Madison Mayor Ignores Community Responsibility for Loss of Masonic Temple

Demolition of Masonic Temple, Madison, South Dakota, 2015.04.27. (Screen cap from Madison Daily Leader video.)
Demolition of Masonic Temple, Madison, South Dakota, 2015.04.27. (Screen cap from Madison Daily Leader video.)

I thought I had dealt with my grief in anticipation of the demolition of the old Masonic Temple in Madison. Owners DeLon Mork and Randy Schaefer announced last September that they would take the wrecking ball to the derelict building. The Masons’ building had stood idle and unmaintained since its brief stint as the finest (some said too fine) restaurant in Madison in the mid-1990s. I had accepted the coming loss of this downtown landmark and prepared to move on.

But Monday, as dawn brought death to the Madison landmark, Mayor Roy Lindsay just had to say something stupid:

Mayor Roy Lindsay said that it was “history in the making,” adding that there was a time and a place for the structure, but today it was “time to move forward” [Jane Utecht, “Masons Comes Down,” Madison Daily Leader, 2015.04.27].

No, Roy, this was not history in the making. This was Madison unmaking history, smashing and burying history. The building did not somehow naturally outlive its rightful time and place all on its own. Madison failed to find the creativity and the resources and the will to say that this building could still have a place at the heart of the community. We had something historic, something impressive, something useful, and we let it go to waste.

Go ahead, “move forward.” But remember: contrary to Mayor Lindsay’s implication, this destruction was not fate. It was failure. Remember this failure, so other Lake County treasures are not neglected and left to die unnecessarily the way the Masonic Temple did on Monday.


31 Responses to Madison Mayor Ignores Community Responsibility for Loss of Masonic Temple

  1. Daniel Buresh

    The building was past saving for quite some time now. I just can’t figure out why people think it was a trade off for the Thrift Store. First off, Madison doesn’t and hasn’t had a thrift store. Consignment shops are not thrift stores. Second, if I had to choose between a money pit and a money generating thrift store, I choose the latter. That place is doing very well and we will see the return when money starts flowing to low income programs. Third, the thrift store was built with large donations so those upset should have done the same and petitioned wealthy locals to support the saving of the lodge. It appears everyone wants to complain but no one was really willing to take up the challenge. Lots of whiners, no action. It’s not going to save itself, and I don’t want to be on the hook as a taxpayer since it would have probably been a liability for the rest of its existence. Delon and Randy were willing to work with anyone willing to step up to the plate and save the building. Unfortunately, those who looked into it realized how far gone it was and walked the other way.

  2. Nick Nemec

    Any plans for the, now empty, space?

  3. Dairy Queen owner DeLon Mork and Regents president Randy Schaefer own the building. We’ll see what they decide to do with the land. I would speculate that we will see shortly. They acquired the building almost eight years ago, so after eating eight years of property tax while gaining little utility from the space, Mork is probably eager to make up for lost opportunity.

    Gale Pifer wrote the following last September about earlier intentions for the building:

    Mork had hoped to enlarge his Dairy Queen parking area and ease congestion between cars entering the DQ drive-up and customer parking. Supported by members of Evergreen Lodge No. 17, Masons and many other individuals, he has spent years trying to get permission to demolish the crumbling structure.

    “It is sad to see it go, but the building is beyond saving,” said Mork. “Thanks to the local Masons and others, we’ve finally obtained permission to remove the structure.

    “It won’t be the end of the Masonic presence on Egan Avenue, however. I intend to use material from the building to erect a permanent monument to the organization and building on the site in a green space fronting Egan Avenue” [Gale Pifer, “Masonic Temple Coming Down,” Madison Daily Leader, 2014.09.04]

    Green space would be nice. What better spot to sit and watch people go by (and maybe circulate petitions on the sidewalk?) than the Madison’s central intersection?

  4. Trade-off for the thrift store? That thought is floating around?

    Mork and Schaefer, as private businessman, are free to do with their property as they see fit (within the bounds of city ordinance and other sensible regulations, of course). But Daniel, those generous donors of whom you speak could have invested in a cultural facility that would have distinguished Madison. Instead they invested in a fancy ongoing rummage sale that says “Madison: Pretty Much Like Other Towns with Not Much New to Sell.” Oh well. Priorities.

  5. Daniel Buresh

    You don’t know how many comments I have heard that talk about how sad it is to see it go and then dog the thrift store as if it was a trade off.

    Madison doesn’t have a thrift store and far as I know they never have. Nobody outside is coming to Madison to shop and that will never change considering we are right in the middle of 3 larger urban areas. I fail to see how any sort of “cultural facility” is going to put Madison on the map. I’d need to know the specific ideas before I supported it. I’d rather see more economic development on the lakes that provided public options that will attract outsiders. Gotta keep the water clean though.

  6. Nick Nemec

    I don’t live in Madison and don’t know what the definition of “thrift store” is but my daughter does live there and I’ve been dragged along while she and my wife went to a store on, I think, the east side of Egan Avenue to dig through tables of used clothing. And I’m sure someplace on the west side of the same street within a block or two there is a dollar store, or if not technically a “dollar store” a dollar type store. Again I’m not sure what qualifies as a “thrift store”.

  7. Wade Brandis

    While I was a student at DSU, the Four Seasons Flea Market was one of my favorite places to shop. It still is whenever I have the chance to visit Madison to see old friends. It might be a consignment shop at it’s heart, but to me, I consider it a thrift store since most of the merchandise is previously used.

    I’ll admit that I haven’t been to the new thrift store since I left DSU before it was built. If I was still in Madison and had to choose between the two, I would choose Four Seasons first and then the new thrift store. Perhaps the new thrift store has things Four Seasons doesn’t have, but I don’t know for sure.

    As for the Masonic Temple, it was always a mystery to me. On said trips to the flea market and other stores downtown, I would walk by the old building.

  8. Daniel, you lack imagination. Sitting in the middle of three major urban centers (actually, I’d say we sit in a pentagon, with our market divided among Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown, Huron, and Mitchell) can be viewed as a problem, but we can also look at it as an opportunity. Folks from those other towns like to get out; what reason can we give them to come to Madison?

    There were numerous options for the Masonic Temple besides neglect and destruction. Community meeting space, conference center, art gallery, visitor center, business incubator, moviehouse… try this: http://prairieroots.org/2007/05/21/where-all-the-lights-should-be-bright/

    Couple imagination and cash, and you could get something better than a secondhand store, something that would get on the cultural map and house some interesting events. We wouldn’t need to get everyone to stop going to Sioux Falls or Brookings. We just need a few to stop in Madison on the way, or change one trip. A few visits here, a few visits there, and pretty soon, we’re making money (without having to brand ourselves as being just one step nicer than Mars).

  9. You see, Dan, I think that’s riled me about the mayor’s comment. He made it sound like there was nothing to be done. His comment reflected that lack of imagination, the vision of what could have been there. I know it’s gone and all my talk is now moot and we have to move on to other ideas… but dang it, can we at least admit what chances we’ve let slip through our fingers?

  10. Daniel Buresh

    The Four Seasons store is not a thrift store simply by their pricing. Frankly, I see it as a death trap and borderline hoarding. God forbid anyone is in the basement when a fire breaks out, which happens frequently in packed buildings like that. Seems like we have a fire every year that can be contributed to hoarding. I try to walk in there occasionally but nothing seems to change, or should I say the sheer amount of stuff packed in there makes it tough to even notice if anything changes. The thrift store has a 3 month life on all items. If it isn’t sold within 3 months, it’s gone. Just because it is previously used does not make it a thrift store. A thrift store is about selling items for much less than their value is. They hope you find some gems and maybe even items that you can turn around and sell for a profit. The point is to help those who have less get things that they may never have the option of buying.

    “Community meeting space, conference center, art gallery, visitor center, business incubator, moviehouse”

    I hear that and think of the already numerous publicly funded buildings we have that sit empty already. Those options went out the window a long time before I ever lived here. Maybe, had that happened at the beginning prior to it’s downfall(in the 90’s), things could have done that wouldn’t have required the building to be removed. At this point, it makes no financial sense to do that when we have empty buildings on main that are much more financially efficient. I don’t lack imagination, I just fail to see how any of those things would be unique? I say put the economic development into the lakes. That is what we have to offer that is unique for our area.

    I also agree with the Mayor that nothing could be done at this point. Why would I, as a taxpayer, want to fund a start-up building for new businesses with XXXX dollars when I can do the exact same thing for a fraction of the price in an already empty building on main street? We would need to put 250k in upgrades just to make it ADA compliant and to fix any outstanding issues. We don’t have to do anything to the closed up businesses on main.

  11. Nick Nemec

    So a “thrift store” accepts used stuff for sale and if it doesn’t sell in 3 months throws it away? And the other place isn’t a “thrift store” because they never throw out their overpriced used stuff? I agree too much crap is too much crap, but it sounds to me like it’s a management issue.

  12. Daniel Buresh

    The thrift store accepts used stuff for sale and after 3 months it goes to another store. That has nothing to do with whether it is a thrift or consignment store. That’s just good business sense to rotate out stock. The other place isn’t a thrift store because they try to maximize the amount of money they can get from an item. The thrift store will never price an item for more than 30% of its used value. Coffee table at consignment shop may run $60, that same item at a thrift store won’t be more than $20.

  13. Wayne Pauli

    I look at the 4 Seasons as a treasure hunt. My wife and I spend lots of time in these type stores in Sioux Falls, Mitchell, and Rapid City. I enjoy Saturday mornings at the 4 Seasons followed by a couple beers and a burger at the Stadium. I have not been to the South place. Maybe I could give it a try and then go to the Pub house for my beer and burger. It is a thought :-)

  14. Wayne Pauli

    And, as I tweeted this morning, seeing the Masonic lodge gone makes my tummy hurt. I was never in it, but it is similar to towns that tear down their Carnegie Library buildings. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. The people that now own our old farm site tore down the house I was raised in…That made my tummy queasy also. But it was not my call.

  15. Wayne Pauli

    the very ill Joni Mitchell said it best

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xWwUJH70ubM

  16. Daniel Buresh

    Well, if you like treasures than you should visit the thrift store. I’ve found some pretty interesting things including vintage toys and silver dishware. You could turn around and sell them on ebay and make easy cash or just add them to your collection. I visit 4 seasons as well, but I literally will get a headache if I stay too long. It’s sensory overload for me. For how many people are sad to see the Masons go, why didn’t anyone step up and attempt to keep it around? Much like me, I’m sure you weren’t around either, Wayne. It just amazes me how many people care after the fact that probably wouldn’t have taken two minutes to help save the building before.

  17. Wade Brandis

    It’s true the Four Seasons does have loads and loads of used merchandise most would call junk, but I have found rather good deals there in the past, mostly in regards to old video games. They don’t have video games far too often, but I have found some hidden gems that go for twice as much on eBay or at Last Stop CD Shop. There is a lot of stuff, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few hours looking around for anything. I will agree about the basement though… the ceiling is low and it can be a potential fire hazard, but right up the stairway is a back door which is usually closed, but I have found it open to let fresh air inside. With that said, I wouldn’t call it bordeline hoarding though. The people who rent spaces bring the stuff in, and it sits there until it’s sold or the renter pulls out.

    I’ll be honest here… I was probably one of the very few DSU students to regularly visit Four Seasons. I visited so much that I made personal friends with the staff and owner. This also plays into my decision to support them over the city thrift store. Not that I would boycott the city thrift store (I don’t believe in boycotts of any type). I would probably visit that store, but just not as frequently.

  18. Dan, can you remind us of the last crowded flea market fire in South Dakota?

  19. I do agree, Dan, that we have lost the opportunity, so we can only focus on what we have left.

    But heavens forfend that your thinking ever take hold at the LAIC, Chamber, and City Commission. I can see some merit to spending economic development dollars on water quality instead of on corporate welfare (like that million-dollar sales-tax kickback Custom Touch got a few years ago), but the mindset that gives up on other creative community development projects guarantees the town’s stagnation and decline.

  20. Daniel Buresh

    Not flea markets, but I can name a couple structure fires in the past couple of years where extensive amounts of clutter with minimal walking room have created the environment for some horrible fires. A fire on main street would be a complete nightmare.

  21. Everybody knows I was a big fan of the Madison community owned thrift store idea. And for the people who don’t know, I was a big fan of the Madison community owned thrift store idea. It was blogged well at the Madville Times Blog.

    But this is a damn shame. A damn shame.

  22. Daniel Buresh

    I have nothing against creative community developments. That is something we always must strive for, but we must do it responsibly with ideas that make sense in Madison. I just fail to see the greatness in a majority of what you listed.

    Community meeting space – Library, Courthouse, Parks in the summer, Community Center, Some very nice university rooms
    conference center – See above, include the armory, firehall. If you want bigger that will be a tough sell.
    art gallery – Isn’t that what the Brick House is? I know the Green Studio is a little more individual but it exhibits a somewhat famous local artist.
    visitor center – I always assumed that was housed at the depot.
    business incubator – start a fund and rent empty buildings. Not to mention, I think Madison has been doing pretty good for the amount of jobs brought to town in the past couple years. Also, wasn’t that the point of the data center north of DSU? There have been some pretty big companies that started out there. I heard the latest big business in there is looking at building a large office space since they are out-growing that building.
    moviehouse – wasn’t the big argument against the thrift store the possibility of affecting local businesses that are already established? Either way, I’d be all for helping move that to main street

    I’d like to see a year-round farmers market, but I also think we have the space for it if someone organized it. Maybe only once a month in the winter. I can’t wait for that because I love the jams and breads you can get there. I’m more of an outdoorsmen so I always lean towards outdoor types of things. I wish hockey would take off around here and I think the new rink and warming house were a good start. I think the Sioux Falls group looking at building a white water park would be great, assuming you couldn’t catch Hepatitis in the river. In the winter I spend my time in the hills doing winter sports. I just really wish we got more snow around here. In the spring, summer, and fall, you can find me usually near a lake or wildlife production area.

  23. Maybe not, Daniel. Light the fire after business hours, and we can get rid of all those useless buildings and start fresh. All those crappy buildings had their time and place, but it’s time to move forward… right? Heck, we could just move our business district out to the lakes, back to Old Madison’s original site.

  24. Daniel Buresh

    You can leave the sarcasm out and quit being so melodramatic. A majority of the buildings on main street are nowhere near the disrepair that the masons building was. Many owners have put a lot of money into their buildings and store fronts. I don’t know of any others that are extremely dilapidated.

  25. Deb Geelsdottir

    The more successful small towns I’m familiar with used their distinguishing structures to great advantage. They maintained and highlighted the old and interesting downtown buildings that differentiated them from every other small town. Dairy Queens, McDonalds, convenience stores, are all a dime a dozen and no one cares.

    Those big old false-fronted, 2 and 3 storey, decorative hulks on Main Street are what brings in outsiders. Visitors eat that stuff up. The towns put cafes, coffee shops, nicely arranged antique shops, etc., inside.

    Madison missed an opportunity there. Too bad.

  26. Deb Geelsdottir

    Madison is a tech town right? Then tear up a chunk of downtown sidewalk and replace it with different colored concrete to look like a keyboard! That would be so cool and people could walk on it. That would get attention. Is there space in a central location to add a computer mouse big enough to sit on? How about cell phone picnic tables? The screen could show Madison’s logo.

    Hahahahahahahaha!!! Go crazy Madville! Have fun!

  27. Daniel, I was simply responding to your comment that “We don’t have to do anything to the closed up businesses on main” and your capitulation to the idea that no one outside Madison will come to shop.

    For dilapidation, look up one story to the upstairs apartments, the boarded-up windows, the architectural elements left to crumble. Look at some of the first-floor facades, too, the cheap repairs. There’s a lot of the same failure to give a darn up and down the street that claimed the Masonic temple.

  28. Wade Brandis

    As much as I would like visitors and sports teams to patronize downtown businesses, they will at times seek out places like DQ, Taco Johns, or McDonalds. Taco Johns or McDonalds aren’t unique and different as a downtown cafe in a historic building, but the Madison DQ is extremely popular with people from other towns during Miracle Treat Day, and compared to the Winner DQ, they have a unique cooking style. DQ might be a chain, but many stores are franchisees run by local residents, and in turn, the cooking style varies widely. Our Winner DQ has real fried chicken dinners and tacos. No other DQ I know of has those.

    Does this make DQ or McDonalds better than Stadium Sports or China Moon? No. Not at all. If visitors are on a tight schedule or they don’t feel adventurous, they will seek out familiar food like McDonalds or DQ. My parents are like this. While they have eaten at China Moon before and loved it, they went to Taco Johns more because it was familiar to them. It’s a shame, really. I could have taken them to Stadium Sports, which I meant to try one day, but never did for some reason.

    While I was a DSU student, I frequented several businesses downtown such as Four Seasons, the old Books N’ More, Loopy’s Dollar, China Moon, and the old Dakota Drug. Downtown Madison is wonderful, and I was saddened when Dakota Drug and Books N’ More closed down. They were amazing small town shops that you don’t really see much anymore. The people who ran RadioShack moved into the old Dakota Drug building, but RadioShack apparently also went out of business a few years ago. As for the old Books N’ More, I’m not sure what replaced it. I recall that the building remained empty during my final year at DSU.

  29. Donald Zimmermann

    Just happened to notice the comments about the demolition of the Madison SD Masonic Building. My parents Ben and Ida Zimmermann owned the building around 1988; he was a life-long Mason and did everything he could to save the building before he died at 94 in 2012, thankfully before it was torn down.

    Madison should be ashamed for letting the building be demolished. I travel back and forth from CO to SD where I own two homes; I pass through Grand Island, NE which has a similar Masonic building. Instead of tearing it down, it is now home to upscale apartments and small shops, and the city is very proud of what they have.

    I heard all the arguments; yes, it had been neglected, and on and on. Europe has buildings dating back centuries; here we tear them down.

    Donald Zimmermann

  30. Thanks, Donald! I share your sense of loss. We are a throwaway culture. We dispose of our past and our history too easily… and we don’t build enough things to last.

  31. Donald, I remember your father Ben coming into my shop on occasion for help with his computer issues. Heck of a nice guy he was. Very friendly. It was unfortunate the day I came home from work in Sioux Falls and saw the building was now missing. I guess it is what it is but every year I see more businesses on Egan close with fewer and fewer coming in to take their place. When I moved in (2001) almost all of the buildings were filled with businesses of all sorts. Now if you walk down the street you see the sad state of things. It seems as if half of all the buildings are now empty and some in disrepair. Until this town starts embracing some sort of plan to bring in new business and jobs this will continue to happen. We have a school that brings in some of the best and brightest from around the state and the country and yet we offer them absolutely no reason to stay and contribute to the community and the local economy. Why is there no concerted effort to tap into the talents that the local college is graduating on a yearly basis instead of just letting them walk out of town with a degree. Attracting business and industry is the way to keep those types of people interested in our area. Without that there is no reason for them to stay. Hell even if they wanted to stay the majority of jobs are just not attractive to the average resident non the less a new college graduate looking to make a livable wage. Most pay barely above minimum wage and offer no advancement or promise of a meaningful and lucrative stable future. They didn’t go to college and sit around in a small town with a large student loan debt to make the bare minimum. Either the town will eventually die a slow and painful economic death or will wake up and find a way to bring in business and industry to attract and keep this talent that we are educating and quickly sending away via lack of opportunity. The way to keep people is to have a good amount of livable wage jobs. Too many of the local business leaders just pay barely over minimum wage and take the rest and decide to invest in luxuries instead of paying better wages to reduce turnover and attract talent and invest in the community. If you feed opportunity and talent along with good ideas you can only stand to profit even more from those investments. Again until higher paying and diverse opportunities show up in the local business community the amount of people able to afford to shop at these local shops will continue to decline. The same people that if paid well are also likely to have more exendable income and eventually build their own businesses, again helping grow the local economy.