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Historic veterans home languishes
Written by By Becky Vevea - JS Online   
Sunday, 13 June 2010 09:06

In the Civil War-era village nestled behind Miller Park are three of Milwaukee's oldest and most architecturally significant buildings. Today, nailed across their entrances are signs that read, "Building Closed - Do Not Enter," in bold red letters.

Those signs may not mean the end for the buildings, but time is running short.

For years the buildings have deteriorated as efforts to save them, including a re-development proposal by the city in 2007, failed.

The Soldiers Home village on the Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center grounds, is under consideration for national landmark status, which would qualify it for federal funding for restoration.


The Soldiers Home Historic District is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation does not come with funding, said Larry Berkeley, associate director of Zablocki VA Center.

"These buildings are almost to the point of being destroyed from the natural environment," said Joe Campbell, vice president of the Allied Veterans Council of Milwaukee County.

In April, a wooden beam in Building 2, fondly known to veterans as "Old Main," fell from the ceiling and landed on part of the sprinkler system causing fountains of water to spray through the already crumbling building. In response, administrators at the Zablocki VA Center contracted with a firm to get a structural analysis of several of the buildings, including Old Main, Ward Memorial Hall and the Chapel, said Zablocki VA Center spokesman Gary Kunich.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) has been working with the VA to determine what it would take to restore these 19th-century buildings.

"President Lincoln chose this spot for us to care for our brave soldiers who risked their lives for our country," Moore said in a statement. "These buildings are part of our state's rich history, and I am working to see that they continue to be maintained and even one day maybe be used again to serve our veterans."

The City of Milwaukee's redevelopment plan in 2007 included renovation of five buildings in the Soldiers Home village but also would have built a business park on the vacant land east of the medical center near Miller Park Way.

The plan was dropped because of veteran opposition stemming from concerns that the renovated buildings would include assisted-living housing not exclusively for veterans and that the business park would infringe on the expansion of Wood National Cemetery, which is currently closed to new burials.

As officials wait for word on the landmark designation, Berkeley said there is no plan for the buildings other than to keep them standing.

"We maintain these buildings as best we can," Berkeley said. "We don't have a separate budget for the historic district apart from our regular operating budget, and our priority has to be with the health care of the veterans."

If you go

If you'd like to visit the historic Soldiers Home district, the Zablocki VA Center at 5000 W. National Ave. is hosting Reclaiming Our Heritage days from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The event will include re-enactments, cemetery tours and other activities.


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