Commentary: My favorite stories of 2014, Milwaukee landmark restored

 It is with great pride that I witnessed the grand re-opening of the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center at  2133 W. Wisconsin Avenue near the Marquette Campus. 

But this is about more than the Irish community.  This was about revitalizing an historical landmark.

The Irish Cultural & Heritage Center (ICHC) is housed in the former Grand Avenue Congregational Church. The same congregation addressed by Civil Rights Icon Martin Luther King, Junior during his only visit to Milwaukee.

Volunteers had been working for years to restore what the Irish call the “Hallamor” or Grand Hall.

ICHC Board Member Pete Fleming recalled the sad state of the building when it was purchased by the Irish community in the 1990's for $1.

"There were leaks, a waterfall coming down the side of the wall," said Fleming a retired Milwaukee Police Officer. "To see it now, it's like St Patrick himself has blessed us."

The renovations include a full restored sound system. It brings visiting performers a top notch technical set up in a building known for its fabulous acoustics.

Visiting dignitaries from Ireland include President Mary McAleese and Minister of State Bernard Allen.

The ICHC is home to five organizations and hosts many others, including: Avenues West Association, St. Andrew Society, and Ancient Order of Hibernians.

The building also houses two libraries: The ICHC Irish Library is a collection of nearly 1,000 donated titles of Irish interest which circulate to members. These include works of fiction, memoir, history, language, travel and culture. The Irish Emigration Library, offers unique resources and knowledgeable volunteers to help people trace their Irish roots. Sponsored by the Irish Genealogical Society of Wisconsin, the library is free and open to the public each Wednesday from 2:00 to 8:00 p.m.

More than 75,000 people have attended public events, dances, classes, and concerts at the Center.

Take a look inside with me and revisit this wonderful celebration of a landmark restored in the spirit of Irish charity and fellowship.

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