The Milwaukee Domes—a beloved and internationally recognized feature of the Milwaukee landscape since the 1960s—have suddenly been shuttered indefinitely for safety reasons, and their continued future is in grave doubt. I am absolutely heartsick about this!
For those who have never had the pleasure of touring the Domes while visiting Milwaukee, these indoor horticultural gardens are a truly amazing place. The three tall, glass “beehive” structures are visible for miles around, and contain three different environments—there is a “desert” dome full of cacti and succulents; a “tropical” dome studded with dizzying varieties of orchids and tropical trees and plants, a koi pond and a fountain; and a “show” dome whose display changes with the seasons and special events. Formally known as the “Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory,” the Domes have been a must-see part of Milwaukee for visitors for decades. “Lady Bird” Johnson, the first lady, cut the ribbon at the Domes’ official dedication. Here’s a link to the complete photo gallery I created after visiting it just a few days ago.
Little did my daughter and I know when we made a dash to Milwaukee last week for some soul-recharging relaxation at the Domes and then the Milwaukee Art Museum that the photos I took with my phone in the tropical dome would literally constitute a “last look” at the place. County officials closed the Domes pending further notice at the end of that day. Various stop-gap solutions are now being floated to reopen them in the short term, but it appears that repairing them for the long haul will cost upwards of $70 million. That’s the long-term cost of the short-term kick-the-can-down-the-road and who-needs-maintenance thinking that’s led to this terrible neglect.
Here’s a link to an article written a few years ago in the Shepherd Express that tells a lot about the history and historic nature of the Domes, and notes that they were intended at their inception to serve as “a visual beacon for Milwaukee’s public park system—the envy of the nation.”
When we read the news about the closing later that day, we were absolutely stunned. In the winter, the Domes have served as an oasis of warmth and color while all around us in Wisconsin was covered with snow and ice. Just knowing that they were there, in reach of a visit, made the cold winter more tolerable up here in the “frozen tundra” of Wisconsin. On a more personal note, I had my wedding pictures taken there. I’ve been romanced at the Domes; pushed babies and toddlers in strollers around the Domes; dressed up my daughters in their Easter finery and posed them by banks of flowers in the Domes; retreated to the tropical dome while I was attending law school nearby for a dose of serenity and beauty amidst stressing over contracts and torts.
This has hit pretty hard. There is a FRIENDS OF THE DOMES organization whose members are currently scratching their heads in dismay and trying to figure out how the Domes can be saved. If you have any ideas, please contact them!! It’s going to take more than relying on “politics as usual” to save these iconic and remarkable Domes. Because for the past several decades, it’s been “politics as usual” that deferred the necessary maintenance and got them into this mess.