Grand Warner Theatre

212 W. Wisconsin Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53203

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Showing 1 - 25 of 123 comments

LouRugani on April 30, 2018 at 3:40 pm

The Milwaukee Symphony acquired the GRAND WARNER 13-story building in December to convert it into its new rehearsal and performance space and planning to finance the project in part with $17 million in federal and state tax credits, says a recent Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. report. MSO has also secured $21 million in private contributions with $48.7 million in private contributions pending. So far, $93.5 million has been raised for the $120 million restoration campaign for the project and for an endowment for the symphony. Plans also call for expansion to the north to provide space for dressing rooms, loading docks and other uses. For this, the MSO plans to buy part of 215 W. Wells St. and 735 N. 2nd St. from MVP Milwaukee Wells, LLC, a Nevada-based parking lot operator. That sale has been approved by the Redevelopment Authority and will be considered by the Common Council in May. The grand reopening of the GRAND WARNER (to be called the Milwaukee Symphony Center) is expected for the fall of 2020.

LouRugani on December 29, 2017 at 7:04 pm

It’s official. Today the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra revealed it has acquired the Warner Grand theatre building for its new performance center to open in fall of 2020, saying it’ll allow “better long-term financial, operational and creative success.” The MSO has raised $93.5 million of a $120 million campaign to buy, design and renovate the theatre and fund an endowment for the orchestra. Steve and Greg Marcus and The Marcus Corporation donated their ownership of the Warner Grand Theatre to the campaign, the State of Wisconsin granted over $8 million in historic tax credits, and it just received conditional approval for federal historic tax credits.

Citing improving attendance and thanking donors, president/executive director of the MSO Mark Niehaus said “Closing on the acquisition of the Warner Grand Theater is a significant step in both our artistic and financial future.” Owning its venue and being able to rent space within is expected to increase annual revenue by as much as 60 percent and allow easier bookings of guest performers and conductors who usually require lengthy advance notice.

Besides restoration, there’ll be community education spaces, parking options, curbside dropoff/pickup options and onsite catering.

Restoring and adapting the Warner Grand Theatre was said to be 50 to 66 percent less expensive than comparable new construction venue projects across the country.

bbdoll4ever on September 19, 2017 at 9:20 am

So Kahler Slater is the firm working on the restoration and updates of the theatre and they have shared this Virtual Reality Tour of the theatre, it’s awesome!


Trolleyguy on May 31, 2017 at 7:06 am

Nice and good news for symphony goers. Still doesn’t bring movies back to downtown Milwaukee. Not even an art theatre.

DavidZornig on May 30, 2017 at 7:42 pm

Current article with photos.

mgriffin189 on May 18, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Long term the symphony intends to renovate the office tower and move their offices there. Again thought that is more down the road.

bbdoll4ever on May 18, 2017 at 5:50 pm

So excited! The progress with this gem makes my heart all a flutter! 💓 Has anyone heard about plans for the centre building (offices above the current lobby)?

LouRugani on May 18, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Visitors must sign a waiver acknowledging that the theatre has been vacant for two decades. There’s a scar on the edge of the balcony, an effort to duplex the auditorium to produce more income in the 1990s, but the Warner is up for rebirth as the home of the Milwaukee Symphony. The stagehouse will have to be extended beyond the current rear wall so it’s large enough to fit the whole orchestra, and its management is leading a bid to renovate the Warner Grand to become the symphony’s new home. The task is to raise $120 million to make the move a reality. So far, the MSO has raised $76 million and says over 50 donors have given substantial gifts to help it move into the Warner Grand to help save an historic gem that likely would be lost otherwise.

The Milwaukee Symphony does about 135 performances per 40-week season and now offers themed performances of music from popular movies like “Harry Potter” and “La La Land” in order to attract new audiences, and its vision with the Warner Grand Theatre is to make going to the symphony an experience from the moment someone walks in the door, the original intent behind going to a movie palace.

The MSO is far from the first orchestra to move into a refurbished movie palace downtown. They’re regularly retrofitted to be symphony halls and the idea of the MSO moving to the Warner Grand had existed for some time. In 2001 the MSO conducted a highly successful acoustical test in the Warner Grand. Being much deeper than it is wide, the “shoebox” shape is better for orchestra acoustics, and the very high balcony is good because the sound doesn’t get trapped under the balcony. The decorations deflect sounds in good ways, though Rapp and Rapp didn’t build any of it for acoustical reasons. But in 2001 there wasn’t an appetite for a move because an addition was being built at the Milwaukee Art Museum, there was too much traffic to expand on North Second Street because it was a major artery, and the MSO’s need wasn’t as great because there were no Broadway shows at its then-home during its season.

Now, with the architecture firm Kahler Slater, the MSO plans to bump the back wall of the L-shaped theater into North Second Street to create a larger stage that can be seen from all areas of the theatre, to extend the east end with an addition replacing replace the building next door, and to enlarge the lobby to hold 1,700 people before and after performances. There’ll be new seating for a 1,750-person capacity, first-floor lavatories and elevators, and a second-floor gathering space for revenue-generating private events.

The City has donated a $750,000 grant and street-reconstruction assistance for moving the rear wall while retaining its historic and structural integrity. Initial approvals are in from the State of Wisconsin and the National Parks Service for historic preservation tax credits which will cover 40 percent of the cost of the historic restoration of the Warner Grand. The project is expected to cost the MSO about $75 million. If fundraising goes as planned, construction will begin in Autumn of 2017 and the MSO will be doing concerts in the born-again Warner Grand Theatre by Autumn of 2019.

bbdoll4ever on December 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Aaron, this is amazing news! I have shared on Facebook with all my design peers to gain awareness on the project. Let’s resurrect this masterpiece!! :)

Aaron Giese
Aaron Giese on December 12, 2016 at 12:56 pm

The time has possibly come for the resurrection of this theater.

Mikeoaklandpark on February 26, 2016 at 8:31 am

The marquee is identical to the now demolished Fox and Stanley theaters in Philadelphia.

Aaron Giese
Aaron Giese on February 23, 2016 at 6:22 pm

You can see 40+ pictures of the theatre and tower thanks to Urban Milwaukee.

spectrum on September 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm

The website for the Grand Warner Trust is:

The theatre itself has a Facebook page with some recent interior photos at:

The Facebook page has a lot more recent news and postings. Unfortunately the Trust’s webpage doesn’t have much recent news – the trust was formed in 2008 according to their webpage. From the photos at the Facebook site, the interior looks in excellent shape and is quite ornate – looks like it’s the original color scheme!

bbdoll4ever on January 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

sdowns: Ever think of transferring your copy of Paul Wesley’s last organ concert recorded at the Warner/Grand (“Midnight At The Center”) to a digital file to share with the masses? I’d love to hear it in all its grandeur!

mheaton on September 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

The GRAND-WARNER THEATRE TRUST – was formed and chartered this past year and they have been working with the parties that be to make this happen. As of this writing there is a schedule of meetings with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra about a possible collaboration (they have been interested in two previous projects over the past 12 years.) This month of Sept. may see some movement.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on September 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm

A Kimball Theater Pipe Organ Opus KPO 6944, 6945, 6946, 3/28, manual/rank, keyboards/sets of pipes was installed in the Warner in 1931. It had thousands of pipes in three chambers, two on the left side and one on the right. The console was on the left in the orchestra pit and was on a worm screw lift that could rise to stage level by a push button. In 1973 when the theatre was twined the organ was to be removed. Paul Wesley gave one last concert. A LP recording was made “Midnight At The Center”. The organ was donated to the Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School for installation in the school’s auditorium, but it was decided that it would be impossible to fit such a large instrument into the available space. The Kimball Theatre Organ Society (KTOS) was formed in 1979 for the purpose of saving the organ from eventual sale. After many years of rebuilding and restoration and greatly enlarged, the Kimball again started playing again at the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee in 1991.


(1828-1904), Maine, William Wallace Kimball born. 1857, Chicago, W.W. Kimball Company was founded. Offices were at 239-253 Wabash Avenue Southwest corner of Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. The factory was at South Rockwell Street and 26th Street, Chicago. 1877, they began assembling Kimball Reed Organs. 1882, they were producing 15,000 organs a year, the world’s largest organ maker! 1900, had 1,500 employees. 1910’s, made 13,000 pianos a year. 1922, stopped making reed organs, they had produced 403,390 reed organs! Late 1800’s to 1930’s, world’s largest piano manufacturer. 1942, pipe organ division closed down 7,326 pipe organs had been built, they had also made portable pipe organs. World War II, William Wallace Kimball Jr. was in charge. They manufactured needed war items for Boeing Aircraft, Douglas Aircraft and Lockheed Aircraft. 1961, they started making the first electronic or rather electric organs. 1960’s & 1970’s, they made 100,000 pianos and organs annually. 1983, stopped making organs. February 1996, the last Kimball grand piano was signed by every worker and company executive, and remains on display at Kimball’s showroom in Jasper, Indiana. Now Kimball International and Kimball Electronics. Makes furniture and electronics gizmos.

blurradial on July 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm

Am I tooting my own horn? I am:

*I’ll also be taping an interview segment on WUWM (Bonnie North, Lake Effect) with the Grand Warner Trust guys tomorrow, will likely air next week.

warnergrand on January 24, 2013 at 6:57 am

A Trust has been set up to purchase and restore the Warner Grand. Facebook page is active. Please “like”

Trolleyguy on November 3, 2012 at 7:57 am

The marquee is now lit up at night, bringing a splash of color to the downtown scene. I’ve added a picture of the ticket booth, which has someone in it during the day to distribute literature to tourists.

tisha on January 20, 2012 at 3:08 am

I remember in the 80’s my sister use to take me to this movie theatre. The cost was around maybe $3.50-$6.75. I remember standing in line to see Purple Rain. It played for six months straight. My sister and I watched Grelims there. When I was old enough I went to that theatre by myself. I’ve seen Tremors and Five Heartbeats there. So many memories. I wish they would at least open up the theatre for one more go round. Watch two movies for the price of one. It’s just a thought!!!

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on October 31, 2011 at 5:01 pm

i had the chance to look around this theatre recently. I have some photos (i am not much of a photog, clearly) here –

The place is in very nice shape inside. But I would bet the farm that it never reopens.

William on August 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

The Warner Theatre in Milwaukee opened on May 1st. 1931.

curiousmoviebuff on June 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Does anyone here know the correct contact info for this theatre? Is it still available for rentals? Have they begun the planned renovations yet?

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Nice ads Mike,thanks for getting them on.Two PG pictures equal decent Boxoffice.

mgriffin189 on November 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I am also glad that mheaton is working on saving this theater. I frequently drive by it on my commute to and from UWM ( I like side streets) and would love to see it reopened so everyone can enjoy a great venue and great architecture. It’s sad to see it sitting there empty. About a month ago a weather forcast appeared on the marquee. this was followed a few days later by a happy birthday message. does anyone know anything about this? Anyway, I really hope that mheaton’s group succeeds in restoring this theater. They don’t build em like this anymore.