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.
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 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.