It will soon be a “full house” at the Soldiers Home at the Milwaukee VA on the city’s west side.
The company that completed a $44 million renovation project earlier this year said all 101 housing units for low-income veterans would be occupied by the end of this month. The federal government said it hopes to interest developers in updating more buildings on the VA campus, which dates back to the late 1860s.
At one point, more than 1,000 wounded veterans from the Civil War and veterans from other conflicts lived at Old Main, which is the Victorian Gothic building with the six-story tower.
The VA’s Michael Mullen said that the building is a local icon.
“It’s hard to drive from the zoo to the lakefront without seeing the Old Main spire,” Mullen said.
But in the last third of the 20th century the remaining residents left, and after some years just for VA staff use, the large building fell into disrepair. National historic groups called it an endangered site.
But then the public and private sectors got together on a deal that included historic preservation tax credits, donations, and other capital. This past spring, the renovated Old Main and five smaller buildings reopened to veterans who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. Federal housing vouchers help pay the rent.
Mullen is the historical liaison for the Clement Zablocki Medical Center and keeps tabs on all the buildings in the Milwaukee Soldiers Home National Historic Landmark District.
Mullen said he’s extremely pleased with the housing renovation, not just as a VA employee.
“I’m a veteran, and to see veterans actually come in and occupy these apartments is just fantastic,” Mullen said.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation gave Soldiers Home a preservation excellence award.
Following a brief ceremony inside Old Main, Jon Beck of The Alexander Company, a Madison-based real estate developer with a 75-year enhanced use lease with the VA, gave visitors a tour. Beck began in the former primary entrance hallway, talking about the restored exterior doors.
This article was originally published by WUWM 89.7.