Mitchell Park Domes named a ‘national treasure’

National Trust for Historic Preservation calls for $18.6 million rehab project

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation today named the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory a National Treasure, and released an engineering report that says the Domes could be saved with an $18.6 million rehabilitation project.

The Mitchell Park Domes
The Mitchell Park Domes

Last year the Domes were included in the National Trust for Historic Places‘list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

“Anyone who has visited the Milwaukee Domes can appreciate what a stunning and absolutely one-of-a-kind place they are,” said Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “From our work at other icons of modern architecture, like Houston’s Astrodome or Philip Johnson’s Glass House, we also know that inspiring, innovative architecture often requires equally creative solutions. Rather than risk losing this iconic piece of Milwaukee’s heritage, we need a thoughtful, long-term preservation solution for the challenges facing the Domes.”

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All three of the Domes, built between 1959 and 1967, were closed in February of last year after a chunk of concrete fell inside one of them.

One of the Domes reopened in April and the other two reopened in October after crews had wrapped thousands of concrete-cast joints that make up the Domes’ lattice structures to prevent more concrete chunks from falling.

A report that Milwaukee-based engineering firm GRAEF did for the county provided five restoration options for the Domes, ranging in price from $14 million to $64 million.

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An analysis by Chicago-based Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. for the National Trust for Historic Preservation estimates that the Domes could be repaired for $18.6 million.

“Based on our observations and experience with similar structures, it is our opinion that the Domes can be preserved and restored,” the WJE report states. “The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes are unique, architecturally significant structures that have performed well during their first 58 years of service and can be preserved. The condition of the precast concrete framing and glass cladding are repairable, and replacement of these systems is not necessary at this time.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Milwaukee Preservation Alliance are launching a coordinated campaign to rally the public in support of a preservation solution for the Domes.

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“It’s hard to imagine Milwaukee without the Domes,” said Peter Zanghi, President of the Preservation Alliance of Milwaukee. “For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the Domes are a landmark that contribute to Milwaukee’s unique identity. Rising gracefully from the southern edge of the Menomonee Valley, the Domes are not just beautiful, they are also useful – providing a valuable educational experience to the thousands of students who visit them every year, and functioning as a venue for everything from weddings to live music to model train shows. Milwaukee is fortunate to have the Domes, and MPA looks forward to finding a solution to preserve them for future generations.”

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