) Johnson dedicated the Mitchell Park Domes in the fall of 1965.
Future of Mitchell Park
The Future of Mitchell Park
Efforts to preserve this historical icon are underway. The Mitchell Park Domes are not just glass and steel structures; they hold the memories, history, and cultural significance of Milwaukee. Preserving this iconic landmark requires a careful balance between honoring the past and embracing the future.
As with any aging structure, the future of the Mitchell Park Domes has been a topic of discussion and debate. In 2016, one of the domes was temporarily closed due to concerns over falling debris. This incident sparked a community-wide conversation about the long-term viability of the domes and, as a result, the Domes Task Force was created. The Task Forces’ four-year planning effort concluded in 2019 with a recommendation to pursue the future state that is described in the ArtsMarket report. Following a delay caused by the pandemic, in 2022, Milwaukee County deemed the report to be a concept rather than an actionable strategy that could be implemented.
Now in 2023, Milwaukee County Parks is taking action with the help of the community. To learn more about the process, timeline, and what is coming next, visit thefutureofmitchellpark.com.