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Villa Terrace, Site of the Demmer/Neptune Gate

by David L. White

Inspired by the 16th century Italian mansion Villa Cicogna in Lombardy, Italy, the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum was built in 1923 on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.


Originally known as Sopra Mare, “above the sea,” it was designed by David Adler, prominent architect and Milwaukee native as a private residence for Milwaukee industrialist, Lloyd R. Smith. A unique collaboration of local, national, and international influence, the design featured arcaded loggias, several themed terraces and a stone water stairway to the formal gardens at the lake level.


In the late 1960s the estate was donated by the Smith family to the Milwaukee community and the house was reopened as the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. 


One of the most important collections on display at the museum is that of Cyril Colnik, an artist craftsman sometimes referred to as “the Tiffany of wrought iron masters.” In 1893, Austrian born Colnik arrived in America representing the ironwork exhibition sponsored by the German government at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His “Master Piece,” featured at Villa Terrace, was on display there.


The gardens and grounds at Villa Terrace are populated with Greco Roman gods and goddesses. The museum houses the permanent collection of Milwaukee’s world renowned metals master. It seems only natural that Neptune should present himself in iron in the company of sturgeon, the ancient fish of this great lake.

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