Three Pillars to remove Van Brunt Hall
Long-term plans for site to be determined

By John Holman - Special to the Enterprise

Oct. 16, 2014


Van Brunt Hall at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities is to be torn down by the spring.
Submitted photo

OCONOMOWOC - Three Pillars Senior Living Communities is on track to tear down the historic Van Brunt Hall by next spring, leaving the site vacant while it charts its future.

The project includes complete evacuation and building removal of the former Masonic Home, which served Masons for decades.

“As a not-for-profit organization and careful stewards of our dollars, we made the decision to return Van Brunt Hall to its original buildable condition to ensure the long-term stability of Three Pillars and to allow for continued advancement of our services and capabilities,” Three Pillars President and CEO Mark Strautman said in a press release. “We invest our resources back into our community and programs and take our responsibility to our residents, donors, staff and the community very seriously. Recognizing the liability of the Van Brunt site - due to age, construction type and market trends - it was determined that removal of the building is the most viable approach for our community.”

In 1905, Willard Van  Brunt  donated his Dousman residence and established a $200,000 endowment to make a home for Masons and their families. Van Brunt Hall, the Wisconsin Masonic Home, was built in 1923 and housed residents until 2006, when they moved to the Compass Point living community, according to a history of Three Pillars.

Mary Emery, president of the Waukesha County Preservation Alliance, said it is saddening to see the building, designed by Armand Koch, the architect who designed the Wells Building in Milwaukee and Milwaukee’s city hall, go.

“This is some of the finest craftsmanship installed that there is. It’s a high-quality building. It’s National Register-eligible and it’s going to be a huge loss for the Dousman area, and for Waukesha County and for the state of Wisconsin. When that dedication happened for the Masonic Home out there, Masons from all over the state came to the dedication and bought into this and helped build it. This is their history that they are losing.”

Emery added that she believes in adaptive reuse of historical buildings, as it is cost-effective and keeping in line with green ideas to reuse buildings and materials whenever possible.

Emery also is involved in the effort to preserve the former county office building that once was the Moor Mud Baths in Waukesha. Losing Van Brunt Hall is another step in the county’s moving away from what made it what it is, she believes.

“These are both going be large losses from our historical fabric and our identity,” Emery said.

But Three Pillars is preferring to look to the possibilities of the future even as it removes part of the past. Strautman said the Wisconsin Historical Society signed off on plans to remove the building.

“While specific plans for how the site will be used in the future are to be determined, we continue to listen to our residents and their needs as well as the needs of our surrounding community,” Strautman said. “With our commitment to quality care and innovative services, we look forward to the opportunities a buildable site will provide for future needs of our residents and community.”

Also contributing: Brian Huber, Enterprise Staff