Op Ed: Will Milwaukee ever value its cultural treasures?
Concern over falling concrete and safety issues prompted Milwaukee County Parks officials on February 5 to close the Mitchell Park Domes until further notice.
Yet another landmark has potentially reached the end of its useful life due to Milwaukee’s pattern of cultural neglect. Unwilling to pay for the protection of civic assets, the public should not be surprised when infrastructure collapses.
The deterioration of the Mitchell Domes is a reflection of the post-WW2 indifference that much of Milwaukee has shown towards its historic institutions.
One of the six original Milwaukee parks created by the first park commission, the core five acres of land for Mitchell Park was donated by the Mitchell family. It was named for the wealthy banker Alexander Mitchell, grandfather of General Billy Mitchell.
The Mitchell Park Conservatory has been a signature social and tourist location in Milwaukee since it was first established in 1898. The original conservatory was an elaborate greenhouse with exterior gardens. The structure was enjoyed by visitors until decay made it impractical to repair and demolition began in 1955.
The new conservatory is comprised of three beehive-shaped glass domes designed by Donald Grieb. Constructed in stages starting in 1959, the total cost of construction was $4.5 million by the time it was completed in 1967.
The Domes are a place that past generations have visited and hold fond childhood and lifelong memories of. Future generations may be robbed of this same experience due to the short-sightedness of today.
The Domes are currently in urgent need of repair, a fact that no one disputes. Where the money will come from to accomplish this? If there were not enough funds before to provide maintenance at a small price, how can a major renovation occur now at an enormous cost?
It is easy to blame a single person for this problem. And the facts may indeed prove this to be true. But the issue goes beyond the sole responsibility of a single individual.
The Milwaukee government is not a foreign power that conquered us. They are people from our community. We elected them. We established the system for them to govern. While some officials may deserve a larger proportion of the blame, there is plenty of blame to go around. But placing blame will not solve situation, or even make us feel better.
Regardless of who is most at fault, the citizens of Milwaukee have allowed the future of another beloved landmark to stand in peril. The Milwaukee Domes did not collapse over night. It deteriorated over a very long time.
If it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to neglect one. It takes a community to solve problems, much in the same way the community creates them in the first place.
We can certainly rant about the way our elected officials behave. But we elected them. So with another election cycle upon us, every citizen makes a difference with his or her vote. Or in many cases, lack of a vote.
Maybe it is asking too much from Milwaukee citizens, but we should be the change we want to see in our community. And that takes making an effort each day.