We got what we were looking for, even though one of the three domes--the "desert" display--had been recently closed for safety reasons. Falling debris, linked to years of neglect, had posed a safety hazard. But both the "show" and "tropical" domes were still open to the public. And later THAT SAME DAY the entire complex was closed to the public because of those same concerns.
Here is THE LATEST STATE OF THE DOMES's future now, reported a few days later. A complete overhaul, after years of deferred maintenance, is estimated at upwards of $50 million.
But blissfully unaware of any hazards at the time, we made straight for the tropics and breathed deep in the warm, moist air. Sunlight flooded the tropical dome through the glass panels above, but was diffused by the tall trees throughout. There were orchids in varieties that ranged from pretty and fragrant to mesmerizing in a is-that-a-spider-or-space-alien way. In the background, water tumbled musically down a fountain amidst diverse vegetation that included a banana tree, a rattlesnake plant and "elkhorn" epiphytes.
I've been going to the Domes for nourishment of the soul and the senses since before my four adult children were born. I had my wedding pictures taken there. I've been romanced at the Domes, pushed strollers containing babies and toddlers (and sometimes both) through the domes, brought out-of-town visitors there, and dressed my daughters in frilly dresses for pictures among the flowers. It provided a needed respite from the stress of law school nearby when I changed careers at the age of forty and embarked on a new personal journey.
Now it is vividly real that that the future of the Domes is in serious jeopardy. An recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that in 2014, the county board allocated a half million dollars for repairs, a drop in the bucket compared to the $32 million master plan to renovate the Domes that had been broached in 2000, but rejected. A local architect that had been involved in the larger renovation plan had told the newspaper in 2005 that while the Domes had been groundbreaking at the time they were created, by now "whatever magic was there is gone."
I couldn't disagree more. I've never failed to find "magic" at the Domes every time I've visited. And here is just a sampling from yesterday's visit, before the doors closed behind us.