Innovative and Excellence: Milwaukee’s historic Soldiers Home earns National Preservation Award
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home and Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, along with project partner The Alexander Company, received a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation at PastForward, the National Trust’s annual conference on November 4.
Each year, the national award recognizes and celebrates “the best of the best” preservation projects across the country that have leveraged cutting-edge, innovative and impactful approaches to preservation. This is the highest national recognition bestowed upon a preservation project by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We feel incredibly honored to receive this award,” said Jeremy Ebersole, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance. “But our greatest honor comes from knowing veterans are once again living in the Milwaukee Soldiers Home District, breathing life back into buildings that were designed specifically for them. This is the power of preservation to truly make a difference for people today.”
The Milwaukee Soldiers Home National Historic Landmark District is the most intact remaining soldiers home in the country. In 2011, the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance successfully nominated the District to the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, kickstarting the comprehensive “Save the Soldiers Home” effort.
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.
“The National Preservation Awards are an inspiring showcase of how historic preservation continues to evolve as a powerful force that builds stronger communities throughout our country,” said Paul Edmondson, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This year’s PastForward theme is Lead the Change, and our award recipients truly are doing just that for particular places and for the national preservation movement. It is an honor to present a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award to Milwaukee Soldiers Home for the important work achieved in Milwaukee.”
Because of the 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.
The innovative partnership leveraged an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) Agreement between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The Alexander Company, and the Milwaukee Housing Authority to create a mutually beneficial partnership that revitalized the Milwaukee Soldiers Home and met a community need.
“This was a pioneering and impactful rehabilitation made possible by committed consultation, sustained public engagement, strong advocacy, and creative public-private partnerships,” said Ebersole. “We are proud of the role MPA has played to guide, support and increase awareness for the project and look forward to continuing our work as we pursue further rehabilitation of the District’s other threatened buildings.”
This year’s recipients were honored at the virtual National Preservation Awards ceremony hosted by television host and preservationist Bob Vila, who serves as a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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, The Governor’s Mansion, and the Soldiers Home 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.