Osher story

Stalking the Hefter Building  Joan Wessel 872 words   February 14, 2018

In and out of the Hefter building, my Osher friends and I struggle with the big doors, admire the bathroom tiles, discuss our writing in the billiard room, argue Salon Current Events in the library, help ourselves to cheese and cookies in the dining room, and listen to Earl Lemon in the main room.  The picture of Edith Hefter hangs on the wall, renovation goes on upstairs and old oil portraits stare down at me.  Who used this building before me? I have a notion someone once told me, or that it was written someplace but searching for interesting material for our bimonthly newsletter, I googled around for the building history.

We all have an understanding of the bones of the story: that it was built in 1911 for Armin Schlesinger and his wife, that the William Brumder family lived there from 1923 to 1947, that the University bought it in 1946. It was a co-op dormitory until 1970 and then converted to offices, and renamed in 1989 after Edith Hefter, the wife of a university donor Bert Hefter.

But how did it come to be?  An afternoon of detective Googling and I was owner of pages of notes on the folks roaming the Milwaukee society pages at the turn of the 20th century, of the divorces, remarriages and mergers.

                This house where we spend so much time was designed by Fitzhugh Scott, 1881-1957, an architect born in Milwaukee and educated at Columbia.   He worked in the Alexander Eschweiler studio until 1901 and set out on his own. 

Besides the Hefter House, he designed the University of Wisconsin Alumni House on Kenwood for Myron MacLaren and his wife Gertrude Schlessinger MacLaren, sister of Armin Schlessinger, first owner of our Hefter House.  If anyone is interested in turn of the century marital adventures, the MacLarens are for you.  The MacLaren House was completed in 1923, occupied mostly by Gertrude, and sold to the University in 1949.

Fitzhugh Scott also designed the Club House for Milwaukee Country Club, some of the Milwaukee County Day School buildings, The original Allen-Bradley clock, Washington Park Band shell, and the only two houses in River Hills listed as Milwaukee County Land mark buildings: the Donovan house at 1425 W. Calumet, and the Lindsay/Stein House at 2055 Dean road.  He also designed and built his own residence there at 7800 N. river road, and the cornerstone of that house contains the cremated remains of Scott and his wife.

There is a quirky ending to the tale.  Fitzhugh Scott Jr, son of our Fitzhugh Scott, became an architect on his own, and designed Vail Village.  The University has a Fitzhugh Scott Chair of Design Excellence in the UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning, founded in 1997 by David and Julia Uihlein charitable foundation.  If all that isn’t a just reward for an afternoon at the computer, I don’t know what is.


Osher at the UWM Continuing Education Center hosts Special Interest writing groups, writing classes and newsletters.  It might be time to jump into the 21st century and offer a blog for the work: the poetry, memoirs, stories and plays.  How hard can that be.  Stay tuned to the site.