Urge WisDOT and the FHWA to choose at-grade alternative for I-94

As you may know, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are considering different design options for the expansion of Interstate I-94, which runs through the Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

Since the expansion will occur where the highway borders the Soldiers Home, we are working hard to ensure that WisDOT and the FHWA pursue the option with the least negative effect on the National Historic Landmark District and more specifically on Wood National Cemetery.

After careful consideration and numerous discussions in consultation with WisDOT and the FHWA, we are recommending the at-grade alternative as the best option for the Soldiers Home Historic District.  Though the at-grade option could potentially include the partial elimination of the Hawley Road interchange, we believe it is a much less-intrusive option than the 30′ double-deck freeway that would completely block off the view of the cemetery on the north side of I-94. In addition, the double-deck option would cost two or three times more than the at-grade alternative ($295-$345 million vs. $115-125 million), which is another good reason to support the at-grade option.

Recently, WisDOT and the FHWA released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project and outlined several opportunities to share feedback. We invite you to join us in urging WisDOT and the FHWA to move forward with the at-grade alternative.

There are a couple ways you can share your feedback:

  • Sign on to our letter of support, available for your review here. You can sign on by emailing savethesoldiershome@gmail.com with your name and the organization you represent (if applicable); please also note if you are a veteran.
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Milwaukee Soldiers Home: One Reason to Love Milwaukee

Milwaukee Magazine ImageThere are many reasons to love Milwaukee. From local breweries, festivals and nightlife to major league sports – Milwaukee has it all. But in addition to these well-known Milwaukee staples, there are a few unique and arguably one-of-a-kind reasons to love Milwaukee, one of which is the Milwaukee Soldiers Home (Soldiers Home).

Hidden on the grounds of the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, the Soldiers Home is one of Wisconsin’s most notable historical assets and one that the Trust, in partnership with the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, has been working hard to save.

Recently, Milwaukee Magazine named the Soldiers Home one of its “Reasons to Love Milwaukee” and we agree!

According to the article:

Tucked away behind Miller Park is one of three remaining (original) Soldiers Homes in the country. Built in 1867, it’s one of the first locations of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The philosophy behind creating the Soldiers Home was to have a safe haven “for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan,” according to President Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address. Restoration efforts at the site are ongoing, and the Milwaukee VA hopes to soon renovate nine historic buildings for homeless veteran housing.

Milwaukee is often known for its tradition of brewing and manufacturing, but its history goes far deeper than that. The Milwaukee Soldiers Home is an important part of our nation’s history. Our hope is that more and more people will agree with Milwaukee Magazine and discover for themselves that the Soldiers Home is one of the great reasons to love Milwaukee.

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Soldiers Home Doors Open Tours A Great Success

Doors Open PictureOn Sunday, September 21, 50 people had a unique opportunity to experience an invaluable historical asset to the nation – The Milwaukee Soldiers Home on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) teamed with the Milwaukee VA Medical Center to offer two “behind the scenes” tours as part of the fourth annual Doors Open Milwaukee. Doors Open Milwaukee provides rare access to more than 150 Milwaukee buildings, free-of-charge to the public. Each building boasts “hidden treasures” and “special stories.”

The Soldiers Home is no exception! The Milwaukee Soldiers Home is one of the three original Soldiers Homes in the country – facilities built to care for returning Civil War veterans – with some of the oldest buildings in the VA system. This was the second year that a Soldiers Home tour was available through Doors Open Milwaukee and the demand was high. People lined up for free tickets and they were gone in less than 10 minutes.

Tour participants, including veterans and some who had traveled from across the state, were enthralled with the historic buildings. They were also interested in the future of the District and, more specifically, its vacant buildings. This weekend was an excellent opportunity to share the Soldiers Home story with the public, provide an update on the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance’s progress toward helping the VA return the District’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans and raise awareness of one of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s “hidden jewels.”

Click here to download a free downloadable walking tour app.


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I-94 Signage Installed for Milwaukee Soldiers Home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe often hear from people who have lived in the area their entire lives, but never knew about the Milwaukee Soldiers Home. This week, we made great progress in raising awareness of one of Milwaukee’s own National Historic Landmarks.

Thanks to funds raised by the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA), including individual donations and a $5,000 matching grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, signs were manufactured and installed along I-94 to direct visitors to the Milwaukee Soldiers Home National Historic Landmark District.

The fundraising campaign was part of a broader effort led by MPA, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other local preservation and veteran groups, to raise awareness of the Soldiers Home Historic District and promote the rehabilitation of key historic buildings in order to return them to the service of veterans.

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Siblings Return to Soldiers Home

Over the years, the Tubesing siblings have celebrated major birthdays together. They’ve taken trips and been on adventures, but when it was Helen’s turn to decide how to celebrate her 70th birthday, she wanted to return to a place where she grew up – the Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

Helen (Tubesing) Forster, Phyllis Tubesing, Lois (Tubesing) Jaeckel and Don Tubesing were raised in a military family. Their father, Karl A. Tubesing went into the Army-Air Corps in 1939 and served thru WWII.  He was sent to Hawaii on the first ship that left San Francisco after Pearl Harbor.  It was there that he committed his life to serving veterans. When he returned to the states, he was stationed at a new air base they were building at Hill Field, Utah. When the VA was formed, he became a chaplain for veteran hospitals.

The Tubesing family got used to moving – like most military families. However, in 1955, when their father became a Chaplain for the VA Hospital in Milwaukee, that changed. Between 1955 and 1958, Chaplain/Reverend Tubesing commuted from the family’s home on Calhoun Road to the Soldiers Home grounds. Like a physician, he was often on call and expected to be on the grounds quickly when a patient took a turn for the worse. At a time before freeways, it was a long drive.

Don Tubesing, Phyllis Tubesing, Helen Forster and Lois Jaeckel stand outside Building 11, their former family home.

In 1958, the Tubesing family had the opportunity to move onto the Soldiers Home grounds, and they took it. They moved into Building 11, the old Fire Engine House located across from the Soldiers Home Chapel.

The siblings were teenagers at the time and, admittedly, didn’t quite appreciate all that was around them.

“It was full of old men,” said Helen Forster. “My friends never knew where I lived. We had our own zip code and no address. When people asked where I lived, ‘Building 11’ didn’t resonate.”

But the move certainly made sense for the family. As the Soldiers Home evolved, interment requirements broadened to include veterans of all American wars. This meant that Chaplain/Reverend Tubesing was presiding over up to six funerals each day.

Though they may not have fully appreciated living on the grounds of one of the nation’s most precious historical sites at the time, returning to the grounds brought back many memories.

“I can hear the screen door slam,” Lois Jaeckel reflected while gazing toward her former family home.

Helen remembered spending most of her time in the library, checking out books to read on the front porch of the house.

Helen Forster recalls the countless hours she spent at the Wadsworth Library.

“There were no late fees,” she said. “I used to check them out in stacks.”

Don recalled the ‘marketplace’ that used to occupy the lower level of Building Six, where vets set up little shops and used their skills. He also recalled the Recreation Building.

“I learned to play billiards here,” he recalled.

Phyllis remembered bowling there with her father – sometimes even twice a week.

“The lanes were always crooked,” she recalled. “A lot of time was spent here.”

Don Tubesing recalls the weekly movies shown at Ward Memorial Theater.

As the siblings stood in front of Ward Memorial Theater, Don remembered the weekly movies that were shown for the Veterans.

“I remember seeing an Elvis movie here,” he said.

The Tubesing’s parents are buried in Wood National Cemetery, where a baseball field used to be located.

Don remembered playing countless games on the field, his sisters watching from the bleachers.

“Our parents are buried right behind where home plate used to be,” he said.

Don, Phyllis, Lois and Helen all shared similar sentiments – while they lived on these sacred grounds, they didn’t realize just how special they were and how unique their experience was.

Now, the siblings fully grasp the importance of the grounds and what the District represents. They are encouraged by recent progress to return the vacant buildings to the service of veterans.

“This is sad,” said Don, as he studied the condition of the buildings. “We need to be working on this.”

“Anything good takes time,” said Phyllis, referring to the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance and National Trust for Historic Preservation’s efforts to restore the buildings.

As efforts to rehabilitate the District’s vacant buildings continues, it is important to note that not only are The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, in partnership with key local, regional and national stakeholders,

working to preserve a piece of our national history, we are working to preserve the personal history of countless veterans and their families who have encountered the District over the years, families like the Tubesings.

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VA Requests Expressions of Interest

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) are excited to share news of the latest progress in the effort to return the Milwaukee Soldiers Home’s vacant buildings to the service of Veterans.

This week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) indicated that it is seeking Expressions of Interest (EI) from qualified development teams for an opportunity to renovate historic structures located at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

The EI will focus on Buildings 1 (Administration Bldg), 2 (Old Main), 12 (Chapel), 14 (Quarters), 18 (Quarters), 19 (Quarters), 45 (Power Plant), 62 (Quarters) & 64 (Garage serving 18, 19 & 62). The VA’s intent is to determine if there are experienced developers that can transform one or more of these historic buildings into facilities that will provide supportive housing for homeless Veterans, or Veterans at risk of homelessness, in accordance with the VA’s Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) authority. The deadline to respond is July 21, 2014.

This announcement is a critical step in restoring the District’s vacant buildings to the service of Veterans. Click here to see the VA’s formal request for Expressions of Interest. To read the attachment that has more of the details, click here. Please consider forwarding this email to anyone who might be interested in responding to the VA’s request.

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Summer Marks Start of Construction on Soldiers Home Grounds

Multiple Historic Buildings to be Repaired, Vacant Buildings Remain Threatened

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) announced today that the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center will commence repairs to several historic buildings on the grounds of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Historic District (Soldiers Home), a National Historic Landmark.

“We are excited about the work being done on many of the District’s buildings,” said Dawn McCarthy, President of the MPA Board of Directors. “Visitors will see a noticeable difference in the appearance of some of these historic buildings.”

This summer, the Milwaukee VA Medical Center (VAMC) will commence work on the Ward Theater (Building 41), the Old Hospital Building (Building 6) and the Barracks Buildings (Buildings 5 and 7).

Originally built in 1881, Ward Memorial Hall was converted to a theater in 1895-97. Many popular artists visiting Milwaukee performed for the veterans at the Ward Theater, including Bob Hope and Liberace.  The Ward Theater, which is currently vacant, will be reroofed and undergo exterior masonry and porch repairs.

Designed in 1879, the Old Hospital Building once served as the primary space for medical care on the grounds. After hospital care moved to Building 70 at the south end of the grounds, the Old Hospital was converted to a barracks. Today, the building houses a number of VA offices.

The Old Hospital will be completely re-roofed, with wood re-painted and windows and doors repaired. Additionally, the building’s chimney will be re-constructed and wrought iron decorative cresting will be newly fabricated or repaired.

The Barracks Buildings will undergo repointing, scraping and painting. Additionally, the buildings’ gutters and downspouts will be fixed and shingles will be replaced where needed. The porches will also undergo repairs and be painted. Formerly used as housing for veterans, the buildings currently provide office space for the VA.

“These repairs are much needed improvements in the District and demonstrate important progress,” said Genell Scheurell, Senior Field Officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We also look forward to continuing to work with the VA to address the critical need for a long-term solution that will return the District’s vacant buildings to the service of veterans.”

Three of the District’s most notable buildings, Old Main (Building Two), Power Plant (Building 45) and the Soldiers Home Chapel (Building 12) remain vacant and are in urgent need of funding for significant repairs.

Though Old Main’s major roof collapse was repaired in 2012, additional holes in the roof remain and continue to expose the building to the elements. Unfortunately, funding has not been identified to repair these holes and prevent future damage to the building.

“Over the past few years, the VA has made great strides toward making changes that will positively impact the future of the Soldiers Home District,” said Scheurell. “However, the sense of urgency remains. The VA must receive the necessary funding to protect this National Historic Landmark District.”

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