The Milwaukee County Historical Society was founded in 1935 to collect, preserve, and make available materials relating to the history of the MKE community.
The Villa was designed and built for Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd R. Smith by David Adler in 1923. David Adler, a native of Milwaukee, who studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, is known for his home restoration projects. Balance and symmetry are seen throughout the home and garden. The cloistered court features slating and an intricate mosaic of black and white pebbles from nearby Lake Michigan.
Many aspects of the Villa are reminiscent of 16th century Italian villas, including the Italian barrel tiled roof and the whitewashed warm pink brick exterior walls, which were quarried and carved in Italy. A vaulted veranda is supported by simple Tuscan columns. Italian grilled windows and an intricately patterned brick pavement lead to the front entrance. The entrance hall has a circular stairway with no central support in the traditional 16th century Italian manner. Milwaukee’s Cyril Colnik’s elaborate wrought- iron stair railings and entrance gates show his superb skills as a craftsman. The great hall has a stenciled beam ceiling of Georgian cypress. The Renaissance Garden, an official project of “Save America’s Treasures” has been open since 2002. The house was deeded by the family to Milwaukee County in 1966 for use as a decorative arts museum. The mansion also houses an art reference library.