Last updated on August 16th, 2019 at 10:32 am
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Warner Grand Theatre restoration project reached a major construction milestone Tuesday morning, when crews began moving the historic theater’s 650-ton rear wall back into a downtown Milwaukee street.
The 86-by-100-foot wall will be shifted back to the east by 35 feet, into Second Street, to accommodate a larger stage inside the theater. At earliest, it is expected to take five hours to move the wall that distance, but the construction schedule allows for as long as three days, said Cory Henschel, project executive at C.D. Smith Construction Inc.
The relocation of the wall, which has a decorative terracotta exterior, was required by the National Parks Service for the project to receive historic tax credits.
“We have to make the stage bigger somehow,” said Mark Niehaus, president and executive director of MSO. “Were we to push the stage forward into the hall, it would mess up the sight lines and ruin all the seats; the only other direction is to go back into Second Street … Once we’re done moving it, it will actually be in better shape than before we started.”
The wall move required four hydraulic rams, powered by a unified hydraulic jacking machine linked together in unified pressure. C.D. Smith Construction Inc. is the general contractor for the project. Kahler Slater is the architect. International Chimney Corp. and Expert House Movers were subcontracted for the wall move.
“It’s unique,” Henschel said. “I can’t say I’ll ever see this again in my career.”
The project, which will transform the Warner Grand into the “Milwaukee Symphony Center,” involves renovating the 88-year-old theater, lobby and concourses, along with the building’s 12-story office tower. Work is on schedule, with completion expected for September 2020, Niehaus said.
Fundraising is also progressing, with MSO having raised $116 million to date toward its $139 million campaign goal. The goal includes costs for the building redevelopment project, as well as building up the organization’s endowment.
“It’s going very well; we’re doing a good job,” Niehaus said.
MSO purchased the building in December 2017 and broke ground on the restoration project in June 2018. The theater, which opened in 1931, has been closed since 1995.
The MSO’s current home is Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee.