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Milwaukee has gone from 19th century immigration booms to a 21st century building boom of corporate skyscrapers, luxury residential towers and architecturally significant structures. The changing skyline has changed the way residents interact with their city.
The Quadracci Pavilion, the stunning sculptural addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum by architect Santiago Calatrava, has done much to raise the city’s cultural profile. The New York Times called the pavilion the symbol of Milwaukee. Construction hasn’t just gone upward, but out as well. Trendy RiverWalk, a three-mile long pedestrian corridor along the Milwaukee River, wends through the heart of downtown and has become a destination for restaurants, breweries and art installations.
Wisconsin’s largest city is situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan and at the confluence of the Menomonee, Kinnickinnic and Milwaukee rivers. It has a youthful vibe, in part because of its craft beer culture, burgeoning art scene and sizeable student body.
It’s known for its walkable downtown, relatively low cost of living and its many festivals including one of the largest, the 11-day, 11-stage Summerfest that’s been running for decades. German Fest and Oktoberfest celebrate the city’s German heritage. Three major waves of German immigration starting in the 1840s, followed by other European groups after the Civil War have shaped local food, culture and, of course, brewing traditions.
Milwaukee’s architecture is one of amazing diversity: German Renaissance Revival, Italianate Victorian and Art Deco, for instance. Frank Lloyd Wright built a series of affordable residences known as “American System-Built Homes” just west of downtown. These early versions of prefab construction are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation is a city initiative, and homeowner tax credits are available from the Wisconsin Historical Society for qualified renovations of historic properties.
Whole neighborhoods are rehabbing. A former warehouse and manufacturing district known as the Historic Third Ward is now a trendy six-square block area of waterfront condos, loft apartments, restaurants, boutiques and the city’s highest concentration of art galleries. Luxury properties are found along the lakefront where elegant century-old residences stand side by side with modern new mansions and condos. Affluent suburbs include North Shore communities like Whitefish Bay, once a resort town and now residential village with highly ranked schools, and River Hills on the Milwaukee River with homes on minimum five-acre parcels.