The ornate towers of Old Main have been a part of this city’s skyline for more than 150 years.

They stand as sentinels on a hill peering over the tree tops on the western edge of the Menomonee Valley and the Story Hill neighborhood.

In their shadow for decades was a quarry before County Stadium was completed in 1953. Miller Park, with its retractable dome, opened in 2001 and looms on the near horizon.

For more than 30 years, Old Main, completed in 1869 and part of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home complex, has been empty and in decay, its future threatened. But a Madison company is bringing new life to the facility and returning the High Victorian Gothic mansion back to its original purpose.

Only instead of 1,000 Civil War veterans sleeping on bunks in tight quarters, part of a $44.5 million project by the Alexander Co. is creating 80 apartments in Old Main for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Another 25,000 square feet will be dedicated to common space including lounges offering panoramic views to the east.

“It just shows the grandeur that building was meant to encompass” said Jonathan Beck, the Alexander Co.’s project manager. “It’s luxurious compared to what it was built for 150 years ago.”

The project, on a small portion of the 300-acre campus of the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center, includes transforming another five smaller buildings into 21 other living units as part of a lease agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Alexander Co. and city of Milwaukee Housing Authority. If all goes according to plan, the first veterans will begin moving in next spring.

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Originally published by Barry Adams in Wisconsin State Journal.