St. Rita is considered the patron saint of impossible causes and her character seems to perfectly represent the St. Rita Square Senior Living community: a unique new construction project, built during the COVID-19 pandemic in downtown Milwaukee, WI. This new build project consists of two towers of Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care apartments attached to St Rita, a Three Holy Women Catholic Parish.
This community’s story is noteworthy and those invested in the project take pride in its historical accuracy that combines Italian history and Milwaukee architecture. St. Rita Square is the result of collaboration between Capri’s Communities, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, AG Architects and Direct Supply Aptura.
The history of St. Rita Square began in the 1800s with the migration of Sicilians to Milwaukee. Our Lady of Pompeii Church, nicknamed the Little Pink Church, was built in 1904 and was the cornerstone of the local Italian community in Milwaukee. The church was named the first-ever architectural landmark of the city of Milwaukee in 1967. Later that year, the church was torn down for freeway construction.
The church congregation began gathering at St. Rita Church, the current location of St. Rita Square. From 1967 to 2018, the Italian worshipers gathered there until the building was in great need of renovation. Then, Capri Communities bought the Parish property for $1 with the intention of erecting a beautiful Senior Living community and promise to provide a new place of worship that pays homage to the original Our Lady of Pompeii and sell the newly constructed church back to the parish for $1.
Capri’s owner, Jim Tarantino, considered this a legacy project as he was raised in the Italian community of Milwaukee and saw this opportunity as a way to give back to his own people – acknowledging Italian culture, while preserving Milwaukee’s beautiful architecture, known for cream bricks, murals and a welcoming feel.
Working on this project felt like bringing life back to outdated and abandoned buildings. Reviving the old, making it like new and giving it back to the Archdiocese was such a special project. I am grateful to have worked on it.
The Angel Gabriel and St. Rita, often portrayed with a yellow rose, are two very important religious figures that stand out in the church. In the Bible, the Angel Gabriel is presented as a bearer of God’s message to man. It was him who announced to Zecharia that, despite their advanced years, he and his wife would have a son. It was him, once again, who appeared to Mary, announcing she would be the virgin mother of Christ. The Angel Gabriel is a picture
There has been a lot of attention and a lot of details paid to St Rita church and the local Italian community and everyone is very proud of that.
The colors used inside and outside the community are also very intentional. From the outside, St. Rita Square blends in perfectly with the surrounding community thanks to the use of similar shades and very delicate colors like the light pink for the church and the cream bricks, found in a lot of buildings in downtown Milwaukee. Once inside the building, the hues of the hand painted tiles in the trattoria, remind the community of the lovely seaside town of Porticello. To accompany residents safely up and down the stairs throughout the edifice, there are industrial style iron handrails that match other iron details such as the lights and some pipes decorating the walls. These raw details contrast the splashes of gold on the ceiling and the sophisticated red and pink fabrics used for the dining chairs, both characteristics found in Porticello.
Capri Communities desired to create a dining environment where residents could engage and interact with the outside community, and people could come off the street or after church to grab a bite and spend time in the Senior Living common areas. The trattoria and other amenities such as the wood fire oven, reminiscent of the Italian look, achieve this goal by combining multiple purposes in the same footprint. The wood fire oven is used to make authentic Italian pizza, and it comes in handy during Pizza in the Piazza (pizza in the plaza) on Thursday nights when the seniors get together to enjoy one of the most classic and well known Italian dishes.
The bistro serves as an open kitchen and a demo kitchen. The trattoria functions as a coffee shop with espresso served in the morning, as a wine bar in the evening and as a sandwich made-to-order section and a gelato corner during the day.
The open dining spaces have a positive impact on residents, allowing them to host events and enjoy meals with the community. It’s rewarding to see how all the effort our team and Capri Communities put into this project pay off through boosted residents well-being and engagement.
The open dining spaces have a positive impact on residents, allowing them to host events and enjoy meals with the community. It’s rewarding to see how all the effort our team and Capri Communities put into this project pay off through boosted residents well-being and engagement.”
Capri Communities expected the residents to move into St. Rita Square would be progressive urban tenants who don’t want to give up living in the city and want the freedom to enter and exit the buildings at their convenience, all without compromising safety. Aptura helped them achieve the right environment for this by designing a proper technology plan. The technology installed helps provide a balance of keeping residents safe in a busy downtown area of a city and granting the outside community access to the shared facilities like the church and the trattoria. St. Rita Square is equipped with a progressive system capable of locking doors from the inside and the outside and allowing entrance through the use of a fob. At the same time, an intercom system was installed to facilitate deliveries through easy and wireless communication between outside people and residents. Given the urban environment, St. Rita Square uses surveillance cameras that give residents and their families’ peace of mind.
The right nurse call system gives residents assurance as they can push a button on a pendant and a staff member will show up and assist them. The signal from the residents’ pendant is sent to the staff through transceivers installed throughout the building. To guarantee safety for Memory Care residents, the stairwells and the elevators meet modern building codes.
Connectivity is important to residents at St. Rita. Therefore, Capri Communities and Aptura worked together to offer residents easy access to strong Wi-Fi and electronics like TVs and telephones to stay connected with friends and family. The high rise building presented a challenge for internet connectivity as regular cables come with distance limitations. Direct Supply Technology Designer, Patrick Mahoney, created specific pathways and fire stopping to get fiber optic cable up each of the towers, granting reliable access to the internet throughout the Senior Living community. Residents are able to navigate the internet from their personal devices, keep up with the news and FaceTime their families, which during COVID-19 was one of the few ways to stay connected to the loved ones. The forward and progressive thinking of the people who worked on this project, has paid off through the satisfaction
The use of technology was fundamental for this project as the property presented some challenges because of the adjacent church and spaces associated with the church that had to be available to the public. Technology was the middle point between safety and community involvement
The construction of St Rita had to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and all the new regulations that came with it. The number of workers that could be on site at once was limited, and the different crews weren’t allowed to work together. By increasing safety efforts and virtual collaboration, Aptura was able to keep its staff working most of the time, completing the project by the deadline. In 2020 St. Rita Square opened its doors. The result is a historically accurate, beautiful community and church that combines the familiar feel of the previous church with modern Milwaukee flair. It’s a true blend of Porticello, Sicily and Milwaukee, WI that both church members and Senior Living residents are happy to call home.
Residents at St. Rita are younger than the average Senior Living community, and the sense of community, family and involvement that has been created is very rewarding for all the people who worked on this project and for those who are now working and living in the community.
The attention to details that was put into this project, seems to have affected the vitality and the creativity of the residents who use the spaces provided for environmental fairs, cocktail hours and farmers markets. One of the events that is embedded in the Italian community’s culture and that the residents take most pride in, is the quarterly Spaghetti Dinner. This event used to be held at the old Holy Women Parish and after four years, it was held again for the first time in April 2021 following new safety guidelines, but maintaining the same fun and spirit that this fundraiser event used to bring. Rumor has it there were more than 3000 meatballs served.
St. Rita Square precisely embodies Capri Communities’ mission to “enrich the lives of residents through service and commitment to family and community.”
- Three months ago we moved into Independent Living at St Rita’s. It was absolutely the right decision for us. Our space is comfortable with a panoramic view of the city. The overall facility is outstanding, and the staff is exceptional. We have quickly made many new friends and in a short time it feels like a family. We highly recommend St Rita’s Square to anyone if they are at the point to consider a senior community.
- I will admit I was a little nervous about moving in… I really had no idea what I was walking into. I truly loved it from the moment I arrived. The residents are terrific…the staff is terrific…our days can be busy or lazy (our choice)… I am living the dream!!!
- My brother and sister-in-law live here. I have not seen them look and feel so good for years. My brother, who lives in Independent Living, has met many friends and participates regularly in engaging daily activities. Carolyn, my sister-in-law, lives in Memory Care and has improved in living skills. The entire staff is so personable, caring, and professional. They truly appear to enjoy their work, and it shows in the care they so dutifully conduct with the residents. Thanks to you all. Our family is so relieved.
- We had to leave our home of 45 years near UWM due to medical inability to climb stairs. The wife suggested that I check out Saint Rita. I reluctantly made an appointment but was very impressed with the building and the people who live there. We decided to move into a two bedroom and put our house on the market. I cannot be happier with our decision.