The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra began evaluating the Warner Grand Theater as a concert hall in 2000, and around that time he worked with Kahler Slater to determine if the historic building was suitable for orchestral performances. To this end, they removed the first seven rows of seats at the front of the theater to build a wooden platform stage and secretly enlisted the orchestra to validate the acoustic quality of the space. The results were positive, but the dot-com bubble and the collapse of the housing market put these plans on the back burner.
In 2016, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra announced plans to move into the space and build a new visitor center adjacent to it. Work began two years later. For the design team and the client, the main goal was to increase accessibility and contemporary amenities throughout the theater; elevators have been inserted into the structure and new bars and bathrooms have been added to the symphony hall. Many of the infrastructure elements are hidden within the new glass-enclosed reception pavilion, which, in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s drive to establish a more engaged relationship with the public, will host a number of scheduled and community events. .
“Setting up the acoustics in the theater was a great piece, and we have to thank our acoustician, Akustiks, who provided clear parameters and insight into how we could make this historic theater work,” said Christopher Ludwig , associate director at Kahler Couvreur. “We had to design the volume of the stage to project the right amount of sound pressure from the orchestra, and there are areas of temperament that can, for example, calm the space by deploying various more absorbent surfaces. “
Although the previous owner kept the building in good repair, there were several aspects of the interior that needed work. Architectural art expert Conrad Schmitt Studios – the firm also managed the restoration of the West Baden Springs Hotel and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theater – was engaged from the early stages of the project to lead the restoration. Most of the time, the job was to deal with the water seepage, damage and mold that resulted from it, as well as removing the dirt (decades of cigarette smoke didn’t help). Particular attention has been paid to the murals that line the symphony hall and the large stairwell.
“For the murals, restorers tested small areas of each to identify the gentlest and most effective ways to remove years of dirt and grime,” notes Eileen Grogan, director of historic preservation at Conrad Schmitt. “It was so exciting to see the brilliant colors emerge as the paint was cleaned up, and the final steps included the application of a reversible barrier varnish, a fill paint in the areas of loss and a varnish. final to protect the surface of preserved paints. “Similar care was applied to damaged areas beyond repair, and the team developed creative solutions that match the original materials and manufacturing techniques.
The conversion of the theater into a symphony hall also required the construction of a new stage to accommodate the orchestra and the back room infrastructure. However, blowing up one of the elevations would have compromised the project’s historic $ 12 million in tax credits. Instead, contractor CD Smith moved the east-facing 625 ton elevation 35 feet using four hydraulic jacks and a unified hydraulic lifting machine, to make way for a new step surrounded by concrete infill to the north and south.
The symphony began hosting virtual performances of their new digs in February and is now set to open to the public later this month. “One of our first events on September 26 will be open to the public,” concludes Erin Kogler, communications director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. “It’s important for us to be an integral part of the community, and we look forward to being a bigger catalyst in the Westown neighborhood.”