Milwaukee School of Engineering cut the ribbon on its new Patricia E. Kern Conservatory of Music on Monday. We went inside the former 1905 duplex at 308 E. Juneau Ave., to check out the new home for the school's music programs.
Milwaukee School of Engineering announced in February that it would begin convert the 1905 Arts & Crafts duplex (with Queen Anne elements), which had previously been privately owned and rented, typically to MSOE students.
The house, designed by architect Carl Ringer, was purchased by MSOE in December 2021 for $600,300.
You can read more about the architect here.
The duplex has long been surrounded by MSOE-owned properties.
The City of Milwaukee’s records say the home was built in 1888, but the Wisconsin Historical Society places construction in 1905.
The house appears on the 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, but is absent from the 1894 map. Classified ads advertising rooms for rent in both sides of the duplex began to appear in Milwaukee newspapers in January 1906.
Funds for the property and renovation come from donations by “alumni and friends,” according to the MSOE announcement.
Ramlow/Stein Architecture + Interiors was the architect on the conversion project.
The school has a number of music ensembles, including a Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble, String Orchestra, Concert Choir, Pep Band and Jazz Combo.
“As one of the nation’s premier technical universities, MSOE draws students from around the world with increasingly diverse interests,” said Seandra Mitchell, MSOE vice president of student affairs and campus inclusion, in the February announcement.
“Along with our expanded athletics programs, campus life and co-curricular offerings, music and performing arts top the list of interests that students want to pursue as part of their collegiate experience.”
The building has been named in honor of Dr. Patricia Kern, who was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from MSOE in 2000.
She co-founded the Kern Family Foundation in 1998 with her husband Dr. Robert Kern after selling Generac Power Systems, which they founded in 1959.
The Kern name is also carried by the school’s athletic center, around the corner on Broadway. You can read about Santiago Calatrava's unbuilt design for that project here.
“The Patricia E. Kern Conservatory of Music will be home to MSOE’s music programs, giving students ample space to pursue their musical passion, cultivate their creativity, and rehearse with their peers,” said Dr. John Walz, MSOE president.
“We are grateful for the support of our university community in making this dream a reality for our students, particularly our alumni and friends who have made this beautiful new student-focused space possible.”
MSOE students earn one credit for participating in the elective concert band, jazz ensemble, string orchestra and concert choir, which also offer a non-credit option. Pep band and jazz combo are non-credit courses only.
The music department does not currently have a permanent home on campus. Classes and rehearsals have been held in different spots on campus, while performances typically are staged at the nearby Marcus Center for Performing Arts.
“The Kern Conservatory is a space for our 100-plus students in MSOE’s Music Program," said Alexa Deacon, director of campus life. "We are excited to have this new space on campus for them.
"The students are thrilled to have a dedicated space to pursue their musical passion, rehearse with ensembles, and explore creative outlets.”
When I visited this week, most of the furniture for the spaces had not yet arrived, nor had the equipment for the future recording studio.
But, on full view were some of the original details that survive from the original house, including built-in dining room buffet and decorative vent grates. Each of the first two floors has a tiled fireplaces with a mirror above and flanking columns.
The entire house has been renovated and the rooms are bright and simple, though surely they'll pop a little more once the permanent furniture arrives.
In the meantime, there are some basic chairs for students to use in the practice rooms, which also have music stands.
Two of the practice spaces have upright pianos and one, on the top floor, with nice views of the part of the Downtown skyline, has a drum set.
The house has a lovely covered second-floor balcony, with balustrades and arched openings, but it's not clear whether or not students will have access to that.
The building, which also has music department offices, has a staircase at the back with exposed cream city brick.
Here are some photos of the interior:
Future recording studio
Third floor window
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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.