Wisconsin Carpenters Build New and Preserve History
Since its inception in 1959, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has provided diverse audiences with concert performances and nationally recognized education and community outreach programs. In 2020, MSO will have a new home in the renovated and historic 1931 Warner Grand Theater, now named the Bradley Symphony Center.
The historic movie palace became MSO’s new home in 2017, but full-time residency waits until restoration and construction are completed this year. With help from the hired architectural firm Kahler Slater, and union contractors CD Smith, Common Links Construction, and PCI Austadt, the Symphony Center will boast three new additions while keeping historical integrity, a requirement of its awarded historical tax credits.
Nate Peterson, CD Smith Superintendent, and member of Carpenters Local 314, has worked on this project from the beginning. “This has definitely been the most challenging project of my career so far,” stated Peterson. “The restoration of all the unique finishes and the addition of modern elements have been a challenge this work force has not only overcome but can be proud of.”
Every morning starts with a jobsite safety check. “When this project first started, there was a large amount of demolition that needed to be completed before the work could begin. It made things extremely dangerous in the beginning, so we have consistently stressed safety,” said Superintendent Peterson.
With historical tax credits at stake, both the architect and contractors were vigilant about the standards and restrictions for the build. Everything in the original Warner Grand Theater, including a 12-story tower, needed to be preserved. From plaster walls to light fixtures, old railings to trim and woodwork, all elements had to be either restored or replicated if restoration was not possible.
“These historic requirements extended the length of the project, it made it much more complicated,” stated Peterson. “Not only did we have to worry about the historic aspects, but we also had new additions which were modern with completely different finishes.”
The south addition, called the Pavilion, hosts new amenities while highlighting the movie palace’s original features. This pre-function space allows for larger gatherings with access to bars, skylights, and reception rooms. The addition, located on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Second Street, will provide a timeless and flexible presence that will be able to host a variety of events.
The east addition extended the depth of the original stage to accommodate the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s performing needs. “Back in the day, it was a performing arts stage. To increase the depth for the Orchestra, we took the east wall, which was a part of the historical tax credits, and moved it out onto new foundation. We had a company come in from Washington to help with bracing it and cutting it free so we could move it about 30-feet,” recalled
Peterson. In total, the east wall extension took four months to achieve.
The north addition houses mechanical equipment that is necessary for a more modern building, including spring-mounted brackets to keep heating ducts from rattling. This area is now fully enclosed.
Other building changes include more restrooms, additional aisles that allow for less disruptive audience movement and seating, along with expanded parking.
As an important part of Milwaukee’s community and Wisconsin at large, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new, historic home is a passion project for all those involved and for all those who will benefit. More than fifty North Central States carpenters worked on site towards this improvement to the city’s landscape.
CD Smith Carpenter Tim Johnson, 15-year member of Local 731, proudly stated, “This is one of the coolest projects I’ve ever been on in my life. I’ve been here since the beginning of the project, preserving the historic woodwork and reinstalling now that finishes are complete. I can’t wait to bring my family and show them all that’s been done.”
Juan Villanueva of Local 344 and 14-year member is a foreman for Common Links Construction based in Brookfield, WI and has worked hard with an eye on the finished product. “This has been a once in a lifetime project with totally unique architecture. Seeing the historic artwork and old-world craftsmanship inspires me to live up to the craftsmen before me. It’s a must see and I look forward to showing my family and friends.”
Due to be completed in January, the new $90,000,000 Bradley Symphony Center will showcase the old and the new, providing the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with the space and features to continue with its threefold purpose: to comfort, educate, entertain and exhilarate the human soul with cultural significance, relevance and artistic challenge; to embrace, preserve, and foster its musical heritage; and to enhance the vibrancy of Wisconsin communities and beyond.