The inaugural event is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconsin Main Street Program "to showcase unique historic and cultural assets of Wisconsin downtowns," according to a WEDC news release. The organizations hope to get residents and visitors to explore their communities, learn what’s new and discover the established places that they haven’t checked out before.
(Scroll to bottom for a list of locations in Janesville, Elkhorn and East Troy.)
In total, more than a dozen Wisconsin communities and some 80 sites -- from dungeons, museums and forts to churches, rooftops and theaters -- will be open to visitors, free of charge.
In the Stateline area, Janesville, Elkhorn and East Troy are hosting events.
The Janesville Downtown Development Alliance will host 12 locations throughout Janesville. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The open house will be the first time the recently renovated third floor of the Carriage Works building will be open to the public. The historic 19th-century building at 10 N. Parker Drive -- a former carriage factory -- was purchased in 2013 by brothers Shawn and Shannon Kennedy, whose Internet-based insurance company, SASid, is housed on the cavernous third floor.
"The third floor was a blank slate when (the Kennedys) purchased the building," said Sharon Abney, an operations manager at SASid. "It was the floor where the carriages were actually created."
Abney said tours will showcase a photo timeline of the building beginning with its earliest days.
Visitors who missed the December open house at The Venue, located at 34 and 38 S. Main St., will have another opportunity to see the space, with guided tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
"I think people are shocked every time they come into The Venue and see the gem that’s hidden upstairs," said Britten Langfoss, general manager. "There was so much construction going on, it’s an exciting thing for people to see the outcome."
Langfoss and her family bought the building, a former Methodist church and Masonic lodge, in 2013 and turned it into a community room, kitchen and banquet room, which is being used for everything from weddings to private fundraisers.
"The building was vacant for 50 years. We saw the state it was in when we first walked into it, but the bones of the building were good and it was such an important part of the downtown, we knew something had to be done to bring it back to life," Langfoss said. "Visitors on the tour will see a lot of history, and the architectural elements are absolutely astonishing."
Another renovated site is home to Land Title & Closing Services LLC, located on the second floor at 19 N. High St., in a building that was once home to a bakery company and a tractor manufacturer.
"Our landlord bought it 13 years ago when it was absolutely nothing, an icky old shell of a building and did a lot to make this property work," said Deb Adams, office manager. "Now there are big, high-beamed ceilings and exposed brick. It’s a cool building."
Besides tours of the sites, organizers are planning on a scavenger hunt, prize drawings and specials at area bars and restaurants.
And for those who want a unique perspective of the city, the open house event also will feature a social gathering on the top level of the parking ramp at Parker Drive, with live music, drinks and food, said Adams, who is also one of the event’s organizers.
"Honestly, when you get up there and look at the view, it’s beautiful," she said.
For 15 years a life-sized Ronald McDonald statue has stood in the glass-walled cupola high above East Troy Shell, looking cheerfully out over the busy intersection of Wisconsin Highway 20 and County Highway ES. In the 15 years Linda Kaplan has owned the gas station and convenience store at 2526 Main St., hundreds of customers have asked if they could go up inside the cupola and check out the view.
Visitors finally will get their chance during the open house.
In Walworth County, East Troy and Elkhorn are participating in the event.
Both municipalities belong to Connect Communities, an offshoot of the Main Street program, said Cathy Anderson, executive assistant with Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.
Many of the sites include spots people aren’t normally likely to see, like East Troy Shell’s cupola.
For visitors willing and able to climb three flights of stairs -- there are hand railings, but no wheelchair access -- to the 10-foot by 10-foot space on top, the view is worth it, Kaplan said.
Because the station also houses a McDonald’s, the statue of Ronald McDonald was installed in the cupola.
In Elkhorn, visitors can tour Holton House, a new pediatric therapy center inside the renovated 91-year-old home of Frank Holton, who founded an instrument manufacturing company that bore his name.
To add a 1920s flavor, old photographs of the area will be displayed, people in period costumes will stroll the streets and horse-drawn carriage rides will be offered, said Heather Bartell, administrator of the adjoining Holton Manor skilled nursing facility at 645 N. Church St. Bartell also hopes to have the Frank Holton Band playing in the square downtown.
Wisconsin’s Downtown Open House
What: Downtown Open House Wisconsin
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 14, 2016 at sites in Janesville, Elkhorn, East Troy and other communities statewide
Sites in Janesville:
• Independent Order of Odd Fellows, 22 N. Main St.
• Rock County Historical Society and Lincoln-Tallman House, 426 N. Jackson St.
• One Parker Place, 1 Parker Place
• Trinity Episcopal Church, 409 E. Court St.
• Marshall Apartments, 408 S. Main St.
• Land Title & Closing Services LLC, 19 N. High St., second floor
• The Venue, 36 S. Main St.
• First Presbyterian Church, 17 N. Jackson St.
• Janesville Woman’s Club Association and Janesville Art League, 108 S. Jackson St.
• The Carriage Works (SASid = Smart and Simple Insurance Development), 10 N. Parker Drive
• Signworks, 315 Race St.
• L’Atelier Art Studio and Susan Otterson Sewing Studio, 509 Laurel Ave.
Sites in Elkhorn:
• Holton House, 645 Church St.
• Friends on the Square, 41 N. Wisconsin St., former Geyser & Kunkel Pharmacy and Reed Furniture
• St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 107 W. Walworth St., and The Trinity Center, former Masonic lodge, 101 W. Walworth St.
• Doris M. Reinke Resource Center, 210 S. Washington St.
• Heritage Hall, 103 E. Rockwell St.
• Webster House/Walworth County Historical Society, 9 E. Rockwell St.
• The 1887 Building, 3 N. Jackson St.
• Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce, former Consumers Co-op, 202 E. Walworth St.
Sites in East Troy:
• 2894 On Main Café, 2894 Main St.
• Allan ICS, 2012 Beulah Ave.
• East Troy Electric Railroad, 2002 Church St.
• East Troy House Historic Inn & Tavern, 2093 Division St.
• East Troy Shell, 2526 Main St.
• Kubicki Museum & Heritage Center, 2106 Church St.