Proposed adaptive reuse alterations, viewed from Lake Street, of the Masonic Temple that may become apartments in Evanston. Credit: City of Evanston

One of Evanston’s most imposing and mysterious buildings may soon be an apartment building.

At its Oct. 11 meeting, the Evanston Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness for plans to convert Evanston’s Masonic Temple at 1453 Maple Ave. into 30 apartments.

The Evanston Masonic Temple was designed by the Chicago architect John Holabird and built in 1926. Holabird was a founding member of this temple and there was a prominent portrait of him in the building. John Evans was also a founding member. It is a local historic landmark and is eligible for national landmark designation.

The building had been vacant in recent years and was sold in late 2021 for $1.1 million. An early real estate listing for the building was for a “one-of-a kind rental space – perfect for creative office event space or gallery.”

The city preservation commission’s purview for the apartment proposal, which was designed by Myefski Architects, is limited to exterior changes visible from a public way, including alleys. In this case, all facades are being altered, but the commissioners focused on the south and west facades, which are in the classic revival style.

The commissioners found the changes to the south facade to be sensible and in keeping with the integrity of the classic revival style of the building. New wood casement windows would replace the tall existing windows on the first floor. Existing stone wreath ornaments above those windows would be replaced with casement windows of the same size.

Several commissioners mentioned salvaging the wreaths, as they will have historical interest from the building’s time as a Masonic Temple. Lower-level apartments on the building’s south side would have windows looking out on below-grade window wells (approximately 6 feet below grade) with iron railings.

In 2018, Design Evanston members toured the Masonic Temple and got rare glimpses of the distinctive high ceiling interior spaces. This is the Ionic Room. Credit: Ellen Galland

The proposed addition of an accessible lift on the west side of the building, adjacent to the existing broad entry stairway, was discussed at length.

Architect Mike Karkowski of Myefski Architects explained why there is no other reasonable location, given the site conditions and the design of the building. He agreed to look at options for screening the lift, and to consult with city staff members on this
possible redesign.

The design of new windows and inset balconies on the north facade also was discussed. Karkowski explained that the inset balconies are the only way to provide light and ventilation to those apartments, because the other new windows on the south facade must, by code, be inoperable due to its proximity to the north lot line.

The designers used the volume of the building’s interior to provide two-level apartments with high ceilings, mezzanines and exposed roof trusses. The size of each mezzanine bedroom is determined by the need to keep it under a third of the floor area of the room in which it is included so that a second exit will not be required.

Commission Vice Chair Stuart Cohen questioned the large number of apartments proposed, numbering 30. Based on the lot size and the R6 zone, 14 dwelling units would be allowed. The developer is requesting a major variance to provide 24 units. Then if three of those 24 units are provided under the inclusionary housing ordinance, the developer gets six bonus market-rate units (two per IHO unit), which brings the total to 30.

Karkowski stressed the high demand for a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments of these sizes in this location, near downtown and convenient to public transportation. According to the project’s zoning variance application, “the allowable density per the zoning ordinance will result in residential units that are much larger than is typical for the market.”

At the meeting, Cohen commented that assembly-use buildings are often very difficult to adaptively reuse, except for residential purposes.

Although the commission’s purview is exterior changes that can be seen from a public way, two public speakers at the meeting, architect Len Koroski and graphic designer Jack Weiss, both noted that the interior spaces of the building have significant interest and integrity as they have been almost unchanged since the building was built in 1926.

Major zoning variations will be required for the 24 dwelling units, for a new single-story trash enclosure on the east side of the building that will abut the alley and for parking. Only 10 of the 19 required parking spaces would be provided. They would be leased in the Holiday Inn garage, which is approximately 700 feet east of the building.

For the major variations, the project will need approval next from the Land Use Commission and then the City Council.

Project documents are available on the City of Evanston website.

Ellen Galland

Ellen Galland has had an architectural practice in Evanston since 1983. For more than 20 years, she has written articles for the RoundTable, including the column “Ask An Architect" and "The Green Column"...

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