By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 12, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Repairs will finally begin on a number of historic buildings on the sprawling grounds of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Historic District -- which I featured in a spelunking story last year -- The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) announced today.

Milwaukee VA Medical Center (VAMC) will soon begin work on Henry Koch's gorgeous 1881 Ward Theater (Building 41), the Old Hospital Building (Building 6) and the Barracks Buildings (Buildings 5 and 7). 

The entire complex has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

"These repairs are much-needed improvements in the district and demonstrate important progress," said Genell Scheurell, senior field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement.

"We also look forward to continuing to work with the VA to address the critical need for a long-term solution that will return the district’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans."

Unfortunately, repairs on three of the site's most recognizable buildings, Edward Townsend Mix's towering 1869 Old Main (Building 2) -- which is easily spotted from I-94 and from Miller Park -- the Power Plant (Building 45) and Koch's shingle-style 1889 non-denominational chapel (Building 12) remain on deferment as funds for the necessary fixes are sought.

These structures are in urgent need of repairs. For example, a major roof collapse at Old Main that led to the vacating of the building was fixed two years ago, but other remaining gaps are allowing nature to do further damage.

Fences continue to surround Old Main and the chapel, which on the outside at least, appears to be in fairly rough shape.

"Over the past few years, the VA has made great strides toward making changes that will positively impact the future of the Soldiers Home District," said Scheurell. "However, the sense of urgency remains. The VA must receive the necessary funding to protect this National Historic Landmark District."

Meanwhile, the vacant Ward Theater will get a new roof and repairs to its wooden porch and exterior masonry. 

The Old Hospital -- built in 1879 and later used as a barracks and currently housing VA offices -- will be re-roofed, its wood re-painted, and windows and doors repaired.

Also of note is the fact that the building's distinctive brick chimney will be rebuilt and decorative wrought-iron cresting repaired and, as necessary, replaced with newly fabricated parts.

The Barracks Buildings will be tuckpointed and painted, its gutters and downspouts repaired, its extensive porches repaired and painted, and shingles replaced as needed. These buildings, too, house VA offices.

"We are excited about the work being done on many of the District’s buildings," said Dawn McCarthy, president of the MPA Board of Directors. "Visitors will see a noticeable difference in the appearance of some of these historic buildings."

Info on a free downloadable walking tour of the site is here.

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 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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.