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Turner Hall

Historic images courtesy of the Milwaukee Turners

April 2014

Established more than 130 years ago, Turner Hall honors Milwaukee’s rich German heritage in every sense of the word. The building was designed by a German architect, named after a German-American association and remains under the supervision of that same organization. Here’s a look into the distinguished landmark’s history and legacy.

1. Constructed in 1882 and dedicated the following year, Turner Hall was designed by architect and German immigrant Henry H. Koch. Koch also served as the architectural designer for Milwaukee’s famed City Hall and The Pfister Hotel.

2. The four-story, multiuse building boasts a restaurant and bar, two-story ballroom, and two-story gymnasium. Its Cream City brick exterior pays tribute to Milwaukee’s architectural heritage, further enhancing the facade’s Romanesque design style. Dramatic murals, iron-clad stairs and intricate woodwork fill the interior.

3. Turner Hall is the only building in Milwaukee that holds the following three architectural and historical designations: a National Landmark, a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places and a local Historical Landmark.

4. The building is named after the Milwaukee Turners, an organization derived from the German Turnverein associations of the early 19th century. Founded in 1811 by Frederick Ludwig Jahn to prepare youth for resistance to Napoleon’s regime, these associations used gymnastic training as a form of preliminary and inconspicuous military training.

5. The Turner motto, "Sound mind in a sound body," forms the basis of Turner Hall’s mission and vision for its future. The expression represents the Turners’ belief that human potential is realized through both intellectual and physical development.

6. A testament to its motto, the Turners procured its name from the German word for gymnastics, "turnen." The Turner School of Gymnastics, which is housed within Turner Hall, remains a trademark of the organization, offering recreational gymnastics classes to all ages and skill levels.

7. Two ceiling fires damaged Turner Hall Ballroom in 1933 and 1941, causing the Milwaukee Turners to shut its doors. In 2000, the Turner Hall Preservation Trust was established to build community support and raise funds to restore the venue. The ballroom reopened in 2006 after undergoing a multiphase renovation project.

8. In 2007, the Pabst Theater Foundation assumed entertainment operations for Turner Hall Ballroom. The venue now regularly hosts both established and emerging artists, supporting Milwaukee’s vibrant performing arts community.


This story ran in the April  2014 issue of: