Milwaukee, WI – The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, or simply “The Domes,” is one of Milwaukee’s most beloved landmarks. Constructed throughout an eight year period between 1959 and 1967, the three conoidal beehive shaped glass domes are the first of their kind, having been designed by a Milwaukee architect firm. This was back in a time where Milwaukee was enjoying an industrial boom and there were jobs all over the city, with unions having a strong presence, making this a force to be reckoned with. It was at a time when the city was deemed one of the top five places in America where people of color could flourish and beer was putting us on the map. Now in 2022, the domes have acted as sort of a metaphor for the city, falling into a state of disrepair and hurting for an economic boost to restore it to its former glory.
“SAVE OUR DOMES” says the pin that Jeremy Ebersole is wearing, executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. “It is my hope that Milwaukee County can pull through for us and really boost support and funding for the Domes. It is the only conservatory Milwaukee has and is integral to maintaining the history of Mitchell Park,” Ebersole said. Mitchell Park was the first park created by Milwaukee’s first park commission. It occupies a spot on the south side of Milwaukee, with a core of 5 acres. It sits adjacent to the Menomonee Valley, and has had trails that run parallel built into it, thanks to the efforts of county and grassroots collaboration.
The conservatory consists of three separate domes – the Arid Dome, which opened in November 1967, the Tropical Dome, which opened in February 1966, and the Show Dome opened in December 1964. All three stand proudly overlooking the city, although a total of 800 glass blocks have fallen loose over the years. According to the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance report released in 2019, the Domes Task Force, a group commissioned by the County Supervisors and residents came up with the final plan that called for public engagement and suggested a preservation solution based on a vision to redevelop the park for financial sustainability through public and private partnerships. It also suggested using Historic Tax Credits. This plan was put forth and made available to the public in 2019. It could create 300 jobs and $16 million a year in economic impact, which would be something that would reinvigorate the surrounding Clarke Square and Silver City neighborhoods. An estimated $66 million investment would be required, including $13 million of County investment.
“In this model, Mitchell Park becomes a new type of park – and a model for Milwaukee County Parks,” Ebersole said. “Programmed through partnerships with experienced Milwaukee organizations that know how to provide expertise in areas ranging from children’s summer camps to green teens programs year-round, to master gardener classes, culinary arts degree programs and horticultural degree programs.”
The idea is to implement a state of the art farm-to-table restaurant, indoor and outdoor picnic spaces, parkwide lighting, an improved amphitheater, and a clean and fresh pond for Mitchell Park, which residents will agree is sorely needed.
More than anything, creating an economic engine for the surrounding neighborhood as well as updating one of our most beloved and historic sites is absolutely paramount to a renewed collective self-esteem.