Mitchell Park History

Mitchell Park Domes dedication with lady Bird Johnson

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. First Lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. (Lady Bird) Johnson dedicated the Mitchell Park Domes in the fall of 1965.

Friends of the Mitchell Park DomesMilwaukee County Parks

1955 - 2008

  • 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 moths 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 sounds heard within the domes are the result of the expansion and contraction of the aluminum tubing as the temperature changes occur.

  • Madagascar Plant Collection

    On September 8th, 1984, a formal dedication with Mitchell Park Domes visitors, staff and 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 Domes horticulturists install several of the plants from the island-nation in the Indian Ocean. One hundred twenty-five 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 couple miles west of the Mitchell Park Domes where you could fell the explosion which lead to 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 Re-Opening, 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.

Historic Photos

Domes Construction
Mitchell Park Domes under Construction
Mitchell Domes under Construction
Domes under Construction
Domes Sign installed in the 1980s
Domes Lighting upgraded in 2008
Domes Lobby lighting upgraded in 2008
Domes Fountains added in 2011
Domes Green Entry 2011
Domes Green Entry Flower cutting
Domes Greenhouse addition in 2014
Domes celebrates 50 years in 2015