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Central Grand Rotunda

Central Grand Rotunda

Central Rotunda entrance

Rotunda Library entrance, 1955

The Rotunda and its above Dome are the main entrance to Central Library from Wisconsin Ave.  Because we technically have more than one rotunda, it is also often referred to as the “Grand Rotunda.”  Originally, it was the main entrance for both the Library and the Museum.  The Library part of the building was straight ahead (north) to the delivery room or off to the right (east) towards the catalog room or other subject spaces on each of the 3 east floors.  The Museum part of the building began with an entrance to the left (west), which is currently the back-staff side of our Children’s room.  Right at the entrance of the Museum, there was a gift shop and coat check.

The Grand Rotunda finishes include yellow Sienna marble, brass and stained glass (in the lighting fixtures), oak and mahogany hardwoods, and scagliola.  Scagliola is plasterwork meant to imitate ornamental marble. It was used for all the tall pillars in the Rotunda except for the balusters and the bottom of the columns, which are real marble.  The mosaic tile floors are made with marble quarried from Italy and were hand-laid by master Italian craftsmen who had settled in Milwaukee.  When the building opened, the original lighting fixtures were both gas and electric. The Grand Rotunda is a popular place for professional or amateur photos.  Just remember to check out our guidelines first!

Central Library dome exterior construction

Grand Rotunda dome exterior, under construction, circa 1897

The Dome above the Grand Rotunda is actually made up of an outer dome and a separate inner dome with a large attic space between the two. The Museum used it as storage when they ran short on space.   A series of catwalks and steps run around the topside of the inner dome.  This allows access for maintenance, such as when light bulbs need to be changed.  A bulb is in each of the plaster rosettes you see above from the Rotunda.  There are a total 120 light bulbs in the inner dome. The lights are smaller as they get closer to the apex of the dome.  The height from the Rotunda floor to the top of the dome is 69‘, 11 ¼”.  Very occasionally, public tours are offered of the Dome and the space in between, usually in conjunction with special library events.

Central Library dome interior

Central Library dome, space in between


Next stop: Rotary Club Community Room and Hallway

Previous stop: Central Library Tour Intro