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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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It's only going to get more and more expensive to fix up the War Memorial Center.
It's only going to get more and more expensive to fix up the War Memorial Center.

War Memorial Center needs and deserves TLC

Even though people have accused me of being one, I am normally not in favor of the preservation of relics.

I am in favor of progress and generally speaking I think that Milwaukee has done a good job of preserving our history while not standing in the way of development of timely and modern facilities.

I am, however, very concerned about one of our defining architectural gems – The War Memorial Center.

A recent audit conducted for the County Board showed that millions of dollars in repairs were needed just to fix things that needed fixing. Anyone touring the building can see the need for fixes, but there are also questions about the commitment we have to allow the building to flourish.

The building was designed by the Eero Saarinen, an architect with a huge worldwide reputation (he designed St. Louis' Gateway Arch and the landmark TWA terminal at New York's JFK Airport), much like that of Santiago Calatrava, who designed the marvelous building adjacent to the war memorial.

The facility, which was intended to honor veterans and those who died in World War II, was also expected to be a major visual arts center. The Milwaukee Art Institute and Layton Art Gallery merged to form the Milwaukee Art Center and the Milwaukee Art Museum opened its doors in 1957.

In a way I can understand the neglect of the War Memorial. It's as if there are two sisters. One is young and vibrant and enjoys universal acclaim, while the other is old and stodgy and is an afterthought. The Calatrava deserves all the accolades, but the War Memorial is a part of the architecture that defines Milwaukee.

I know these are tough economic times and politicians, like the County Executive, are especially leery of anything that even smells like a tax, but if we don't spend the $5-6 million it would take now it will become $10 pretty soon.

This building is worth saving so it must also be worth fixing up.

Talkbacks

TerDickison | Nov. 4, 2011 at 2:09 p.m. (report)

I agree on your take about the War Memorial. I moved to Milwaukee from the plains of Kansas when I was 8 and I remember that the War Memorial along with the Calling (the orange sculpture at the beginning of Wisconsin Ave) were the two structures besides the Domes that I distinctly remember being awed by as a kid. They were so unlike anything I had ever seen in my young life on a Kansas farm and gave me the notion that I was now living in a city that was operating in the big leagues. I had no idea at the time that it was designed by Saarinen or would have even cared. Now, though, I very much care because Milwaukee is fast gaining a reputation for taking chances with our civil art works (the Quadracci Pavilion being the most glaring example) and I'd like to see that reputation grow.

I also care because as an Army veteran, it warms my heart that we have a World War II memorial and did have one long before many other cities. Washington, D.C. itself didn't even have one until 2004. This structure is one of the buildings that makes Milwaukee special. We should be taking care of it both in terms of architectural history and in terms of respecting people like both of my grandfathers who fought during the war.

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