Project: Allen-Bradley Hall
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Budget: $89 million
MSO Total Project Size: 202,226 sq ft
Existing: 120,734 sq ft
New: 81,492 sq ft

Since 1901, Staff Electric has built a reputation for modern installations and innovative design. While we’re known for our work on facilities such as the Kornberg Center, Meriter Hospital, Northwestern Mutual, and other contemporary projects, we also have a passion for historic restoration.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Bradley Symphony Center: Transforming the Warner Theater into the Allen-Bradley Hall

There’s no question that a healthy amount of innovation goes into building modern facilities; however, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Bradley Symphony Center project proves that historic restoration is where innovation is truly put to the test—whether it’s by updating the building’s functionality with state-of-the-art systems or moving entire walls 35 feet down the street (more on that later).

During the process of building the Allen-Bradley Hall, Staff Electric had a considerable number of installs including the following:

  • Restoration and reinstallment of (161) historic fixtures
  • Installation of (2,300+) new light fixtures throughout
  • Installation of (38,000+) feet of Electrical Metallic Tubing

Staff Electric’s work included distribution, power, lighting, audio visual raceways, fire alarm, telecom, security, and lighting control.

The Client

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Bradley Symphony Center

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Bradley Symphony Center (MSO) has been captivating audiences through acclaimed musical performances and inclusive education since 1959. The largest cultural organization in Wisconsin, the MSO employs 80 full-time professional musicians who perform more than 135 concerts each season.

Since their inception, the MSO has never had a permanent home, performing at various venues throughout Wisconsin—primarily Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Uihlein Hall—all the way to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York.

Six years after the Warner Theater closed in 1995, the MSO conducted an acoustical investigation with the hopes of purchasing the art deco movie palace. Their dream came to fruition when, in June 2018, they began restoring one of Milwaukee’s most beloved historic landmarks: the Warner Theater on West Wisconsin Avenue.

Our experience, attention to detail, and thoughtfulness in putting the right team together made Staff Electric the perfect partner for this one-of-a-kind project.

The Challenge

Historic Project Demands Modern Solutions

The biggest challenge was in the nature of the project: installing modern electrical and technological systems without disturbing historical plaster and existing finishes.

States Staff Electric General Foreman, Tom Christman: ”We had to build backwards, because the facility with our main switch gear, IT, and AV wasn’t even constructed yet. Instead of building from that point into the facility, we worked from the facility out to where that point would be.”

Our Approach

There is no Innovation without Collaboration

To say we had to be careful with every move we made would be an understatement. Ensuring a seamless look from old to new, required extensive investigation, planning, and precise calculations. We also collaborated with all trades, from the brick layer to the plumber, the HVAC vendor, and more.

In preserving the building’s integrity, we aimed to keep as many original features as possible. This often required working and maneuvering behind walls and in ceiling spaces, and building the temporary infrastructure to access those places. We also collaborated on an incredibly rare procedure: moving an entire wall. Staff Electric worked with other contractors and historic moving specialists to coordinate the 35-foot migration of this 625-ton piece to accommodate a larger stage and enhance acoustics.

The Result

A Marriage of Modern Technology and Historic Charm

Restorative projects bring as much value to the community as new developments. When efforts are made to rehabilitate historic landmarks, it strengthens the character of the city and attracts tourists. This one (massive) project has accomplished not only a restoration of a signature Milwaukee landmark, but has ignited economic and neighborhood redevelopment along West Wisconsin Avenue.

“What I’m most proud of,” said Staff Electric General Foreman David Broz, “is Staff’s ability to take an existing historic building, enhance it with brand new features and technology, and seamlessly join it all together as though everything was built a hundred years ago. Pretty cool to walk into a building and feel like you stepped back in time. Feels like we’re walking into The Great Gatsby.”

The Warner Theater was renamed the Allen-Bradley Hall in honor of the late Harry and Peg Bradley—co-founders of the Allen-Bradley Company. A marriage of modern technology and historic charm, this united space for rehearsals, administrative offices, and of course, performances, deserves a standing ovation.

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