Docomomo US is following developments after an announcement last week by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) regarding the indefinite closing of Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (known as The Domes) due to pieces of concrete found on the floor of the Arid Dome that appear to have fallen from the facility's frame. A beloved landmark and tourist attraction, the Domes were designed by architect Donald Grieb and completed in phases between 1959 and 1967. Essentially a pre-cast reinforced concrete space frame and glazing system, the Milwaukee County Parks website goes on to state the "three beehive-shaped (not geodesic) glass domes are 140 feet in diameter at the base and 85 feet high and offer 15,000 square feet of growing space for plant display. Each dome (Desert, Tropical, and Floral Show) has a distinct climate and exhibit plants in a naturalistic setting."
"A Modernist marvel and a rare surviving work by one of Milwaukee’s most consequential architects," the Mitchell Park Domes are likely eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C for their architecture and engineering and sadly their closing is nothing more than long-standing deferred maintenance. As is stated in the TCLF announcement, "for decades, Milwaukee County has been deferring maintenance at all county-owned facilities due to defunding of the parks budget. Significantly, in 2008, county residents voted in an advisory referendum for an increase in sales tax to create dedicated funding for parks, but state officials declined to implement it."
Andrew Hope, a Docomomo US member and Milwaukee resident recently stated there is substantial public opposition to any proposal to demolish the Domes due to the beloved-nature of the complex. He continued by adding that the county is strapped for funds and there will significant pressure by least some politicians to demolish the domes rather than come up with the funds for their preservation. As the Domes sit empty, the local political machine has begun as the Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the county board pursue vastly different plans for how to repair or replace the buildings.
Docomomo US will continue to monitor plans for the Domes. In the meantime, local citizens favoring the domes have launched a Save the Domes campaign on Facebook and the nonprofit organization Friends of the Domes have launched a GoFundMe effort to "help get the facility back open to the public so everyone can continue to enjoy the wonderful environment the Domes has provided our community for the past 50 years."