Restoration of Milwaukee's Warner Grand Theatre to break ground

 
May 7, 2018
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is preparing to break ground on its renovation of the Warner Grand Theater and the construction of an adjacent lobby and reception building. The $80 million project is led by Milwaukee-based architecture firm Kahler Slater.

The Art Deco Warner Grand Theater, located in Downtown Milwaukee, was designed by Chicago-based firm Rapp & Rapp in 1930. The 2,400 seat theater is topped by a 12-story office tower with marble and bronze detailing. Similar to cities across the Rust Belt, Milwaukee is pushing forward with the preservation of historic structures, such as the The Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center, as tools for urban revival.

Restoring the theater entails the refinement of original detailing and the installation of modern features. The historic lobby and original ticket booth will be restored to their pre-1950 condition. According to Kahler Slater's CEO, George Meyer, existing Neo-Baroque finishes within the concert hall are in remarkably good condition, requiring minimal restorative work.

However, the project calls for an intense engineering procedure to move the theater's rear terracotta wall approximately 30 feet east to increase the stage's size. The Journal Sentinel notes that saving the eastern elevation is necessary to secure $8 million in historic tax credits from the state and federal governments.

Additionally, Kahler Slater will add new acoustical features behind historic details to transform the site into a first-class concert hall.

To make way for the new lobby and reception area, the MSO will demolish an adjacent two-story restaurant space dating from 1936, as reported by On Milwaukee. While the restaurant building was originally  a Moderne structure, past tenants such as Burger King and Taco Bell have wiped away that original detailing.

The addition will add contemporary amenities adjacent to the historic structure. The first floor will largely facilitate circulation, while the second floor will be used as a secondary event space by the MSO. A circular skylight, placed above a centrally placed spiral staircase, will illuminate the space.

Over the last decade, Kahler Slater has conducted a broad range of conservation projects in the Milwaukee area, including the restoration of the Richardsonian Romanesque Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance headquarters, designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman in 1886.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is hoping to open its new performance space in fall 2020, allowing it to move out of its current home, the Marcus Center of the Performing Arts.

The Architect's Newspaper
by Matthew Marani