Viewers being installed around city give look into Milwaukee’s past

Features 10 locations, with more planned in coming years

A Viewaukee viewer at the Milwaukee County War Memorial features an image of the construction on the Calatrava addition at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Last updated on August 10th, 2020 at 12:48 pm

Observation viewers will be installed this week at ten Milwaukee locations as part of a new Milwaukee County Historical Society project, called Viewaukee

The five-foot tall streetside viewers are not the typical binoculars often placed near tourist destinations to give visitors a closer look. These have been modified to show a historic image of the respective location, providing a comparative view of what Milwaukee used to look like.

Each viewer is free to use, and there’s a brief history of the site posted near the lens. When people look inside, they’ll see images from the Historical Society’s collection of more than one million photos from Milwaukee’s history. The project’s website has additional information, photos and an educational curriculum corresponding with each featured location.

The idea is to teach locals, tourists and youth about how some of the city’s iconic landmarks came to be, said Historical Society executive director Mame McCully on Friday during the project’s unveiling ceremony. 

“Especially in a year where education is more different than ever before, these can be used by teachers and parents to teach the youth about Milwaukee and how we became the diverse city we are today,” said McCully.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a warning posted on each viewer that reads, “COVID-19 may live on surfaces for a period of time and there is no guarantee against transmission.” It instructs people to wear a mask and sanitize hands before and after use. 

While COVID-19 could be spread through surfaces, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. 

The first two viewers were installed Friday, at the Milwaukee County War Memorial on North Lincoln Memorial Drive and near the Summerfest grounds North Gate near East Clybourn Street. 

The remaining eight are set to be installed in the coming days, at Milwaukee Public Market pocket park; the Milwaukee Riverwalk at the Marcus Center; the North Point Water Tower; Miller Valley at the Historic Caves, along the Milwaukee River at the Wisconsin Avenue Bridge and Riverwalk; 16th Street Bridge; Milwaukee City Hall; and on Brady Street. 

McCully said the plan is to add more Viewaukee locations in the coming years.

Milwaukee-based construction firm CG Schmidt is the presenting sponsor of the Viewaukee program, which has been in the works for more than a year. Five of the locations feature views of projects the company has built over its 100 years in business. 

CG Schmidt has been involved in a number of major downtown development projects including the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava addition, the Northwestern Mutual Tower & Commons, Milwaukee Public Market and the Milwaukee Public Museum. The firm has also been contracted to work on the upcoming revamp of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and redevelopment of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel building.

“When my great-grandfather started CG Schmidt in 1920, he wanted to do things a little differently,” said senior vice president Eric Schmidt. “He wanted to create a company that would build communities in addition to just building buildings.”

As the city looks to the future, Schmidt said, it’s important to recognize the past.

“The Viewaukee project will offer residents and visitors alike a glimpse into Milwaukee’s past, while also helping to illustrate all the progress and dedication we have made together to the future.”

The Milwaukee County Historical Society garnered additional sponsorships for the project from MillerCoors and the Wisconsin Preservation Fund. 

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Maredithe Meyer
Maredithe Meyer started as an intern reporter at BizTimes in summer 2015. She currently covers entertainment, sports, tourism and restaurants. In May 2017, she graduated with a journalism degree from Marquette University where she worked as an in-depth projects reporter for the Marquette Wire and Marquette Tribune.

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