Home / A&E / A&E Feature / City Guide 2014: Milwaukee’s Off-The-Beaten-Path Partial Day Excursion Tour

City Guide 2014: Milwaukee’s Off-The-Beaten-Path Partial Day Excursion Tour

Apr. 2, 2014
Google plus Linkedin Pinterest
Sick of the same old tourist attractions filled with lines of people and high ticket prices? Most Milwaukeeans and tourists flock to the more popular places—those seen in a “Welcome to Milwaukee” brochure—like the Domes or Milwaukee Art Museum. But what about experiencing the actual city and its residents? If you accept the challenge, this venture takes you through many of Milwaukee’s diverse neighborhoods, while allowing you to “travel back in time” with an array of historical structures and sites. From residential neighborhoods to trendy urban areas to poverty-stricken communities, this partial-day-excursion takes you to seven carefully chosen sites that may leave you with a sense of wonderment or nostalgia.


Bonus: You are seeing the majority of the city and some of its more offbeat, artsy attractions in just one to three hours with a quarter tank of gas. Where you begin is completely up to you. The course laid out below starts in Bay View and drops you off in Fox Point. Note: The miles, the time and the money spent are approximations. Depending on the route chosen, they will vary. Avoid freeways for a more impactful drive.


Destination A: A Rare Spigot in These Parts

Pryor Avenue Iron Well (Bay View Well)

1704 E. Pryor Ave.

Small yet significant, this 120-foot-deep landmark is the perfect starting point. For decades, the Pryor Avenue Iron Well, supplied by an aquifer, has given curious persons and Bay View residents 24-7 public access to cool running water. The current structure and location, dug in 1988 after the closing of the original 1883 well, is charming but somewhat out of place in its residential surroundings. For more than 100 years, the quaint notion of people lining up to fill their jugs at a local well continues to exist and deliver. Milwaukeean Dennis Coffey has very fond memories of this site and recalls drinking from it often in the late 1980s. “Artist types would come here a lot because it sounded like the thing to do,” he said. It is the only well open to the public in Milwaukee. So grab a sip (if you dare), and continue on your journey.


Miles to Next Destination: 4

Suggested Route: Take a right on Kinnickinnic Avenue to Lincoln Avenue and turn left. Then take right on Layton Boulevard and a left on Burnham Street. You should pass a number of well-known shops, restaurants, bars and Forest Home Cemetery.


Destination B: A Treasure Chest in the Midst of Mediocrity

Frank Lloyd Wright Block

2700 block of W. Burnham St.

Once considered Milwaukee’s Polish South Side neighborhood, this area is now known as the Burnham Park Neighborhood. Here on the corner of Layton Boulevard and Burnham Street is a stretch of six houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of the American System-Built Homes—the earliest system of low-cost housing and the only urban homes he created. A late partner of Wright’s, Arthur Richards chose this urban location for reasons unknown. These prestigious looking homes were completed in 1916 and still reside in their original location. Now, when gazing around the area, you are left wondering how these architectural delights ended up in the midst of mediocrity. In the January 1938 issue of Architectural Forum, Wright stated, “I would rather solve the small house problem than build anything else I can think of...” These homes may look out of place, however, they are visually enticing and educational, offering a sense of hope for the community encompassing them. Note: One of the homes, located at 2714 W. Burnham, aka Model B1, is open for tours on the second and fourth Saturday of each month for $10. For more information, email info@wrightinwisconsin.org. 608-287-0339.


Miles to Next Destination: 2

Suggested Route: Turn around and take left on Layton Boulevard to Wisconsin Avenue and take another left. On your left you will see Miller Park in the distance and on your right, the Domes, as well as Downtown Milwaukee.


Destination C: A Masonic Grandeur on Wisconsin

Tripoli Shrine Temple

3000 W. Wisconsin Ave.

This ornate structure possesses and emanates a sense of power from within a seemingly powerless community. Finished in 1928, it has been the home and headquarters of Milwaukee’s Shriners International—an international fraternity and spin-off from Freemasonry—as well as a registered landmark since 1986. This structure is an architectural replica of India’s Taj Mahal and has beautiful dome-shaped peaks on top and camels guarding its entrance below. With brotherly love, relief and truth as part of their credo, it is hard to observe such a building without fantasizing about all the potential secrecy behind its big closed doors. The Middle Eastern influence and flare make it unique and awkwardly situated within this urban space. Note: For a fee, this site offers 45-minute guided tours, lunch and parking for groups of ten or more. 414-659-7368.


Miles to Next Destination: 1

Suggested Route: Make a U-turn and head down Wisconsin Ave. Should pass The Eagles Club. Head to the Marquette University campus.


Destination D: A Slice of Heaven Within Urban Chaos

St. Joan of Arc Chapel

1415 W. Wisconsin Ave., Marquette University

(Note: Parking for this site may be difficult and cost $1. This destination is accessible only on foot.)

Prior to reaching this destination, note and reflect on the atmosphere of college students walking briskly among the strong modern buildings of Marquette’s campus. Now peer into the near distance at the warmth of the small chapel. Notice something awry? This chapel is believed to be the only medieval structure in the Western Hemisphere still used for its original purpose. It is more than five centuries old, and has been added to and relocated over time. Originally called Chapelle de St. Martin de Sayssuel, it was used for devotions and the burial of important persons. There is still a tomb holding a French knight in the sanctuary floor, and the early Gothic altar and famous Joan of Arc Stone were added. In 1927, it was disassembled and shipped to Long Island prior to making its way to Marquette in the 1960s. This remarkable structure with its accompanying story has the power to mentally transport you right into the countryside of France where this chapel was born. Note: Tours last roughly 30 minutes and there is no charge. Donations welcomed. 414-288-6873.


Miles to Next Destination: 4

Suggested Route: Go east on Wisconsin Avenue to 10th Street and take a left. Next, take a right on Wells Street and then a left onto Water Street—one of Milwaukee’s biggest bar scenes—which will become Brady Street when it turns east. Finally, take a left on Humboldt Boulevard and proceed to destination.


Destination E: A Brilliant Junkyard-Turned-Attraction

House with Cars in Yard (Cadillac House)

2659 N. Humboldt Blvd.

“If we can’t fix it, we’ll bury it!” said David Jones and Tony Balistreri, homeowners and car part aficionados. Some may find this dwelling laughable or gaudy, while others see it as a mirthful staple of the Riverwest community. Balistreri, owner of Downtown Auto Body on Holton Street, obviously has an interest in classic cars, hence the ground burial or memorial for broken ones. But really, the passion of placing these automobile pieces into their property began as a whim in 1998 and continues to grow. “One person’s bird bath is another’s car part,” chuckles Jones. There are currently five different vehicles’ fragments serving as lawn decorations in the front yard. These include parts from a 1959 Cadillac, a 1930 Model A Roadster, a 1969 Volkswagen Beatle, a 1969 Bonneville and, the newest addition, a 1962 Cadillac. At night, you can see the headlights or taillights lit up, making it a must-see stop when driving down Humboldt Blvd. With an outstanding electric bill, Jones quips, “They are all uniquely wired from dusk to dawn.” Note: There are fenders, car hoods and more automobile parts purposefully arranged in the backyard as well.


Miles to Next Destination: 1

Suggested Route: Make a U-turn on Humboldt Boulevard and head towards Locust Street. Take a right on Locust and then a left on Cambridge Avenue.


Destination F: A Fish Out of Water

Edmund B. Gustorf House (The Boat House)

3138 N. Cambridge Ave.

Located on the city’s East Side and docked on a corner in a residential neighborhood, sits the Edmund Gustorf House, aka “The Boat House,” purchased by Dr. William Kortsch in 1985. Built in the 1920s, this living space was designed and scaled to mimic a motor-powered Great Lakes yacht. From the swans in the yard to the miniature lighthouse (storage area) and boat-shaped planter, everything about the exterior of this home is sea-themed or nautical. It is 500 square feet of whimsical fun for people passing by. Even the inside reflects the theme with a steering wheel or helm in the living room or stateroom. Out of all the locations of this excursion, The Boat House is probably the most properly placed within its surroundings. Sometimes it takes a second glance to really understand that it is not merely a boat in someone’s yard you are seeing, but rather a yard in the back of someone’s boat. It’s the best of both worlds—land and sea.


Miles to Next Destination: 7

Suggested Route: Drive north on Cambridge Avenue to Hampshire Street and take a right; then take a left on Oakland Avenue. Turn right on Hampton Road and then left onto Lake Drive—you can see Milwaukee’s lakefront. Take a right onto Beach Drive and stay right at fork.


Final Destination: A Woman’s Life For All To See

Mary Nohl House (The Witch’s House)

7328 N. Beach Drive

This unique lakefront home, once belonging to artist Mary Nohl, aka the “Witch of Fox Point,” holds a place in the hearts of many Milwaukeeans who have come to view the folk- or oceanic-influenced statues on at least one occasion. Not only does this home now act as a tourist attraction and a Halloween night escapade, it has many nostalgic stories and urban legends attached to it. The most popular legend is the story of Nohl’s “husband” and “son” drowning at sea and her creation of stone sculptures to keep watch for them. In reality, Nohl never married. She acquired her parents’ North Shore home in the 1960s and slowly turned it into her ideal art environment. The very essence of it is a bit mysterious and creepy, yet there is a certain grace to it. It can easily leave viewers longing and questioning what was really going on in her mind when she created any one of these pieces. Strangely enough, these beautifully eerie Easter Island-like creatures look as though they are awaiting her return. Note: Today, this 2006-dedicated landmark is owned by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and is unfortunately not open to the public.


Total Miles: Approximately 19

Total Driving Time: 1 hour

Total Time spent at Location: Varies

Total Gas Cost: $5


Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has the power to appoint a commissioner to privatize primarily black and Latino Milwaukee Public Schools in a turnaround district. Will this privatization plan improve student performance?

Getting poll results. Please wait...