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City Guide 2014: Milwaukee Museum Guide

Fun places to learn about our city and the world

Apr. 2, 2014
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Some still think of Milwaukee as a two-museum town. While it’s true that the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum remain the city’s largest institutions of their kind, they have been joined by an increasing number of smaller museums focused on everything from children to firefighting. Each one is worth a visit.


Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

929 E. Wisconsin Ave.



Named after Betty Brinn, a woman dedicated to helping make the lives of children and young women prosperous, the museum carries out her vision with galleries and enrichment activities that encourage community. Through role-playing, performing arts and learning from the land in exhibits such as the Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl environmental workshop, the museum is preparing kids to be thinkers, makers and doers. The museum is a prime example that work and play can go hand in hand. (Ciera Mckissick)


Bucyrus Museum

1970 10th Ave., South Milwaukee



Did you know that part of the equipment for the Panama Canal was made here? The Bucyrus museum on the grounds of Bucyrus International’s manufacturing complex reveals South Milwaukee’s rich manufacturing heritage in multimedia exhibits, vintage company memorabilia, scale models of enormous mining shovels, life-size replicas of machine parts, and even a diorama of an open pit mine. There’s an interactive digger/dumper area on the main level for younger individuals, and visitors can climb into the driver’s seat of a replica of a 495 shovel. An immense archive of photos, machine drawings, memorabilia and artifacts exists to tell the stories of the employees and these amazing, mammoth machines. The museum is free and open to the public. (Danielle Stevens)


Charles Allis Decorative Art Museum

1800 N. Prospect Ave.



Commissioned in 1909, the museum was originally the home of Charles and Sarah Allis, a couple active in the arts, businesses and charities. They amassed a vast and unique collection, with the intention of bestowing it to the public. The collection of paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics spans nearly 2,000 years. The Tudor-style building is impressive, and the interior is largely intact with its original tasteful and lavish furnishings, including hand-carved marble fireplaces. There are several changing exhibits each year featuring Milwaukee artists; the museum hosts concerts with Milwaukee musicians and a classic film series. (D.S.)


Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear

839 N. 11th St.



An homage to things cherished from the past, The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear holds Avrum Chudnow’s vast collection of 1920s Americana. Visitors can take a walk down memory lane, viewing advertisements for Butter-Nut Bread, Squirt soda signs and figurines of Big Boy and Miller High Life Girl. Local schools have been known to use the museum to enhance curriculum, for it is truly a snapshot of the period. (C.M.)


Discovery World

500 N. Harbor Drive



Located on the shore of “our” Great Lake, Discovery World offers interactive exhibits highlighting nearly every aspect of the impact and importance of the Great lakes. Included are large-scale models of the lakes themselves, aquariums stocked with many varieties of lake fish, and the Challenge, a replica of a 19th-century schooner. In addition to showcasing Lake Michigan, Discovery World is chock-full of fun, hands-on, exhibits that tout Milwaukee’s industry, creativity and innovations. Don’t miss the amazing “Les Paul’s House of Sound” with memorabilia and rare guitars. For a small fee you can make a DVD with a virtual Les Paul. (Susan Harpt Grimes)


Grohmann Museum

1000 N. Broadway


Located on the campus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the Grohmann Museum is dedicated to the engineering behind human work. The museum contains one of the world’s largest displays of the evolution of humans at work. Composed of more than 900 paintings and sculptures, the collection includes depictions of agriculture and concentrates on the Industrial Revolution with scenes of mining, railroads and factories. (C.M.)


Haggerty Museum of Art

530 N. 13th St,



The Haggerty Museum of Art, located on the Marquette University campus, features an impressive collection of more than 4,500 pieces of artwork. The two-level building holds paintings and sculptures. The permanent collection includes work by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. In addition, the Haggerty holds regular discussions, poetry readings, workshops, lectures, gallery talks, performances and concerts. The museum’s primary focus is on education, and it is very involved with local grade schools and high schools. The museum, its events and its exhibits are mainly free and open to the public. (D.S.)


Harley-Davidson Museum

400 W Canal St.



Whether or not motorcycles rev your engine, there is plenty to see at the Harley-Davidson Museum. The treasury is home to more than 450 motorcycles, starting with the original Serial Number One, through present models. These varied and creative sculptures, with beautiful design and sleek engineering, are not just a means from point A to point B. They are a delight to the eye. Along with the hogs are thousands of artifacts, pictures, videos and interactive experiences. The three-building complex on the Menomonee River has been open since 2008, and celebrates a century of this defining Milwaukee industry. The interior is sleek, modern, clean and innovative, and holds a restaurant, retail shop, café and special event spaces. (D.S.)


Irish Cultural and Heritage Center

2133 W. Wisconsin Ave.



The landmark Grand Avenue Congregational Church, built in 1887, is home to the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center. The main space, called the Hallamór, houses large, gorgeous stained-glass windows, a cruciform floor plan with three balconies and a 4,000-pipe Kimbal organ. The museum has a gallery of Celtic art, engravings, photographs and historical displays, as well as three performance spaces, and two bars. There is an Irish genealogical library, as well as a library focusing on fiction and culture. The museum is available for weddings, concerts and lectures, and holds dance schools, Irish music classes, plays, films, lectures, parties and events. It has attracted famous Irish musical groups and dignitaries. (D.S.)


Jewish Museum of Milwaukee

1360 N. Prospect Ave.



With a Marc Chagall tapestry dominating the entrance foyer, the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee contains permanent exhibits on the rich history of Milwaukee’s Jewish community along with an eclectic series of changing exhibits of visual and decorative arts (plus sound recordings in the upcoming “Jews Who Rock”) that speak to the Jewish experience. The museum’s broader mission is rooted in the history of the Jewish people: the quest for freedom, dignity and tolerance. (David Luhrssen)


Milwaukee Art Museum

700 N. Art Museum Drive



Here stands the pride of the city, a rare twin-set architectural gem—Eero Saarinen’s stately, hovering modernism and Santiago Calatrava’s soaring, kiss-the-sky climax, aptly completed in 2001. Inside, begin an odyssey. The pavilion’s cathedral heights pull you into the changing exhibit galleries and on to the magnificent permanent holdings, 30,000 works, built around the Bradley Collection’s deep layers of modernism. See Winslow Homer and Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe. And beyond, begin a vast European tour; see stunning collections of German expressionism, decorative arts, Haitian and folk art. Come for an hour or two, or for a lifetime. “Art lives here,” and art invigorates here. (Kevin Lynch) 


Milwaukee Bicycle Museum (inside South Shore Cyclery)

4758 S. Packard Ave.



Bicycle enthusiasts, or really anyone who like to ride bikes, will enjoy the opportunity to see the hundreds of vintage bikes on display in the Milwaukee Bicycle Museum. Showcasing bicycles from every era of American cycling ranging from the 1860s to the 1980s, there are a lot of interesting things to see. A fair portion of the collection is focused on the 1960s “muscle bikes” like the Schwinn Sting Rays and Krates. The 1887 high-wheel bicycle is especially cool to see in person. The museum is located inside South Shore Cyclery bike store, so you can check out the newest models after viewing bicycles of the past. (S.H.G)


Milwaukee Country Historical Society

910 N. Old World Third St.



Are you researching Milwaukee history—anything from tracing long-lost relatives to finding photos of old buildings? If so, you should put the County Historical Society at the top of your list. However, more than archives are housed in the handsome building in Pere Marquette Park, formerly a branch of the First Wisconsin Bank and used as a setting for a John Dillinger bank robbery in Johnny Depp’s Public Enemy. The Historical Society hosts public exhibits and events within its marbled corridors and operates four historic museum homes (dwellings of early settlers) elsewhere in Milwaukee County. Tours of those homes are available by appointment. (D.L.)


Milwaukee Fire Historical Society

1615 W. Oklahoma Ave.


Besides extinguishing fires, the Milwaukee Fire Department is also preserving Milwaukee’s fire history in the Milwaukee Fire Historical Society. The museum, founded in 1981, holds fire memorabilia dating back to the 19th century. On display are the original firehouse furniture, a 1910 fire alarm telegraph system, an original hand pump used in the 1850s and an original 1947 Cadillac Ambulance. The museum is free and open every first Sunday of the month or by appointment. (C.M.)


Milwaukee Public Museum

800 W. Wells St.



Almost all Milwaukeeans can recollect at least one enriching childhood field trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum, exploring its three spacious floors of natural science and human history. In addition to passing through villages from different times and cultures, what kid can forget the frightening T-rex feasting on an unfortunate victim? Today, MPM still retains the majority of the same classic life-size and miniature dioramas, depicting action in the Streets of Old Milwaukee, Antarctica, Africa, Asia, the Rainforest and so many more. A few of the more modern features include a butterfly wing and the IMAX Dome Theater and Planetarium. Admission is always free on the first Thursday of every month for Milwaukee County Residents. (D.S.)


Mitchell Gallery of Flight

5300 S. Howell Ave.



For most people, visiting the airport is about passing through to far-flung destinations. However, making a trip to Mitchell International just to check out the Mitchell Gallery of Flight is worth it for a crash course on Milwaukee’s connection to the sky. The compact museum on the upper floor of the airport manages to tell a fairly thorough local aviation history in a limited space. Exhibits focus on hometown heroes like Capt. James Lovell and Gen. William Mitchell, World War II airplane models and artifacts, and the history of military and commercial aircraft that have ties to Milwaukee. (S.H.G.)


Old South Side Settlement Museum

707 W. Lincoln Ave.


The museum is one part real estate viewing tour, one part taste of Old Milwaukee—ethnic Old Milwaukee that is, not the refreshing beer. The 115-year-old house in the shadow of St. Josaphat Basilica near Kosciuszko Park is a cultural anthropological museum retro-fitted to represent families (largely Polish and Mexican) who called the neighborhood home throughout the years. The home’s original owners still run the funeral home next door. (Willy Thorn)


Pabst Mansion

2000 W. Wisconsin Ave.



The Pabst Mansion offering tours, Retro Beer Night and holiday events like its Dickens Dinner featuring an English feast. The facility gives the public a glimpse into the life of the Pabst family of brewing fame. Built in 1890, the mansion is complete with a greenhouse pavilion, 37 rooms, marble mosaic tiles and an intricately carved wooden grand staircase. Visitors can also explore the 14 hidden compartments that include remnants left in the nooks and crannies of Captain Pabst’s study. (C.M.)


Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum

2220 North Terrace Ave.



Set high above the lakefront, the villa quietly exudes world-class sophistication, without undue ostentation. The sprawling two stories spread like open arms as you enter the courtyard, welcomed by marble Hermes. Inside as outside, most everything carries the tint and weather of the villa’s 90 years, from paintings of animated domestic scenes to a ravishing portrait, purportedly of Countess Tambourine. Her countenance, a peachy glow wrapped in high, graceful style, is the essence of modern pulchritude. Beauty abounds, with exquisitely crafted bureaus, the Zuber Gallery’s hand-painted flora-and-fauna wallpaper and eccentric wrought-iron sculptures by Cyril Colnick. (K.L.)


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