Milwaukee Public Museum unveils plans for replacement of ‘Streets of Old Milwaukee’ at its future museum

Sketch of the Mitchell Building and Juneau's cabin.

Last updated on April 17th, 2023 at 01:21 pm

Fans of the iconic “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum can look forward to its next iteration, complete with familiar scenes and modern features, at the museum’s future facility.

MPM on April 14 (celebrated locally as “414 Day”) unveiled sketches of the “Milwaukee Revealed” gallery, which it describes as the “spiritual successor” to the Streets of Old Milwaukee. It’s the third of five permanent gallery plans for the future museum that the museum and New York City-based Thinc Design are unveiling this spring in an effort to generate public excitement and donor support. The “Wisconsin Journey” and “Time Travel” galleries were unveiled last month.

Milwaukee Revealed will highlight both the city’s past and present through a series of immersive exhibits, including the Commercial and Neighborhood exhibit areas, unveiled Friday. The final gallery will also include exhibits dedicated to Milwaukee’s relationship with its rivers and Lake Michigan. In addition, the existing Streets of Old Milwaukee and European Village exhibits will live on through a virtual-reality experience as part of the new Milwaukee Revealed Gallery.

“We heard loud and clear the public desire for an immersive space dedicated to Milwaukee,” said Ellen Censky, MPM president and chief executive officer. “Milwaukee Revealed will be a gallery visitors can lose themselves in – and learn a lot about Milwaukee, past and present, along the way. Current fans of MPM’s Streets of Old Milwaukee will find many familiar, nostalgic elements in Milwaukee Revealed, including collections items like the penny-farthing bicycle and the one-of-a-kind Schloemer automobile.”

The Commercial district of the gallery will feature a mix of historic and modern city landmarks, including the Mitchell Building on East Michigan Street, which sits on the site of what was once the home of Milwaukee’s founders Josette and Solomon Juneau.

“Through choreographed lighting effects, the façade of the Mitchell Building will at times look solid, like any other wall, but once lit from the inside, visitors will see through the surface to find the silhouette of the Juneaus’ cabin – a hint at the stories they will encounter once entering the building,” said Chris Muller, senior exhibit designer at Thinc and a lead designer for the Milwaukee Revealed gallery. “In exploring Milwaukee’s past and present, the future museum will reveal the history embedded in the buildings and streets Milwaukeeans encounter everyday.”

Similar to the Streets of Old Milwaukee, the Commercial district will feature rows of storefronts representing the industries that shaped the city’s economy. Among them will be a dress shop, where a window display will show a rotating collection of both contemporary and historic textiles from the museum’s vast collection. Inside the shop, visitors will be able to explore the changing traditions and compositions of clothing from around the world, according to a news release. There will also be a modern-day frozen custard shop where visitors can learn about the Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

Other highlights of the exhibit area include the immersive Schlitz Palm Garden; a replica of a pharmacy honoring the history of the Cream City Medical Society, Milwaukee’s first organization of African-American physicians; and an exhibit demonstrating the impact of the Milwaukee River on city life.

In the Neighborhoods exhibit area, visitors will learn about the city’s many neighborhoods and the ways in which local plants, animals and humans co-exist within one urban ecosystem.

There will be a recreation of a quintessential Milwaukee neighborhood street, mimicking domestic architecture commonly found in the city and a community garden where visitors will encounter live specimens of familiar garden creatures like spiders, ladybugs and other creatures.

“Like the Mitchell Building, houses lining the street will explore more than meets the eye,” said Muller. “The streetscape will reveal stories about the hidden systems that make modern living possible, such as the water and sewage systems that underlie all of Milwaukee. In other houses, visitors might glimpse animals like bats and squirrels that coexist with humans in the city and play an important role in our urban ecosystem.”

Another call back to the Streets of Old Milwaukee, the Haymarket Candy Shop will be a functioning store where visitors can purchase the sweet treats they know and love, continuing “a beloved Museum tradition and honoring the future museum’s home in the Haymarket neighborhood,” according to the release.

MPM’s three upcoming unveilings will provide an inside look at a sampling of exhibits, collections items and features visitors can expect to see at the future museum, which is on track to break ground late this year or early next year for a late 2026 completion.

May 9: Living in a Dynamic World and Mixing Zones

In the “Living in a Dynamic World” gallery, visitors will take an unconventional journey to five distinct ecosystems across the globe and be immersed in the landscapes and cultures that occupy them. The Mixing Zones, including the Burke Foundation Mixing Zone, are two spaces that will showcase a rotating selection of collection items, offer spaces for public interaction and programming and turn the museum “inside out” by providing behind-the-scenes views into the collections’ storage areas.

May 23: Rainforest, Daniel M. Soref Planetarium, Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium and the Bucyrus Rooftop Terrace

The “Rainforest” gallery will take visitors to the tropics to learn about the biodiversity that flourishes in tropical rainforests and the life rainforest climates support.

Below is a video summarizing MPM’s plans for its future Milwaukee Revealed gallery:

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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