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Our Story

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Lloyd and Agnes Smith

Lloyd Raymond Smith was born in 1883. He attended West Division High School in Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, before following his father into the family business — the A.O. Smith Corporation.

Agnes Gram was born in 1893. Lloyd and Agnes married in 1915, two years after Lloyd had become president of A.O. Smith. It is said that Agnes wanted to build a unique house that reflected her love of architecture and design.

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David Adler

The Smiths hired the renowned architect and Milwaukee native David Adler (1883–1949) to build their dream home. The idea to build a home in the style of a sixteenth-century Northern Italian villa came on a trip to Italy after their marriage in 1915. Choosing between two Milwaukee sites, they settled on its present location, with Adler reportedly saying, “Let Lake Michigan be my Mediterranean.” Fittingly, the original name for the home was Sopra Mare (“above the sea” in Italian).

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Rose Standish Nichols

Rose Standish Nichols (1872–1960) was a landscape architect, writer, suffragist, and peace activist. She collaborated with Villa Terrace architect David Adler (jump to his bio) on the design of the Sopra Mare garden and its water stairway, which were probably adapted from the layout of the sixteenth-century Villa Cicogna-Mozzoni garden that she described in her book, Italian Pleasure Gardens, published in 1928.

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The Villa Today

Today Villa Terrace and its Renaissance Garden are zoned as Milwaukee County parkland. Together, they serve the citizens of Milwaukee through the creation and promotion of local, regional and international visual and decorative arts, and a wide range of intergenerational community arts programming that includes theater, music, arts and crafts, creative writing, poetry, and gardening.

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A.O. Smith Corp.

The story of the A.O. Smith Corporation is one of experimentation, research, and innovation. From humble beginnings as a small machine shop located in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood, to its growth into a global corporation, A.O. Smith was one of the first to put significant resources into research and development, constantly seeking out new technologies and their practical application for new products and services.

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