Kooky Cooky House
W63N641 Washington Avenue, Cedarburg, WI
The Kooky Cooky House is back this holiday season in magical downtown Cedarburg! Experience the wondrous gingerbread cookie machine that brought joy to Christmas shoppers at the Capital Court mall in Milwaukee throughout the 1960s and 70s.
Open now until Dec. 18
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Candy Cane Lane at Capitol Court mall
When we hear of Candy Cane Lane, we think of the neighborhood that illuminates the Christmas season every year with their holiday light displays in West Allis. But Milwaukee’s original Candy Cane Lane was found at the Capital Court mall in the 1960s and 1970s, where big toy blocks, giant wooden candy canes, and “Wisconsin’s largest Christmas tree” were an annual holiday destination. The tree was decorated with more than 10,000 lights and could be seen from a mile away.
It might as well have been the North Pole of Southeastern Wisconsin. Families came from miles around to shop at stores like Gimbels and Fields, feed the goats and monkeys at the petting zoo, warm their bellies with hot cocoa, see Santa, and grab the latest free holiday coloring books.
It was there that general manager Walter E. Kroenig and four clever carpenters built the Kooky Cooky House in 1960.
Boss Robot photographed for promotional materials
The Kooky Cooky House was an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that “baked” gingerbread man cookies through several whimsical stages, or departments, powered by vintage toys and gingerbread helpers.
“Santa’s Electronic Cookie Factory,” as it was advertised, was controlled by Boss Robot, a shiny metal automaton with a red nose who sat beside blinking panels of lights and pulled levers. Toy trucks shipped in all the raw ingredients, which were then transported through pipes to the Rolling Department, where boxing gloves kneaded the dough and rolling pins flattened it out.
Next, the dough passed through steam-powered cookie cutters and then onto a conveyor belt through the Decorating Department. There, an airplane engine ran a piano key that stamped the face and other details into the dough and carried it off into the old fashioned black stove to be baked.
The cookies in the machine weren’t actually edible – they were made of foam – but kids didn’t leave empty handed. On the way out, everyone got a free cookie from “Grandma.” More than 100,000 cookies were handed out every Christmas.
Santa hands out real cookies
When a roof was added to the mall in 1978, the steel frame of the giant Christmas tree didn’t fit inside, and much of Candy Cane Lane was retired. The Kooky Cooky House spent the mall’s final years in storage, where time took its toll. Things fell apart, pieces disappeared. Boss spent his retirement in the Capital Court breakroom where employees knocked the silver robot around and used him as target practice.
When the mall finally closed in 2001, the roof and walls of the chalet were all that remained. Milwaukee radio producer Gino Salomone rescued them and eventually relocated them to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2003, where he hoped it could be reconstructed and put on display. But the pieces were left outdoors and the elements took their toll.
What little remained of the Kooky Cooky House was unsalvageable.
Kooky Cooky House when it was recreated at Discovery World in 2014
Salomone and other Milwaukee area radio personalities produced a replica Kooky Cooky House in 2008 for a charity show at the Riverside Theater.
In 2012, pieces from the original house turned up and were used in a recreation in Hartford along with the Capitol Court Express Train and the original Kaliope.
In 2014, Salomone teamed up with Discovery World to painstakingly recreate the house as accurately as possible using archival films, photos and blueprints. 20,000 visitors came to Discovery World that holiday season to see the reborn Kooky Cooky House, and even more in the following years.
The robotic cookie cottage moved to the Mitchell Park Domes in 2017.
In 2021, Salomone brought the Kooky Cooky House to downtown Cedarburg where it resides near Santa’s Workshop.
Kooky Cooky House in Cedarburg for Christmas 2021