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360° Inside Old Main: A special VR walkthrough as the Soldiers Home prepares for revitalization

Fundraising efforts are still underway to “Save the Soldiers Home,” but the project is in the final stretch and anticipates reaching its financial goal in December 2018.

More than 150 years after the women of the West Side Soldiers Aid Society raised funds give Civil War veterans a safe place to heal, local citizens and area organizations have been working together to preserve the result of that effort, the historic Solders Home.

“An updated construction timeline has been set where all buildings are condensed into one phase, with construction commencing in the first quarter of 2019, and anticipated completion in the third quarter of 2020,” said Joe Alexander, President of The Alexander Company.

After years of deterioration, Old Main and other buildings on the Milwaukee VA Medical Center’s campus have been left vacant and endangered. Additionally, the number of local veterans who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness remains unacceptable. In 2017, the Milwaukee VA helped find permanent housing for more than 300 homeless veterans, and it continues the mission to end veteran homelessness in the area.

“Wisconsin has always looked out for its veterans since the Civil War, which is why the modern-day Department of Veterans Affairs traces its roots back to Milwaukee when Old Main first opened in 1869,” said Gary Kunich, Spokesperson For the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. “We used it for medical care through 1989, and now it will come full circle, and once again help those veterans who need it most with homeless housing and outreach services.”

The funding efforts continue in order to “Save the Soldiers Home,” which will transform the dilapidated facility and provide affordable housing for veterans and their families, as well as for low-income families.

The “Every Hero Deserves a Home” Campaign, for example, will help fund an aspect of the rehabilitation project – the Women’s Wing of Old Main. The space will specifically serve homeless and at risk female veterans and their children. It will be a safe and secure space for these women to live and to thrive.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) has been a major partner with the Alexander Company to help fund the restoration project, by offering Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Most of the work will be at Old Main, the original Soldiers Home that initially housed Civil War veterans. For the next 120 years it continued as a home for generations of veterans from all the following wars it closed in 1989.

Located north of the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center on West National Avenue, the building will have 80 one-bedroom apartments for veterans once the rehabilitation is complete.

“Throughout the planning process we continue to be in awe of the Soldiers Home grounds and what they mean to our veterans and community. We’re still quite proud to have been chosen to rehabilitate and restore these six buildings to their original purpose – the service of veterans,” added Alexander.

In the 1860s, a group of extraordinary women who made up the West Side Soldiers Aid Society raised more than $110,000 – a staggering amount of money at the time – to create a permanent place to care for injured and disabled returning Civil War Veterans. Their commitment, in conjunction with legislation signed by Abraham Lincoln, made the Milwaukee Soldiers Home a reality. This was the beginning of veteran care in America.

The National Park Service declared the Soldiers Home grounds a national historic landmark in 2011. The buildings are also listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation for being among the most endangered historic places. The Milwaukee Soldiers Home is one of the nation’s three original Soldiers Homes.

During the summer, the Milwaukee Independent was granted special access to document the pre-renovation condition of Old Main using multiple formats: traditional pictures, 360° VR photography, and by drone footage. This editorial feature blends those visual arrangements to provide an immersive look for the Milwaukee public.

About The Author

Lee Matz

Former Creative Director and Photojournalist for the Milwaukee Business Journal, Lee brings his years of international experience as an award-winning foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe. Lee proudly uses MCTS as the exclusive mode of transportation for covering all his news reports.

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Original images published on this news platform are editorial content and the exclusive property of the Milwaukee Independent. All usage is forbidden.

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