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Wrecking Ball Coming to Madison Masonic Temple This Month

Old postcard showing Masonic Temple before widening of Highway 34.
Old postcard showing Masonic Temple before widening of Highway 34.

One of my true loves has died, and I could not save her.

Gale Pifer reports that DeLon Mork and Randy Schaefer will demolish the old Masonic Temple in the heart of Madison sometime after September 20. They bought it in 2007 for $46,000. They were unable to find a productive use for the building. The city failed to heed lessons from elsewhere to make any offer the way it has to promote development of other downtown property. The building went unrepaired, unmaintained, unsealed, and now is unusable and unsavable. So boom, goodbye.

Interior of Masonic Temple, April 11, 2010.
Interior of Masonic Temple, April 11, 2010.

I suppose I'm as much to blame as anyone. I could have gotten rich as a computer security or health IT consultant or stayed a Republican so I could help Mike Rounds sell EB-5 visas, bought out DeLon and Randy, and been up on a scaffold right now putting new brick on Madison's new community cultural center and business incubator. But no, I fiddled around with low-profit activities like blogging and teaching French and thus never came up with the scratch to put my own money where my mouth is. So boom, goodbye.

Taking the band upstairs: Madison's Only Band rides the telehandler to the Masonic Temple roof for an evening concert, August 5, 2010.
Taking the band upstairs: Madison's Only Band rides the telehandler to the Masonic Temple roof for an evening concert, August 5, 2010.

I shall remember fondly the last great thing that happened on that property: M.O.B. playing rock and roll on the rooftop on a sunny summer evening during the 2010 Miracle Treat Day festivities. For one brief moment, we saw the creative, community-enhancing use to which that property could be put.

We can now only hope that once the wrecking ball clears the slate, some creative thinking will make something better of this central corner than just a bigger stretch of blacktop.

Nature does not forgive architectural wounds like this.
Nature does not forgive architectural wounds like this. Crumbling brick on Masonic Temple exterior, April 2010
South pillar and Masonic emblem, April 2010.
South pillar and Masonic emblem, April 2010.
view out NW window, Masonic Temple, April 2010
My office would have been in the northwest room, looking out at the steps, the pillars, and the center of town...
View SW from Masonic Temple roof, April 2010
...or up on the roof, where I could see all of downtown and dream of the next big thing.


  1. Lynn 2014.09.06

    Can you imagine what it would cost to build this building today? I realize the cost of fully rehabilitating a building like this. What a shame! It has so much character and adds to the distinctiveness of a main street rather than the sterile strip malls that started in metro areas and have come to our smaller towns.

  2. Ashley Kenneth Allen 2014.09.06

    Cory says, "I could have gotten rich as a computer security or health IT consultant." Ummmm...

    I have a comfortable life my friend, but I still don't make enough to buy and repair this building. I wish I could have done more locally to move and drive the conversation about downtown development, but the majority of voters don't agree that downtown development funds need to be spent on restoration rather than building new thrift stores and expensive townhomes. You need to put pressure on the other 3 democrat city representatives. I haven't heard any big plans from them yet to revitalize downtown.

    DeLon Mork does amazing things for the community and I am sure he will do his best to honor the Masons in the new green space on Egan.

    I wish things could be different, but reality is that restoration has lost most support in the community. I don't see a big enough group stepping in anytime soon to save the building. Even the local Masons lodge has given up on the building years ago. The cold hard reality is sad... Just wish it was the old Wenks plants going down instead.

    -Ashley Kenneth Allen

  3. 96 Tears 2014.09.06

    Watertown's Goss Opera Hall is living proof that restoration is possible for these large, old buildings, but that the cost makes the effort a labor of love only for those who can bankroll it. For decades this turn of the century structure survived the threat of the wrecking ball with only a few people knowing what existed above the first floor. Today, it houses a great restaurant, a coffee shop, gift store and art gallery featuring Josh Spies works among others. I don't know if the investor who paid for its restoration has been able to recoup his investments, but it is a jewel on Kemp Avenue where the downtown has declined over the years.

    I'm sorry you lost your old friend, Cory. Hopefully, the site will host something worthwhile to the community's future.

  4. lesliengland 2014.09.06

    like cascade near hot springs (red sandstone bank), or the old post office at nemo. cool.

    cory, I did read the obscure pleading incidently, before posting and the point was that info. was not newsworthy, it was personal, and probably the very least one could aver to serve the client. I just think your journalistic power requires a considerable amount of ethical restraint in publishing. fwiw

  5. Paula 2014.09.06

    I usually get irritated reading your blog Cory, so I don't know why I do :) I'm sure there are no Democrats around who have money to restore the building...otherwise you would have fairly pointed them out too.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.06

    Paula—huh? Why is this a partisan issue? I named the two owners of the building. Their party affiliation has nothing to do with this event, does it? I also named myself and my failure to put together the capital to save the building. My party affiliation is also irrelevant to this story, isn't it? I could point out that Madison's current mayor and its immediately preceding mayor, both Democrats, did nothing to promote redevelopment of that corner. Does that soothe your irritation?

    Paula, maybe the irritiation you feel is caused by the uncomfortable partisan eyeglasses you yourself wear when reading. Maybe you need to try a new prescription.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.06

    [Leslie, no one reading this post has any idea what you are talking about in your second paragraph. Let's keep our disagreements on other issues on the relevant thread and not confuse other threads.]

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.06

    Ashley, I am getting better at recognizing that nothing lasts. Bricks are just bricks. You're right: Madison simply has not prioritized downtown development, and it let slip an opportunity in letting the Masonic Temple reach this stage.

    Oh well. Out with the old bricks, in with the new, right?

  9. SDTeacher 2014.09.06

    My family was heavily involved with the Masons and their affiliates when I was a kid, so I did a lot of growing up in the Masonic Temple in my hometown. I visited last week and made a point of walking by the temple just because of those childhood memories. I know I would be very brokenhearted to see that building destroyed, so I empathize Cory. It's a shame. There is a lot of community history in those halls.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.06

    To some extent, SDTeacher, aren't we an ahistorical nation, always breaking with the past, leaving behind the old ways, plowing new ground?

  11. Lynn 2014.09.06

    Paula do you realize how much money it costs to refurbish one of these old buildings especially when they let it go for so long? It would take a person or group with some fairly deep pockets and it would be more of an act of philanthropy that looking to get a return on their investment.

    Some towns have a Main Street Association that give grants or low interest loans for the owners to help keep those old historic buildings up or restore the façade or interior which add value to the community and more than likely if those buildings have not decayed too much. Unfortunately we have lost many old historic buildings such as railroad depots, houses and others that helped make our communities unique.

  12. Jenny 2014.09.06

    Cory was a Republican at one time?

  13. Paula 2014.09.06

    Um, no kidding. Cory directed his comments at certain people in particular. That's all I was saying.

    "I could have gotten rich as a computer security or health IT consultant or stayed a Republican so I could help Mike Rounds sell EB-5 visas,"

  14. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.06

    Is this building being discussed a registered Democrat or Republican?

  15. Jenny 2014.09.06

    Wrecking is the correct spelling.

  16. Jenny 2014.09.06

    Do you have any beer in the cave, STO?

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.06

    Paula, the mention of "Republican" there was a spillover of my Northern Beef Packers/EB-5 postings and had nothing to do with the political affiliations of the owners of the Masonic Temple or anyone else in Madison. I meant it strictly as a reference to ways I could have gotten rich, not as a critique of Randy's or DeLon's politics or any implication that Republican thinking has anything to do with the fate of this building. I apologize for offering a humorous reference that improperly tinged this local issue with statewide politics.

    And Jenny, I apologize for the typo. I shall plead verklemptitude confounding my fingers. ;-)

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.09.06

    Small towns often use their old buildings as a drawing card. Madison is in a good location in SD to draw to a wonderful, rustic little town. Sort of Deadwoodish, but nice. More like Hill City. Charming, kitschy little shops, pie and coffee shops, cafes.

    But ya gotta love your old buildings to make it work.

  19. Eve Fisher 2014.09.07

    Two stumbling blocks with renovating old buildings in Madison:
    (1) the insurance company (whichever it is) that most building owners sign up with give cheaper insurance if you only use the bottom floor, and let the upper floor sit empty - (we know this because Allan at one point tried to get a downtown studio)
    (2) an ordinance got passed with very little notice requiring that any and all renovation of old buildings from now on will require retrofitting with full-scale sprinkler systems (very expensive).

  20. Douglas Wiken 2014.09.07

    Funny Sibson is not rejoicing that a Masonic building is being demolished. Maintenance failures that require only minimum attention and money lead to demolition of facilities or extreme costs if building is rehabilitated.

    Legislators have given zoning and planning bureaucrats far too much power in relation to their intelligence or abilities. They are like an incompetent carpenter with hammers only who sees everything as a nail. All they seem to use is the big hammer of forced demolition. It is ironic that in this South Dakota land of Republican ostensible support for property rights, they tolerate petty bureaucrats unable to properly use their power with appropriate restraint and intelligence.

  21. Douglas Wiken 2014.09.08

    Just heard today that the City of Winner wants to demolish the Masonic Temple here and build a new city office building there next to the jail...which was the Winner Municipal building until they converted it to a jail. There are apparently no limits to the way resources and money can be squandered.

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