The Milwaukee County Historical Society was founded in 1935 to collect, preserve, and make available materials relating to the history of the MKE community.
After World War II, several women’s groups began looking for a suitable memorial for the war dead. After several years, plans for a center on the shore of Lake Michigan took shape which included a veterans’ building, music hall and art center. Because of funding problems, it was eventually decided that a single building would house just the county veterans’ organizations and an art center. The Milwaukee Art Institute, Layton Art Gallery and the Milwaukee County War Memorial Development Committee worked jointly to build this facility with the motto, “To honor the dead by serving the living.”
Famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen designed the building with Maynard Meyer of Milwaukee as associate architect. Saarinen’s unique design for a floating cruciform with cantilevered portions created excitement in the community, and is now considered a classic in the development of modern architecture. The building was designed so that its lower portion would provide room for exhibitions and classes.
Construction began in 1955 and the building opened in 1957 when the Milwaukee Art Institute and Layton Art Gallery merged their collections and projects to form the Milwaukee Art Center. A tiled mosaic was also added to the building façade that year. Designed by Wisconsin artist Edmund Lewandowski, its intricate pattern of Roman numerals commemorates the years of World War II and the Korean War.
In the late 1960s, Peg Bradley, wife of Harry Lynde Bradley who co-founded the Allen-Bradley Company, offered her entire collection of more than 600 modern American and European artworks to the Museum. She also made a $1 million challenge to the people of Milwaukee for an addition to the Art Center. By 1970, this challenge was more than met. $7 million was raised and plans were drawn by architects Kahler Fitzhugh Scott of Milwaukee. In 1975, the new addition, including the Bradley Galleries, was opened. It houses much of the Museum’s collection and changing exhibition galleries. The Museum also added amenities such as a theater, educational center and a small restaurant. A post-modern addition, designed by Spanish Santiago Calatrava, was completed in 2001.
Cover image source: Littlemisosoup via Wikimedia