By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 22, 2024 at 1:01 PM

Three years after the opening of a new veterans housing development inside iconic Old Main and other nearby buildings at the Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home Historic District (Soldiers Home), a plan has officially been announced for three more buildings on the verdant grounds of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

The 1881 Ward Memorial Theater, 1889 Soldiers Home Chapel, and 1868 Governor’s Mansion will be rehabbed to create community space and support services for veterans with partners including The Center for Veterans Issues, the Wisconsin Veterans Network, Journey to the Light Ministries and Feast of Crispian.

The chapel.

An RFP for the project was announced in 2018.

“We’re excited to be a part of national history here in Milwaukee,” said Eduardo M. Garza, Jr., President of The Center for Veterans Issues. “We’re focused on building and expanding our community involvement to provide additional resources and support to our Veteran community.”

The work will also help preserve these historic buildings designed by landmark architects Henry C. Koch (chapel and theater) and Edward Townsend Mix (mansion), who also designed Old Main and its familiar tower.

“Together with a wide array of partners, we are in the midst of accomplishing the seemingly impossible,” said Emma Rudd, Executive Director of Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. “After more than a decade of advocacy, MPA is thrilled to witness The Alexander Company and VA begin the next phase of work, with plans to restore three more iconic buildings for the service of our nation’s heroes.”

The adaptive reuse plan would preserve the historic uses of the 21,986-square-foot theater – which would serve as a cinema and entertainment venue for veterans as well as a site for conferences and lectures for VA staff – and the 7,316-square-foot chapel, which would be used a nondenominational worship space, a conference facility for training and mental health sessions, as well as an event venue for banquets, meetings and more.

Governor's Mansion
The Governor's Mansion. (PHOTO: Milwaukee VA)

The 7,488-square-foot Governor’s Mansion – built as a home to the director of the Soldier’s Home – will house offices for support service providers and a technology training center.

LIke the previous effort, this phase is being undertaken by a partnership between developer The Alexander Company is the developer and the nonprofit Center for Veterans Issues.

“I am immensely proud of The Alexander Company’s continued involvement in rehabilitating the Milwaukee Soldiers Home campus, and our opportunity to play a part in expanding supportive services tailored to those who have served our country,” said Joe Alexander, President of The Alexander Company.

“This project is close to our hearts and our commitment runs deep. When these three additional landmarks are complete, they’ll stand as beacons of respect, support and gratitude.”

Funding for the $24.6 million project come from a variety of sources, including State and Federal Historic Tax Credits, PACT ACT Funding, National Park Service Save America’s
Treasures Grants, New Markets Tax Credits and philanthropic funding.

The contractor on the project is JP Cullen. A partner architect has not yet been announced.

Construction is expected to begin in the second quarter of next year with an anticipated completion in the third quarter of 2026.

“We’re thrilled to be again working with The Alexander Company to bring these beautiful historic buildings back to life and restore them to their original intended purpose of serving our nation’s Veterans,” James D. McLain, Executive Director of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

“This public-private partnership through our enhanced used lease will only enhance our ability to provide world-class care to America’s heroes. The Milwaukee VA campus has long been a place where Veterans can find community, and we look forward to returning the Chapel, Ward Theater, and Governor’s Mansion to their rightful places as centerpieces of that community.”

Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for more about this project.

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.