GALLERY: Inside the Grand Theatre, the planned home of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jan 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-04 08:57:52-05

If you've ever walk down Wisconsin Avenue, you may walk right past a Milwaukee treasure and not even known it. 
The Grand Theatre.
It opened as a movie theater in 1930, just after the Great Depression. The space has been vacant since 1995.
"There were these architects (who were) brothers, Rapp and Rapp designed several of these theatres all over the country," said Mark Niehaus, the President and Executive Director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
"The Chicago Theatre down in Chicago is a Rapp and Rapp Theatre. The St. Louis Symphony plays in a Rapp and Rapp Theatre. The Pittsburgh Symphony plays in a Rapp and Rapp Theatre. They're palaces. They're literally palaces for the common man.  This one is unique in the sense that there's an eleven-story office tower above the lobby. so the lobby we're standing in right now is a perfect example of 1930's art deco construction."
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of buying the theatre and some surrounding property.
"We intend on restoring all of it. The theatre will remain the historic gem it is and be a great home for us," Niehaus said.
So what's it going to take to restore it? "Money, effort and people who believe in the project ."
Niehaus says the MSO is over halfway to its fundraising goal.
"We feel we're going to have tremendous control over the cost because we're going to do all of the design work ahead of time and we'll know what we're doing even before we start digging holes," Niehaus adds.  
Walking into the theater is like walking into the past.
"People drive up and down Wisconsin Avenue and Second Street and don't even realize this is here. It's an entire generation that's gone by who have never even been in here," Niehaus says. 
The theater is a sea of red seats with ornate decoration. The stage that once held a movie screen is empty.
"Right now there are over two thousand seats; however our plans show a reduction down to 1,750 seats, which really is a perfect size for us," explains Neihaus.
"We talk about the 'Goldie Locks' issue for the symphony. There's too big, there's too small and there's just right. For us, we need between 1,600 and 1,800 seats for our market." 
Niehaus says the goal is to make the Grand Theatre the Milwaukee Symphony's new home by fall of 2019. 

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