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Do wedding photos in the heart of Milwaukee’s former brawny, gritty industrial district seem like a strange idea? They shouldn’t. The Menomonee Valley has seen sweeping changes in the last decade or so as the area has spruced up to welcome tourists, but enough of the old atmosphere remains to give the photos of your big day a unique edge here.
That edge starts at the city’s newest major attraction, the Harley-Davidson Museum. Since 1905, Milwaukee has been the headquarters of the classic icon of America’s romance with the open road, but the museum opened only in 2008. The building’s design is ultramodern, but clearly meant to reflect the company’s industrial heritage. The Harley-Davidson name stretches for more than 100 feet along the building’s façade, but your photographer should have enough room to get a nice horizontal shot with the wedding party in the foreground and the entire brutal block strength of the name in the background.
Walk a little further into the complex and you’ll see more photo opportunities, such as the larger-than-life statue of a daredevil rider on a vintage motorcycle. Another nice background is the Menomonee River, flowing past well-maintained factory buildings bearing a graceful patina of age and hard work. And of course, inside the museum are many great visual points of interest for a wedding party that understands and loves the lure of motorcycle.
To get to the Harley museum, you drive over the Sixth Street Viaduct, Milwaukee’s newest and most spectacular street-level bridge. The white cables rising at stark vertical angles suggest a transportation-themed homage to the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. The design of cable-stayed pylons was a first in the state when it was built in 2002. The best photo angles are on the southern portion of the bridge, with heavy white cables rising over the wedding party and the Milwaukee skyline in the background.
At the far southern end of the bridge is the Iron Horse Hotel, one of the city’s newest and trendiest places to stay. The 100-year-old warehouse was renovated into a luxury boutique hotel a few years ago, designed to make an amenity of the railroad tracks that the bridge crosses, and built with visitors to the Harley museum in mind – look for the motorcycle touches in the lobby décor as the wedding party clusters onto the brawny leather couches for photos.
The bridge would also make a great backdrop for photos taken at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Architecture is important to Milwaukee, and when the dowdy old Amtrak station was renovated in 2007, the result was a dazzling glass curtain to enclose the building. A photographer who chooses the right angle can get a great picture of the wedding party, the shimmer of the new station, and the sky-mounting bridge in the background. Unlike the bridge that it replaced,the Sixth Street Viaduct intersects with Canal Street. That has opened up the Menomonee Valley to easy access and development, and it is the route you’ll take to your next wedding photo stop.
Milwaukee will never be Las Vegas, and the city is OK with that. But if you want your wedding photos to have a suggestion of that kind of glitz and glamour, drive about a mile along Canal Street to Potawatomi Bingo Casino. Southeastern Wisconsin’s only casino boasts more than 3,000 slot machines, a full array of table games, an off-track betting parlor, a regular procession of big-name entertainment acts, and multiple dining options. Get some photos of the wedding party in one of the grand lobbies, with the bright, blinking promise of luck and fortune behind them as the slot machines stretch away, seemingly for acres.
Keep driving along Canal Street until you pass beneath the 35th Street bridge and you’ll come to a poignant relic of Milwaukee’s booming, muscular, hard-working past. The acres where grass now grows and rain gardens collect runoff used to be the Milwaukee Road Shops, the third-largest train factory in the nation. The last operations in this mammoth rail yard ceased in 1985, but two lonely smokestacks still stand guard. Arrange your wedding party around the base, or have your photographer lie on the ground and shoot almost straight up for a dramatic visual intersection of your present and the city’s past.
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