Centennial Hall is located within the Milwaukee Public Library's Central Library building in downtown Milwaukee. The hall entrance is on Eighth Street, between Wells Street and Wisconsin Avenue, just south of the Central Library's Drive-Up window. There is no entrance to the hall through the library.
The complex consists of two meeting rooms - the Masters Room and the Loos Room - and the 700-seat Koeppen-Gerlach Auditorium. Smoking is not allowed in any part of the complex. Food is only allowed within the complex as provided by licensed caterers. The hall is available for rental to the public. Certain restrictions apply.
There is limited street parking surrounding the Central Library building. Two-hour metered parking is available Sunday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is two-hour free parking on Saturday. For information on commercial parking lots in the surrounding area check ParkMilwaukee.com.
This 700-seat auditorium was renovated for library use in 1982. The auditorium was named for Phyllis Koeppen and Frederick Gerlach. Koeppen, born in Milwaukee, was a well-known public relations specialist and taught at Marquette University originating the course "Exploring Milwaukee," which consisted of field trips to places important in the city's past and future. She married Frederick Gerlach on July 15, 1940.
Frederick H. "Fritz" Gerlach was known particularly for his watercolors of Wisconsin, Michigan and Colorado landscapes as well as a plethora of Milwaukee landmarks. Born in West Bend, Gerlach received his art training at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Milwaukee Normal School and the Layton School of Art. He was art director of a Milwaukee advertising agency and taught watercolor painting in the continuing education division of Marquette University.
Together, Koeppen and Gerlach presented illustrated dialogues accompanied by Gerlach's watercolors and drawings and Koeppen's exhaustive research conducted in great part in the Milwaukee Public Library's local history room. Both were enthusiastic supporters of the Milwaukee Public Library. Gerlach was named Bookfellow of the Year in 1981, and received the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1990.
The Loos Room is a 150-seat meeting room which is used at times as overflow seating for programs in the auditorium.
The room is named for Ludwig E. Loos (1910-1981), born in Neunkirchen, Germany in 1910, who emigrated to Milwaukee with his family in 1914. A graduate of Hi-Mount School, Washington High School, and Marquette University, he was associated with the Vilter Manufacturing Corp. from 1936 until his retirement in 1978. He was a charter member and also a member of the Board of Directors of the Bookfellows, Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library.
The Masters Room is a 35-seat meeting room adjacent to the Loos Room and auditorium.
The room is named for C.L. Masters (1910-1970), a native Milwaukeean and graduate of South Division High School and the University of Wisconsin. He founded the Kinetic Corp. in 1948 for the manufacture of knives used in the paper industry. Masters was married to Emily Dettlaff, an active member of the Bookfellows, Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library who served as vice president and member of the Friends' Board of Directors and was a lifelong friend of the library.
The Centennial Hall complex was originally added to the Central Library/Public Museum complex and opened as a lecture hall in 1912. The museum presented popular travel and adventure programs for children and adults on Saturday mornings, and featured Wednesday night programs by local naturalists and travelers.
The public museum moved out of the Central Library space in 1963 and the travel adventure series also was moved to the larger MATC Cooley Auditorium.
In 1975 the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library (then the Bookfellows) began a campaign to renovate the space for library use. They gave Centennial Hall its name, hoping to reopen it during the library's centennial year in 1978, but the campaign had to be extended to 1981. They reached their renovation goal of $550,000, all of it private funds, in 1981.
The hall was renovated by Pfaller & Herbst Associates in consultation with Conrad Schmidt Studios. The official grand opening was held September 20, 1982.