Milwaukee's Marcus Center at Risk


Michele Racioppi


Docomomo US staff


Threatened, Advocacy
Image details


The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts was designed by architect Harry Weese, with the surrounding landscape by Dan Kiley, and was completed in 1969. As described by Miriam F. Stimpson in A Field Guide to Landmarks of Modern Architecture in the United States, "sheathed with travertine, the massing of strong forms employed for this center make a dignified and prominent addition to Milwaukee's downtown area. Landscaping and terracing down to the riverside close by is aesthetically pleasing and inviting. A large concert hall dominates the interior space flanked by a small recital hall, repertory theater, and a banquet pavilion."

Current Threat

In December 2018, the Center announced an overhaul of the cultural venue, the culmination of a months-long strategic planning process. However, the proposal drew backlash for its insensitve treatment of the Dan Kiley-designed landscape. 

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) quickly gave it a "Landslide" designation, for significant at-risk cultural landscapes, calling it an "exemplary collaboration between...two masters of their craft." Local advocates, including Jennifer Current, landscape architect at Quorum Architects, and Mark Debrauske, principal and architect at the Tredo Group, filed an application for local historic designation, in hopes of applying a layer of protection. If locally landmarked, changes to the site must be approved by the city's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Two former architecture critics for the Journal Sentinel issued public calls advocating for historic designation. Docomomo US and Docomomo US/Chicago issued a joint letter to the Common Council supporting landmark designation.

A small victory was acheived in early February when the HPC granted temprorary historic status, providing a short reprieve and preventing any further alterations. The temporary designation lasts 180 days. The HPC followed this by voting on April 1st to officially designate the complex a historic site, including both the building and the landscape in its decision.

Unfortunately the greater hurdle is still to come. Yesterday, the Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee voted 3-2 against historic designation after a contentious 4-hour long meeting. Opponents of the designation argue that earlier alterations to the building make it ineligible for listing and also cite accessibility concerns. However, members of the city's HPC dispute these claims.

The matter will go before the full Common Council on May 7. View the agenda HERE. It is generally unusal for the full council to overturn a committee vote. Docomomo US will continue to monitor and bring updates on the issue.

Supporters can contact council members to raise awarness of public support for preserving this important modern resource.


"Committee says Marcus Center isn't Historic,",  April 30, 2019.