The Save the Soldiers HomeProject is a local initiative and partnership between the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Inc. (MPA) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) to create awareness, rouse interest and build public support at the local level for the restoration and reuse of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Historic District. The two organizations have been working closely for several years, but the momentum for the project was bolstered following the roof collapse at the rear wing of Old Main in February of 2010.
Subsequently, MPA nominated the Soldiers Home to be listed on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, a nomination it received in the summer of 2011. The same year, the National Park Service (NPS) designated the Milwaukee Soldiers Home a National Historic Landmark, the highest honor the NPS can bestow on places of national significance. In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Milwaukee Soldiers Home a NationalTreasure.
The effort leveraged grassroots advocacy and engagement and key preservation tools such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to bring together local, state, and national preservation groups, veterans and related organizations to encourage action to return some of the District’s most threatened historic buildings to the service of veterans. Thanks to this effort, in 2016, a team led by The Alexander Company and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee was chosen by the Department of Veterans Affairs to rehabilitate a number of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home District’s historic buildings, including the iconic Old Main, Administration Building, Catholic Chaplain's Quarters, and three duplexes. As of March 2021, these historic buildings now serve as permanent supportive housing for veterans and their families at risk of homelessness, serving as proof positive that strategic partnerships, visionary leadership, and creative funding cannot just save buildings, but tackle homelessness, ignite a community, and serve as a national model as well.
Building on the success of this award-winning effort, MPA continues to advocate for the continued revitalization of other key parts of the Soldiers Home campus. Several key buildings, including Ward Memorial Theater, Governor’s Mansion, and Chapel remain unused and deteriorating. MPA is currently encouraging the VA to pursue a request for proposals seeking a developer to rehabilitate these three notable, vacant historic buildings, as it did with Old Main.
Locally: As the local partner in this collaborative, Milwaukee Preservation Alliance understands the significance of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home to veterans as well as the Milwaukee community. Accordingly, MPA and the National Trust for Historic Preservation organized the Community Advisory Council to communicate the work that is going on behind the scenes and solicit feedback from community members and stakeholders and accurately represent the Milwaukee community. The CAC includes members from veteran groups, preservation organizations, representatives of neighborhood associations and civic and government leaders.
Community Support: MPA continues to build awareness of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home and its value to Milwaukee, to Wisconsin and to the nation. The community is a part of the solution. You can help this project in various ways—visit the Save the Soldiers Home website, share your story, sign up for email updates, and download the new Milwaukee Soldiers Home audio walking tour app. Make the connection between the history and the experience; visit the Soldiers Home—reflect on what it means to you—and share that story with others!
Wayfinding Project: Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, launched the Wayfinding and Awareness Campaign to fund signage that will identify the Milwaukee Soldiers Home and describe the importance of the historic district. Thanks to a community that is passionate about the Soldiers Home and its restoration in service to veterans, we have been able to reach our fundraising goal of $30,000!