Pabst Theater is located at 144 East Wells Street in downtown Milwaukee, WI. Hunzinger was selected as construction manager for this extensive historic renovation and 4,000 SF addition project undertaken a few years after the Pabst’s centennial celebrations. The theater opened in November of 1895 and its design was considered one of the most innovative of its time: its T-bar counter-weight system was the basis for modern scenery rigging and its cantilevered balconies, which eliminated sight blocking columns, were among the first of their kind. It is a National Historic Landmark. Engberg Anderson’s Milwaukee office served as project architects.

The restoration included underpinning of the east wall to restore structural integrity to the facility compromised by settlement caused by the deterioration of the existing wood pile foundations. Initial design solutions suggested traditional driven-pile or caisson deep foundations. However the vibration imposed by these foundation systems would cause further damage to the existing structure. Hunzinger was able to propose an alternate foundation support of the helical piers. Helical piers could be installed without disruption to the existing structure, while utilizing small equipment that would be able to work within the tight site restrictions. The ultimate design fix was to underpin the wall with a system of cantilevered steel beams encased in concrete and supported by large concrete mat and helical pier foundation systems.

The interior remodeling improved the accessibility of all 1,400 seats and included the installation of elevators serving all levels, enlarged restroom and lobby facilities, and special seating areas at each level. Additionally, a new 4,000 SF glass encased winter garden was built to expand the lobby and host events. Its exterior appearance included framing to match the existing Wells Street canopy. We replaced and upgraded the mechanical and electrical systems, along with the complete replacement and redesign of the gallery seating level. Exterior renovations consisted of tuck-pointing, painting, roof replacement, window retrofit, and fabrication of ornamental iron elements to match the existing detailing.

Dennis Conta
Chairman of the Pabst Theater Board