By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 25, 2021 at 9:08 AM

After years of anticipation and hard work, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's transformation of the old Warner Grand Theater, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave., into its new Bradley Symphony Center is now complete.

We went inside for a look this week and the results are stunning: a truly modern, state-of-the-art facility in a gorgeous, historic building.

"A lot of people think you go into this old building and clean it and start playing music," says MSO Director of Communications Erin Kogler. "That’s not at all what we did here."

Everything from the restrooms to the lighting to the acoustic treatments to the seats to the wiring has been upgraded, effectively turning a 1931 building into a 2021 one.

The entirely new HVAC system – itself state of the art – sits on springs to prevent vibration and sound from reaching musicians and listeners.

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Milwaukee the MSO added a plasma air bipolar ionization system that deactivates virus particles to improve indoor air quality.

Then there's the new construction portion of the project – designed by Kahler Slater and including a stunning spiral staircase and a skylight with a view of the Richard Haas mural on the building exterior – and the gargantuan task of moving one of the theater's walls 35 feet.

"Some orchestras have to build a whole new building to get a state-of-the-art concert hall," says Kogler. "We were able to do it in a beautiful and historic building."

As I wrote in November, when I last visited, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s transformation of the former Warner Grand Theater into its new concert hall and headquarters has been a long haul.

Six years after the Warner Theater closed in 1995, the MSO conducted acoustical tests of the theater, hoping to purchase it.

That dream finally became realty when the MSO bought the art deco movie palace and began restoring and renovating it in June 2018.

Though the project hit some snags along the way, most notably a basement flood, the venue is now complete, other than some small punch-list items, and we went back inside during a two-week break in MSO rehearsals – which began on the stage the first week of February – to see the concert hall in all its glory.

Donors and others will be invited in for a socially distanced VIP All Access Members performance on April 10.

Those events will continue for the remainder of the season with extremely limited audiences of subscribers, at a capacity that Kogler says will be below the maximum set by state and city health restrictions.

The MSO is also now selling single concert tickets for its Virtual Season. Visit the website for details.

You can read some history of the theater in this 2016 Urban Spelunking article.

Here's a peek inside the new Bradley Symphony Center:

Main lobby


Main staircase


The auditorium


View from the stage gallery


Auditorium lobby


Connection between new and old buildings


Stunning staircase


Musicians' wall


Upstairs in the new building


Box office


Sound booth


Lower level historical display


Under the Balcony Bar


Restored artwork in the auditorium


Dressing room


Green room


Founders Room VIP lounge



Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.