Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Grand Theater

After being a tenant in another building since its founding, in 2015 the Milwaukee
Symphony Orchestra purchased the building that is now its new home. A diamond
in the rough best describes the original state of the new home of the world class
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Originally completed in 1931 as a Vaudevillian live
performance theater, the building has sat idle on Wisconsin Avenue and 2nd Street for almost 20 years. Although the building was showing its age, the interior frescos, nickel plated hardware, light fixtures, and Art Deco styling remain surprisingly intact. Most importantly, extensive acoustical testing confirmed that the performance space was ideal for live concert performances.

With GRAEF leading the MEP design team the facility underwent a $75 million
renovation that included a two-story addition at the northwest corner of Wisconsin
Avenue and Second Street. In order to convert the vaudevillian stage into one that
could accommodate the size of a symphony orchestra, the east wall of the building
(the back wall of the stage) was moved 30 feet east into the street, necessitating that
Second Street be converted to a one way road. All HVAC, electrical, and plumbing
systems were replaced in their entirety, except where historic tax credits were used.
These tax credits were used where visible elements were considered to be historic,
such as light fixtures, louver openings, and plumbing fixtures. In these cases, the
original fixtures were maintained and re-used.

Because the building sat empty for almost 20 years, it required extensive remodeling.
The building not only housed a performance space but also consisted of a 12-story
office tower constructed in the 1930’s and did not have air conditioning or an adequate electrical distribution system.

Additional opportunities presented by this unique project included the ability to work
with world class theatrical designers and acousticians. An anticipated fall 2020
opening was foiled by the Covid19 pandemic, yet this project has still become a jewel
in Milwaukee’s Westown Area. The original Warner Theater is once again a vibrant
performance venue in the heart of Milwaukee

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Project Data

$75 Million Project Cost

180,000 Square Feet

12 Stories

Historic Renovation


GRAEF Services

Mechanical Engineering
Electrical Engineering Plumbing/Fire Protection Engineering

MSO Contact

Milwaukee Facilities MEP Leader, Senior Mechanical Engineer

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