Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

Inside the Bradley Symphony Center

Contractors working diligently to transform former movie palace into modern music hall with Art Deco style.

By - Feb 14th, 2020 04:02 pm
The future Allen-Bradley Hall inside the former Warner Grand Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The future Allen-Bradley Hall inside the former Warner Grand Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra‘s $89 million project to transform the former Warner Grand Theatre into a music hall now has a name: the Bradley Symphony Center.

Intended to honor the late Peg Bradley (1894-1978), the complex’s name comes as a result of over $52 million in donations from her grandson David  and his wife Julia Uihlein, her granddaughter Lynde Uihlein, her late daughter’s namesake Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Harry and Peg Bradley married in 1926.

The hall itself will be known as Allen-Bradley Hall, a name intended to honor the thousands of people that worked to build the Allen-Bradley Company, including the company’s former touring orchestra. The Bradley family sold the company to Rockwell Automation in 1985, funding the Bradley Foundation with the proceeds. The foundation’s $20 million gift to support the new center is the largest gift in its history said foundation president Rick Graber.

Announcing the name Thursday afternoon in a brief press conference inside the construction site, David Uihlein said the new complex will secure the future of the symphony, restore a movie palace from 1930 and revitalize an important part of W. Wisconsin Ave. MSO President Mark Niehaus called it a “triple threat” during the June 2018 groundbreaking event, and said it was ideally suited for support from David and Julia Uihlein.

Calling it a “bargain” in an interview with Urban Milwaukee, Uihlein, a retired architect, said, “It’s maybe the finest Art Deco building in the city.” Similar venues in other cities, like the $413 million Kauffman Center in Kansas City, have cost hundreds of millions. Niehaus and Uihlein both spoke of the anticipated synergy with the development of The Avenue in the former Grand Avenue Mall, including the food hall and large parking garage.

The doors will open to the public in late September 2020 as part of Doors Open Milwaukee. The first scheduled subscriber show is in October.

“Don’t anyone get the idea that we are done raising money,” said Uihlein. “We still have a long ways to go.” Niehaus said the organization has raised $129 million of its now $140 million goal. In addition to funding the new center, the capital campaign will retire the organization’s debt and establish an endowment.

The overarching reason for moving out of the Marcus Center is for the symphony to control its calendar in a move towards longterm financial stability. MSO President Mark Niehaus, who played his trumpet on the theater’s stage in the original sound test over a decade ago, said the symphony intends to perform 130 times a year in the new venue. The hall won’t sit dark on other days, the Pabst Theater Group and other organizations will book shows in Allen-Bradley Hall.

The Bradley family has its name on a number of Milwaukee landmarks. The most well-known, until last year, was the Bradley Center arena now demolished in favor of Fiserv Forum. Uihlein Hall, the current home of the MSO at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, also reflects the family’s legacy, as does the complex’s Bradley Pavilion and Vogel Hall. The family has made a number of substantial gifts to the Milwaukee Art Museum and also created the Lynden Sculpture Garden from its onetime home.

Construction Progress

Even including expending of over $1 million to relocate a wall weighing over 600 tons 35 feet into N. 2nd St. (to accommodate a larger stage), the project is “on time and on budget” said Niehaus.

Design on the project is being led by Kahler Slater. General contracting is led by CD Smith.

Niehaus detailed how workers have spent much of the past months atop scaffolding repairing and cleaning the ornamentation and painting on the theater’s ceiling and walls. A media tour after the press conference allowed members of the press to touch the ceiling.

A temporary wall dividing the historic theater from the new stage addition will be removed in the coming two months and the scaffolding will come down.

But work is still a long way from completion. Niehaus said the organization has no plans currently to open the space during the Democratic National Convention.

The steel frame of a new, two-story glass building along W. Wisconsin Ave. is now clearly visible. A bar, gathering space and interactive wall detailing the musicians will fill the first floor, while a large spiral staircase will connect guests to an atrium space on the second floor capable of seating 300.

Despite being a new addition to the complex, the building will be deeply embedded with history. There will be a special “easter egg” for visitors to the second floor. “Embedded in the glass are all the names of the composers we have played before moving,” said Niehaus in an interview.

The glassy addition is built atop the site of the sushi restaurant that was demolished by the MSO, which itself was built on the site of a former office tower. All have used the same foundation.

Behind the theater a new structure is nearing completion that is designed to mirror the look and feel of the historic theater. The structure holds a number of facilities not included in a historic movie theater, notably changing rooms for the musicians and a substantial number of restrooms.

The 12-story office tower that rises above the theater’s entrance at 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. will have five of its floors redeveloped into administrative offices for the symphony and other back-of-the-house space. The remaining space at the top of the tower is intended to eventually be sold to another developer.

Interior Photos

January Exterior Photos


Building Expansion Plans

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One thought on “Friday Photos: Inside the Bradley Symphony Center”

  1. Keith Prochnow says:

    Inspiring, Jeramey, thanks for the photos!

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