Donors to fund Masonic drops


Winona keeps 20-hour parking


In the last several weeks, a few donors pledged over $57,200 toward saving some of the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre’s backdrops, giving the city of Winona the funding it needs to restore 10 of the historic backdrops. On Monday night, Winona Parks and Recreation Community Services Director Chad Ubl announced that good news, the City Council approved plans to auction off most of the other Masonic Temple drops, and the council voted unanimously to leave the city’s 20-hour limit on on-street parking in place.

City will save some Masonic drops; auction slated for the rest

Winona city leaders have been talking about restoring the Masonic Temple building and its collection of hand-painted, three-dimensional backdrops for years, but last year, the city took its first major steps to actually doing it, funding an over-half-million-dollar project to replace the temple’s roof and a $1.8-million project to repair and the upgrade the theater. A vision of the theater becoming a happening events center with regular performances contributing to a vibrant downtown helped convince City Council members to support those projects.


The latest $1.8-million project also forced a decision this spring between keeping as many of the historic drops onstage as possible or making room for more modern, more versatile stage equipment. The council agreed on a compromise to keep 10 of the historic drops onstage. The new project, which is slated to begin in early January, will replace the theater’s stage equipment, but before those 10 drops can be re-hung above the refurbished stage, the drops themselves need refurbishing. However, the city never allocated money for restoring the drops themselves and last month, the City Council agreed not to spend public funds on restoring the drops. If they care about saving the drops, private donors would have to step forward.


This week, Ubl announced that a few anonymous donors did step forward. Together with just under $13,000 in cash already raised, the new pledges total $70,000, enough to cover a rough estimate for the restoration work. 

“I hope we have enough money. I anticipate there’ll probably be more fundraising,” said Margaret Shaw Johnson, a long-time supporter of the drops and the arts in Winona who attended Monday’s meeting. Johnson wishes the city could have saved all 98 of the surviving drops — one of the original 99 is damaged beyond repair, according to Ubl — but she said that was impossible. “It was just never financially feasible,” she said, referring to a past cost estimate that gauged the price for restoration of all 98 at $700,000. “At least we should have the 10,” she added.

Apart from the 10 drops the council agreed to save and keep onstage, most of the other 88 surviving drops will be put up for public auction next week. Seventy-three of the 88 drops will be put up for bid in “mid-November” Ubl told the council, along with a number of set pieces and other theatrical paraphernalia from the old Masons lodge. Ubl said the sale would likely last 7-10 days. Keep reading the Winona Post for more information on that auction.

The other 15 drops


The city is auctioning 73 drops, not all 88. In addition to the 10 drops the council agreed to save, that still leaves another 15 drops that are not being auctioned off right now and that are not slated to be put onstage at the theater — at least not right now. So why isn’t the city selling those 15 drops? In an interview, Ubl explained that the city is holding onto the 15 drops for the time being at the donors’ request.

The City Council approved a specific list of which 10 drops to save earlier this spring following a public survey and recommendation by the Fine Arts Commission, and the council reaffirmed that list earlier this fall, when Ubl himself recommended reconsidering which 10 to keep onstage. 

Most of the temple’s backdrops depict intricately painted scenes, but three of them are fancy curtains. The $1.8-million stage project includes new curtains to replace them. The donors asked if the city would look into whether, instead of replacing the historic curtains with new ones, the city could use the historic curtains. Ubl stated that the city would not pay extra to do that, but that it might not cost extra or the donors might be willing to cover the cost. Ubl said that if that idea proves to be feasible, he will bring an agenda item to the council by December 6. If the council approves a change to the plans for the stage equipment project, those historic curtains could either be included in addition to the set of 10 historic drops currently slated to be saved or the historic curtains could replace some of the 10 drops currently slated to be saved, taking away their spot on the stage.

When Ubl suggested a similar idea earlier this fall, council members expressed openness to including some of the historic curtains in addition to the current 10 drops, but not instead of them.

The historic curtains account for three of the 15 drops not being sold because of the donors’ request. Another 12 drops are being held onto because they go with a few of the drops that are part of the 10 being saved. The historic drops are used together in sets of three to five drops to create three-dimensional scenes. Each scene includes a full backdrop that covers the full width of the stage. “Cut drops” and “legs” — drops that have holes cut out of them or that only cover part of the stage’s width — are layered in front of the backdrop to create a three-dimensional effect. For instance, the landscape or forest scene includes five drops, four of which are cut drops in the shape of trees. Actors can walk in front or behind “the trees.” The current list of 10 includes four of the five drops in the forest scene, and the donors asked if the city would hold onto the fifth drop, in hopes that the full scene might be kept together somehow, Ubl stated. The current list of 10 also includes some but not all of the drops from the Hades scene, the Cathedral scene, and a King Solomon scene, and Ubl said the donors asked the city not to sell the other drops associated with those scenes.

So the city’s holding onto those 12 drops. Exactly how would they be used? “If there would be a desire by the donor to swap them out, we’d have the option to sell the complete scene and not split the scenes up,” Ubl stated. In other words, the City Council could change the list of 10 to be saved in order to keep complete scenes together for future sale. Alternatively, the city could hold on to the 12 for some future scenic use, Ubl stated, whether that is occasional use onstage or display elsewhere in the building.

That is all hypothetical right now, Ubl stated. The donors have not asked for any changes to the city’s plans for which drops to save and the City Council has not approved any, he said. Delaying the auction of 15 drops just gives city staff time to look into possibilities, Ubl added.

Ubl needs to auction most of the drops soon. He needs them out of the building before construction starts in early January. He said there is room to store 15 onsite during construction, but not all 88. Any change in which drops are going onstage — or any addition of historic curtains — would have to be made by December 6, Ubl stated. By the time construction ends — it is projected to be completed next summer — the city will need to decide what to do with any remaining drops in order to open the space up for events, he added.

20-hour parking rule upheld


After hearing from citizens whose vehicles were towed under what they felt was an overly restrictive rule, three Winona City Council members said they wanted to consider changing the citywide limit on how long cars may be parked on city streets. On Monday night, the council unanimously agreed not to change the rule.

Currently, owners may be ticketed for parking their car on the street for longer than 20 hours. If a vehicle is not moved within four hours of being ticketed, it is towed away. Many Winonans park vehicles, trailers, and boats on the street for several days at a time. They are, generally, only ticketed and towed if someone complains.

Last week, Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack recommended that the council not change the rule because it would make enforcement logistics more difficult for officers.

At Monday’s meeting, several council members said that, for the most part, complaints are only made when vehicles have been sitting in one spot for much longer than 20 hours, and they trusted police to use good discretion when enforcing the rule.

Council member Michelle Alexander said she did not think police would ticket people who left their car parked on the street while traveling for the weekend, even if it was a violation. Council member Paul Schollmeier had originally supported reconsidering the rule. On Monday, he said, “I don’t particularly think the system is broken. I just think that we had some unfortunate communication breakdowns.”

“I think if you have the kind of communication you should have with your neighbors, you’ll be fine,” Mayor Mark Peterson said. Originally, he had supported extending the limit.

“Most people I know have driveways and use them,” added council member George Borzyskowski.


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