Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Plan For Masonic Apartments Advances

22-unit complex with rooftop apartments gets historic commission approval.

By - Nov 3rd, 2021 08:00 pm
Humphrey Scottish Rite Mason Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

Humphrey Scottish Rite Mason Center in 2016. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

The plan to redevelop the former Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 790 N. Van Buren St., continues to advance.

It will no longer be a hotel with a 14-story addition, but a 22-unit apartment building. Ascendant Holdings secured approval in 2017 from the Historic Preservation Commission to develop the hotel, but the project never secured financing to advance.

Now, Northfield, IL-based Saxony Capital stepped in to lead the apartment project. The apartments in the building would range in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet, containing two or three bedrooms. Some would have multiple levels.

Ramlow/Stein Architecture + Interiors is leading the design work on the new project, first revealed in February.

The latest revision to the housing plan calls for the addition of two rooftop penthouse apartments and a large rooftop deck to the three-story building.

Those new rooftop uses require the addition of exterior egress stairs along the building’s alley facade. The historic commission unanimously approved the alteration on Monday after no debate.

An interior demolition permit, for which the commission has no oversight, was issued on Sep. 27.

But the commission does have oversight of interior elements that impact the exterior, including the stained glass windows in the facade.

Saxony wants to remove the windows because they substantially reduce the amount of natural light. The masons, according to the development team, don’t want them. But the commission is calling for them to be saved, or even kept elsewhere in the building.

“They really are extremely esoteric,” said Historic Preservation Commission staffer Tim Askin in March.

“Don’t you think having a George Washington stained glass window in your unit would be one hell of a novelty?” said commission chair Ald. Robert Bauman. But architect Scott Ramlow and Ascendant’s Eric Nordeen said the religious themes in the windows might not appeal to tenants.

The commission, in March, ruled that the developer must find a new use for them, even off the property.

The building was originally built as the Plymouth Congregational Church in 1889. It was built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style by congregation member and prominent architect Edward Townsend Mix. The Scottish Rite Masons, a branch of Freemasonry, bought the building from the Congregationalists in 1912 and in 1936 a second prominent architect, Herbert Tullgren, guided a substantial rehabilitation that gave the building an Art Deco, limestone facade.

The plan calls for parking in the basement of the building. Four of the multi-floor units would occupy the western portion of the partially-exposed basement.

A common area and lounge would also be included in the basement. A second common area and gym space would be included on the second floor.

The rooftop apartments, located at the southern edge of the building, would be two-story units that would be accessed from their lower level on the third floor. They would each have a third outdoor level with a private rooftop deck.

Since the new plan was announced, Nordeen accepted the position of vice president of development with Ryan Companies US, Inc. Last September, Ascendant sold its other Milwaukee holding, the Wells Building.

Hotel Renderings

Existing Building

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Related Legislation: File 210919

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