Construction of Milwaukee’s Domes
The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory project began in 1955 with a design competition that attracted 33 architects from all over the world. A traditionally-trained Milwaukee architect, Donald L. Grieb, won the competition with his futuristic design for three beehive-shaped (conoidal not geodesic) glass domes all connected by a lobby area. Each dome would be 140 feet in diameter at the base and 85 feet high, offering 15,000 square feet of growing space for plant display. Construction began in 1959 and proceeded in six stages. This allowed for the building to be paid in yearly appropriations, thus avoiding the cost of bonding. The total cost of this innovative project was $4.5 million when it was completed.

Each dome was completed in a staggered fashion with the Floral Show Dome in 1964, the Tropical Dome in 1966 and the Desert Dome in 1967. The First Lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. (Lady Bird) Johnson, dedicated the Mitchell Park Domes in the fall of 1965.

Structure Design
The design of the structures permit over 85% of the available light to be transmitted to the plants through the quarter-inch thick wire-imbedded glass. With all this light, the buildup of heat in the summer months is drawn out with large fans. Each dome also has a complete air change in 3-1/2 minutes in spite of the 750,000 cubic feet area. The clicking sound heard within each dome is the result of the expansion and contraction of the aluminum tubing as temperature changes occur.

Madagascar Plant Collection
On September 8, 1984, a formal dedication with guest of honor, Leon Rajaobelina, Ambassador of Madagascar to the United States, celebrated the newly installed Madagascar plant collection in the Desert Dome. Earlier, Madagascar Embassy aide, Jocelyn Rafidinario, helped The Domes horticulturists install several of the plants from the island-nation in the Indian Ocean. More than 125 plants were installed with other small specimens being nursed along until large enough to plant in the Desert Dome. Today, this collection of xerophytic (without water) plants is thriving!

Disaster Hits
The 2006 Falk Corporation blast didn’t shake the earth enough for the U.S. Geological Survey to take any notice but it did register on UW-Milwaukee Geosciences instruments on the morning of December 6, 2006. It was reported that the explosion could be felt as far north as Port Washington, south as Oak Creek and west as Muskego. The 61-acre complex is located on 30th and Canal Street just a few miles west of the Mitchell Park Domes. The blast required major glass replacement throughout the facility.

Renovations & Upgrades – Beginning of a Renaissance
During the summer of 2008, improvements were made during a remodeling of the lobby, restrooms, gift shop, education center, director’s office and front desk. As a result of a $500,000 donation, a new external and internal lighting system was installed. On November 5, 2008, Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes welcomed visitors at the grand reopening, with special guest Architect Donald L. Grieb. The reopening revealed the new LED lighting system and light show. This renovation created a renaissance of green initiatives that would follow through the next six years including the addition of seven state-of-the-art greenhouse structures that are located on the back of The Domes facility.

Click the right arrow on the image below to view the slideshow.

Photos credit: Friends of the Domes


Summer Show: United Plants Across America
DATE: June 8 – Sept 8, 2024

Video: Christa Beall Diefenbach, Executive Director of Friends of the Domes, presents solution for the future of the Domes to the Rotary Club of Milwaukee

Grooving Under Glass: September 26, 2024 


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