Adaptive Reuse of a WPA-Era Resource

The former bathhouse at Doctors Park was constructed as part of a WPA project in 1939-1940.  For many decades the bathhouse provided a place to change into a swimsuit and shower off sand before heading for home. Besides looking out for those swimming in Lake Michigan, lifeguards sold concessions from the front window. 

Former Bath House and Life Guard Office

Former Bath House and Life Guard Office

The Milwaukee County’s lifeguard program ended at Doctors Park and the building was abandoned about 2000. With its former use as a bathhouse for swimmers and lifeguard office no longer needed, modification of the building for a new life is needed. You can read a few lifeguard stories.

Lifeguard crew, 1979

Lifeguard crew, 1979

A structural engineer has determined the building is sound and a local architect has developed a plan that preserves the building’s WPA-era esthetics and fine joinery and adapts the building for the future. The goal? Construct an open-air beach shelter/pavilion within the original footprint. 

This adaptive re-use of the beach house is an important part of an ongoing, comprehensive revitalization of Doctors Park. The shuttered bathhouse discourages full enjoyment of the lake and beach while a new beach shelter/pavilion will provide a facility specifically intended to serve the needs of beach goers today.

Future Possibilities

Redesigning the structure into an open pavilion will offer visitors a place to bring lunch and enjoy the view of Lake Michigan short of walking the beach. As an outdoor classroom, the beach house could be used for environmental education classes coordinated with beach cleanup workshops. Others may find it the perfect place to set up an easel for painting. We have been asked about the possibility to include secured kayak and paddleboard storage as found in northern Illinois parks along the lakeshore, as this could be a small revenue source for Parks. Final features like these will be worked out as the project proceeds. Get involved!

Our overall goal is to enhance the experience of visiting what is one of the most beautiful waterfronts in Milwaukee County.

Future renovated open pavilion

Future renovated open pavilion

The estimate is based on the structural plans generously donated by the William Feldman Studio and prior Milwaukee County Parks project history. This estimate is based on certain features we hope to include in the final renovation, including locked storage, electrical for limited LED egress lighting and a separate structure to shield seasonal portable toilets.

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