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2021 Historic Preservation Award Winner Announced | Wisconsin Historical Society

Feature Story

2021 Historic Preservation Award Winner Announced

The 2021 Historic Preservation Award has been awarded to the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance for their work on Soldiers Home.

2021 Historic Preservation Award Winner Announced | Wisconsin Historical Society

This award recognizes the contributions of an individual or organization to the field of historic preservation and preservation efforts in Wisconsin. Milwaukee Preservation Alliance has received the 2021 Historic Preservation Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society for their work preserving Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

About the Project
EnlargeMilwaukee Soldiers Home

Old Main peeks out over the trees on the extensive grounds of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home in June 2017, as seen from Miller Park. CAITLIN MOYER

Developed in 1867, the Milwaukee Soldiers Home today is poised to change the face of veteran care while demonstrating the healing power of preservation. On March 5, six historic buildings on the 90+-acre campus – part of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center – reopened with 101 units of housing and supportive services for veterans and their families at risk of homelessness.

As the most intact original Soldiers Home in the country and the only one with the majority of its surrounding recuperative village remaining, it is arguably the most significant VA campus in the nation and was added to the National Register in 2005 and became a National Historic Landmark in 2011.

The reward of these efforts, combined with revised guidance allowing long term Enhanced Use Leases of federal property to non-federal entities for homeless veteran housing, was the issuing of an RFP for the reuse of vacant campus buildings, which was awarded to The Alexander Company.

When Milwaukee Preservation Alliance's (MPA) preservation efforts began in 2010, the iconic Old Main had been vacant for 20 years and had a hole in its roof which threatened to collapse. A proposal to construct new buildings on the grounds that year required consultation under Section 106, and consulting parties including MPA, Wisconsin Historical Society (SHPO), National Park Service, and National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), began meeting quarterly to explore preservation solutions.

The campus was added to NTHP's 11 Most Endangered list in 2011 and elevated it to a National Treasure in 2012. With a focus on equity and engagement, MPA and NTHP also partnered to create a Community Advisory Council of veterans and related organizations who met regularly. This "early and often" stakeholder engagement ensured community involvement and buy-in.

MPA served as the fiscal agent for the $3 million capital campaign necessary to fill a financing gap, assisting with fundraising and providing public outreach. Under the "Save the Soldiers Home" banner, this outreach consists of a website/email/social media presence (www.savethesoldiershome.com), walking tour app (downloaded 3,000 times), videos, educational resources, oral histories, resources for those with family connections to the property, the installation of signage on nearby roads, and more.

The results are spectacular, with the completely restored historic buildings providing new permanent housing for homeless veterans. The success seen by the long-term committed efforts of MPA and its partners to save the Soldiers Home serves as proof positive that strategic partnerships, visionary leadership, and creative funding cannot just save buildings, but tackle homelessness, ignite communities, and serve as a national model as well.

About the Preservation Award

This award recognizes the best work in protecting a threatened historic property in Wisconsin. The historic property may be a building, structure, object, site or district. Commendable community and individual efforts such as advocacy, fundraising, creation of a protective ordinance, physical stabilization, and repair will be recognized.

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