Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

New Home Found for Masonic Center Windows

George Washington won't be watching over anyone's bedroom, at least not in downtown Milwaukee.

By - Nov 19th, 2021 05:16 pm
Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Building photo by Jeramey Jannene, window photos by Ramlow/Stein

Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Building photo by Jeramey Jannene, window photos by Ramlow/Stein

The developers looking to convert the Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center to apartments have found a home for one of the most unusual items ever to impede a Milwaukee development: stained glass windows.

Saxony Capital, which is seeking to redevelop the building into 22 apartments, 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 Historic Preservation Commission is calling for them to be saved, or even kept elsewhere in the building.

The 20 windows, donated over time by members, are not among the highest quality in Milwaukee, according to everyone involved, nor is the content well known. Some reports refer to them as painted glass. “They really are extremely esoteric,” said Historic Preservation Commission staffer Tim Askin in March. They include quotations, which reference the Bible, the Scottish Rite or historic Scottish authors. “The quote under George Washington here, he didn’t say that, and as far as Google says, no one else did either.”

The windows are also quite large, standing approximately eight feet tall.

The commission asked for a plan for them before redevelopment of the building, 790 N. Van Buren St., could proceed.

And now one appears to have emerged.

“It has come to our attention that there is a party from a Sheboygan Masonic Temple that would like to use the stained glass windows at their facility in an appropriate setting,” says an application filed with the historic commission.

There is at least one commissioner though that thinks keeping them in the building is a viable option.

“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 Holding’s Eric Nordeen said the religious themes in the windows might not appeal to tenants.

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

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. 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.

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.

Ascendant Holdings once sought to redevelop the building as a hotel with a 14-story addition. But that plan failed to secure financing and Nordeen found Saxony as a new partner. Since the new plan was announced, Nordeen accepted the position of vice president of development with Ryan Companies US, Inc.

The proposal to send the windows to Sheboygan is pending before the commission. A window inventory was submitted alongside the application.

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: New Home Found for Masonic Center Windows”

  1. mkeumkenews09 says:

    Total abuse by the Historic Preservation Commission.

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