Unbuilt in Milwaukee: Six Cream City Building Proposals that Never Came to Be

Mar. 15, 2016
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A proposed bleacher expansion to County Stadium that was (thankfully) left on the drawing board. 

With the current boom in downtown construction projects and proposals, Milwaukee has been treated to a number of artist’s conceptions of what the future might hold for the city. These glimpses of a Milwaukee-to-come, however, do not always become reality. This week, I’ll take a look at some of the proposed Milwaukee landmarks that never were.

War Memorial Exhibition Lagoon, 1950s.

A rendering of that the lakefront might have looked like around the War Memorial.

The lakefront War Memorial, designed by Eero Saarinen, was only one part of a larger vision for lakefront development. I’m actually going to punt on this one, as Danny Benson at the (unfortunately inactive) MKE Memoirs blog covered the “RetroFuture” of the War Memorial quite well back in 2013.

Tourist Tower, 1960s-70s. 

The brainchild of architect Robert Rasche, designer of the arched-front Kohl’s grocery stores, the Tourist Tower was to be Milwaukee’s answer to Seattle’s Space Needle – a kind of a great big thing just for the hell of a great big thing. The original proposals for the tower are truly breath taking. They called for a tower of up to 1,000 feet tall (City Hall stacked on the US Bank Building plus about 50 feet), with observation decks, high-speed elevators, and flying-saucer shaped sightseeing pods dangling from the peak of the structure. As various times, Rasche proposed such things as a Civil War battle theater, a three-story aquarium, a “commando-style” firing range, and a working dairy farm with trout stream. Sadly, the project never got any further than a hole in the ground. Rasche was facing a deadline from the city on breaking ground on the project and did so without any clear plan as to the building’s final design. The hole itself became something of local landmark. It remained on the north side of Wells Street, between Broadway and Milwaukee, for almost 15 years before finally being filled in.

(Pictured Left: A scale model of the proposed Tourist Tower.)

Harbor Bridge, 1965

 A conception of the Hoan Bridge proposed in 1965.

The Harbor Bridge, known today as the Hoan Bridge, was eventually built. But perhaps no other structure in city history had such a fitful journey into being. The bridge seen here was an alternate design for the span using a continuous deck girder supported by “sculpted piers.” The design placed a premium on appearance and was purposely given low railings so that motorists could see the lake and city. Also interesting is the landscaping underneath the bridge. At the time of this rendition, the present-day Festival Park was still home to old Nike missile site and the land that the Marcus Amphitheatre now occupies had not yet been added to the lakefront. The road, and the nice-looking couple walking alongside it, suggest that parkland might have replaced the parts of the old Italian Third Ward bulldozed to make way for the bridge and the never-complete Lake Freeway. The first proposals for a harbor bridge came in the 1930s but, even after settling on the tied-arch style bridge presently spanning the gap, the target date for completion of the project was delayed again and again. Construction finally began in 1970 and was nearly completed by 1973, when the project was shut down for financial reasons. It remained inaccessible to traffic, known as Milwaukee’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” until 1977.

County Stadium Modifications, 1980s

This proposed modification to County Stadium would have drawn focus to the back-end of the park.

Proposals for major changes to Milwaukee County Stadium date as far back at 1978 when studies were made on the feasibility of covering the ballpark with a Pontiac Silverdome-style roof. The oldest renderings I could find of changes to the Stadium are from the 1980s. The first is a scale model of the a massive bleacher addition prepared by Osborn Architects of Cleveland, which was auctioned off by Mears in 2012. These changes seemed to have put a special focus on use of the stadium for football (note the gridiron marks on the field), converting the park into a kind of Alameda County Coliseum hybrid disaster.

 Shortly after this proposal was shelved, the Brewers began to plan for a replacement for County Stadium.

The other proposal, made public in 1984, would have focused on the front end of the stadium. The multi-level expansion envisioned a restaurant with view of the field, a fan club, and beer gardens under a sloping, glass atrium. Inside, a pair of VIP boxes would have been added on the mezzanine level and the club’s offices and ticket windows would have been renovated. Although it’s hard to imagine these changes would have extended the stadium’s lifespan, the focus on “upselling” within the park was a precursor to how Miller Park would be designed and utilized. Some aspects of this plan – replacing the bleachers and building the centerfield sound tower – were implemented, but the larger vision was discarded as too costly. The overall price tag was estimated at $13 million. Or about what the Brewers paid Matt Garza last year to win six games.

Miller Park Roof Alternatives, 1994

 An early version of Miller Park’s roof features only two moving panels.

In 1994, the Brewers formally rolled out their plan for a convertible-roof replacement for County Stadium and unveiled three designs that combined a part-time dome with a “turn-of-the-century” ballpark that would seat 48,000 for baseball and 60,000 for football. The roof concepts added about $50 million to the estimated $140 million the team already needed for the new stadium (the club was still insisting they would pay for the bulk of it themselves).

 A Skydome-esque proposal for a new Brewers ballpark could have fit 60,000 fans for football games.

In addition to the “fan” design that Miller Park eventually used, there were two other proposals for a moving roof: the “tent” and the “arch.” The arch would have mimicked Toronto’s Skydome, with two roof panels sitting beyond the centerfield area that would have “closed” by sliding forward. The tent would have been similar in design to Chase Field in Arizona, with twin panels set to each side of the field that could be pulled shut by a series of cables. The original fan design was modified quite a bit for the final stadium plans, with the original calling for just two roof segments that arched over the back end of the park and rested on the ground level. The project was hailed as the world’s first “convertible roof” stadium, regarding Skydome as a mere “retractable” roof, as it was designed to be closed most of the time whereas the new Milwaukee roof would only be used when the weather demanded. It was projected to open as early as 1997.

Lake Pointe Tower, 2006

This $207 million, 42-story tower would have sat just to the south of the US Bank Building. Deals were tentatively secured with Robert W. Baird and Westin Hotels to occupy the lower floors with offices and a 214-room hotel. The top 14 floors would have been home to 34 luxury condominiums. The stunning design of the building was meant to compliment the Santiago Calatrava-designed Art Museum addition and would have featured rooftop greenspaces. The project was dealt a blow when Baird opted to renew their lease in the US Bank Building rather than move. JBK Properties, developers of the project, were unable to find a new anchor tenant and in 2009, US Bank broke ground a a new parking structure on the site.


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