Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Why We Should Move the War Memorial

Veterans are poorly served there; the War Memorial and MacArthur statue should both move to west-side Veterans Center campus.

By - Oct 11th, 2013 02:48 pm
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Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. Photo by Richie Diesterheft.

Milwaukee County War Memorial Center. Photo by Richie Diesterheft.

Atty. Chas Mulcahy, a former Milwaukee County Supervisor and founder of the World Trade Center Wisconsin, who chaired the 1979 dedication of the statue of Douglas MacArthur at the courthouse, is spearheading efforts to relocate it to the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center.

It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. The statue and the War Memorial Center should both move.

Right now the statue is little-seen in the city-owned MacArthur Square, perhaps the most desolate place in all downtown, and the subject of many proposals for redevelopment over the years.

The War Memorial might seem a good location for an effigy of one of the greatest generals in history. Unfortunately, the county-owned War Memorial Center is in a lousy location for a War Memorial Center, as recent — make that continual — tensions between it and its tenant the Milwaukee Art Museum have made clear.

The War Memorial was envisioned, in 1947, as three separate lakefront facilities:  “a fitting war memorial center, a visual arts center and a performing arts center.”

By the time the Eero Saarinen building opened in 1957, the visual arts center (now the Milwaukee Art Museum) and the “fitting war memorial center” were merged into one structure, with plans for the performing arts center deferred.

Since then the art museum has had two major additions, with a third contemplated, while veterans activities there have ground to a standstill. They really never amounted to much in the first place. As Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy has reported, just one of the 15 War Memorial board members is a veteran’s representative, and veterans activities account for just 20 percent of the War Memorial Center’s facility rentals and 11 percent of the office space used there. The War Memorial corporation’s two most recent tax returns show an annual deficit of over $200,000 on revenues of over $3 million.

As of Friday, October 11th, 2013, the building’s tenants included the International Association for Orthodontics, the American Association of Dental Editors, Pentvia Partners (“Merger and Acquisition Advisers for the Lower Middle Market”), the aforementioned World Trade Center Wisconsin, Marjory S. Stewart Esq. (an Intellectual Property attorney) and the Milwaukee Church of Christ.

That’s right. County taxpayers are subsidizing the rent of a religious congregation in a publicly-owned facility.

The War Memorial Center also makes a rather shabby home for veterans, as it is in need of substantial repairs. A county audit in 2011 called for “new strategies” for the War Memorial, contrasting the success of the Art Museum with the moribund state of the veterans groups.

The Chipstone Foundation, which is affiliated with the art museum, is an art-affiliated tenant, as is the corporate office of the Art Museum. Perhaps the building’s future lies in providing classroom space for arts groups like Chipstone, and not for veterans groups.

The War Memorial Center is poorly located to actively help veterans. In fact it is now advertised mostly as a destination for weddings and corporate events. It is not unusual to find a beer tapper incongruously right next to the Eternal Flame, lit in honor of veterans.  Its most visible public function is as the home of the Tuesday luncheons of the Rotary Club, which also has its corporate offices there.

So where should MacArthur and the War Memorial go?

County Executive Chris Abele has an idea. “The War Memorial could go to the Veteran’s Center,” he said, leaving the building available for other uses.

This makes considerable sense. The Milwaukee Veterans Center includes dozens of programs for veterans and their families. (The War Memorial has offered some of its vacant space to house some of these programs while the Federal government is shut down.)

The Veterans Center is centrally located on a large campus dedicated to the needs of veterans, and already has bronze general Erastus B. Wolcott to keep MacArthur company.

Once divested of the veterans, the County could possibly divest itself of the building as well by selling it to the art museum, or maybe even Chipstone, where the real money is.

Categories: Plenty of Horne

6 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Why We Should Move the War Memorial”

  1. Keith Schueller says:

    This is ridiculous. The Saarinen piece would still be a masterpiece if maintained properly. The War Memorial was the pride of the city for a long time.

    There’s an understated elegance of the strength to cantilever the whole building off of mostly the four corner columns. Especially contrasted with the outward extravagance of the MAM.

    We should be welcoming our veterans to prime lakefront real estate, not sending them to 35th and Wisconsin or the VA.

  2. Joe says:

    While I don’t the what location The War Memorial center should be at, I, as a Milwaukee transplant of 20 years, have always found it to be an awkward location on the lake front. I have attended events at Memorial and been there for other reasons, but never have I gotten a true sense of it’s name as a memorial. Unfortunately the additions to the art museum have taken away from the ru cantilevered effect the building originally intended. (http://portalwisconsin.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/war-memorial.jpg) leaving it a strangely perched building with no immediate impact as a memorial. The building should be updated as a true memorial or move on in my opinion.

  3. David Ciepluch says:

    I stopped by the War Memorial a few weeks ago to take a photo of my Uncle Alvin’s name etched in the granite. There were tables stacked behind the pool area as if this was a back closet area. Plus the granite has not been polished or cleaned in a long time. I know funding is in the works but this is a simple routine upkeep item. The War Memorial was a show piece of Milwaukee in the past and still could be that place.

  4. I have mixed feelings about this facility. The Kahler addition essentially destroyed the essence and majesty of the Saarinen original…a real loss to Milwaukee and the Lakefront as far as I am concerned. But the center belongs where it is partly because of historical precedent, partly because it belongs on a prominent spot on the lake, and partly because it belongs near veterans park. But yes, it needs work which hopefully will be accomplished very soon…and yes it is isolated from the downtown proper…if the Couture and Hoan ramps project open the lakefront up to public use…that issue may go away! But once again someone should ask the veterans what they would prefer.

    btw: wasn’t the Performing Arts Center originally a war memorial building too?

  5. David Ciepluch says:

    I think veterans and other causes are often used as the focal point to raise funds and interest in a project. Then the incoming generations lack the knowledge or interest in what the historical monument and markers mean. I had been visiting the War Memorial since I was a kid on a bike in the 50s and my father told me about it. Every time we passed through on our bikes, I would proudly show my friends.

  6. SFScott says:

    Boy, this is a tough one. From the crazy ownership of the various buildings down there to the needed maintenance to the idea of moving the War Memorial Center from its historic, prime spot on the lakefront to somewhere less prominent. That last part is what has been sticking with me. We as a society already marginalize veterans. The federal budget to care for veterans who need medical, psychological or financial help is already woefully underfunded. And, the outright denial by the government of the existence postwar traumas and poisoning is shameful. Now were gonna take a prominent memorial to their sacrifice and honor and move it to the VA grounds?

    On the other hand, the War Memorial has not aged well. It suffers from the facts that it is not among Saarinen’s best regarded works and has been left behind by other lakefront development. And, frankly, there is no there there. Here in San Francisco where I currently live, we have the War Memorial Opera House and the Marine’s Memorial Theater giving reason for thousands of people every year to visit and reflect upon–at very least while entering the buildings–the service of those who have come before us. Milwaukee’s War Memorial offers opportunity for so much less. It is on top of but in no way integrated into the MAM.

    So, after a weekend of consideration, I’m resigned to the likelihood that a move to the VA may we’ll be the best path forward. But I would add one additional component–in its place, somewhere just a bit north in a Veterans Park, commission a truly iconic, striking and sublime memorial to honor our veterans.

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