Henry Maier Festival Park
Henry Maier Festival Park is a 75-acre festival park located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the shore Lake Michigan and is the site of the annual Summerfest musical festival and the home of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater.
|Henry Maier Festival Park|
|Alternative names||Summerfest Grounds|
|Address||200 North Harbor Drive|
|Named for||Henry Maier|
|Client||Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.|
|Owner||City of Milwaukee|
|Public transit access||Milwaukee County Transit System|
In 1927 Maitland Airport was opened. It was one of the city's first airstrips. The airport remained in operation for more than 20 years before it was replaced by a Nike missile installation, established during the height of '50s Cold War tensions. The site was one of eight in the Greater Milwaukee area and hosted both the Nike Ajax and nuclear-capable Nike Hercules missiles as a means of last resort against a possible attack by the Soviet Union. The military installation, along with a radar station at Lake Park, remained in use until 1969 when the Army closed them in an effort to reduce costs.
The land was then sold to the city and became a top possible destination by Summerfest's early leaders, who worried for the fest's future after bad weather caused a poor turnout in its second year. Organizers believed that a centralized location was crucial, and the lakefront site appeared ideal.
In 1970, the Harbor Commission, which took ownership of the land from the Army, constructed a deal and began leasing the site to Summerfest for one dollar a year. The recently formed Summerfest quickly set up makeshift offices from the remaining barracks and the control building.
The history of the Henry Maier Festival Park starts with Summerfest in 1968. The music festival was created that year, and found some success, being held in 35 different locations. The next year, however, was inundated with horrific weather, forcing cancellation of the last day and ensuring financial losses for that year. In 1970 a central location was decided upon: an abandoned strip of land along the lakefront in the downtown area, which was the former Maitland Airport and served as a Nike missile site during the Cold War.
The early Summerfest Grounds consisted of little more than concrete blocks with wooden slabs placed on top to serve as stages, in the middle of a grassy, muddy field. Despite this, the central location was key to the festival's success, ensuring the existence and expansion of the grounds. Construction continued through the 1970s and 1980s, with the highlight of the creation of the Marcus Amphitheater, a 23,000 seat partially covered venue, in 1987.
Various ethnic and cultural festivals came to be held at the festival park beginning in the 1980s, as well as several run/walks for charity events.
Festa Italiana is an ethnic festival held annually on the park grounds. Established in 1978, it is the largest Italian-American festival in the United States and features Italian music, food and entertainment. Sponsored by the Italian Community Center, the festival is also known for its fireworks and pyrotechnics shows put on by Bartolotta Fireworks. Festa Italiana is also held at Boylan Catholic High school every year with rides and bands every year in Rockford Illinois. The event, along with Summerfest and the many ethnic and cultural festivals held throughout the city, is what gives Milwaukee the nickname "City of Festivals."
Milwaukee Irish Fest is an annual ethnic festival held at the Henry Maier Festival Park in August. Over 130,000 people attend the Fest each year to take in nearly 250 acts on 17 stages. The four-day festival in downtown Milwaukee started in 1981, founded by Edward J. Ward. Irish Fest is the largest of the ethnic festivals held at the Summerfest grounds which report attendance, and holds claim to the largest celebration of Irish Culture in the world.
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