Whether you refer to it as the Conley Building, the Maass Building, the Maass & McAndrew Building, the Moose Lodge, the Masque Theater building, or the Words Players Theater Building, you are correct. Because you are talking about the same jewel of our downtown that is steeped in Rochester commerce.
Like any old building, this structure located at 12-14 Fourth Street SW has seen many different tenants over its 115 years of life and a multitude of different neighbors and alterations to the surrounding streetscape. In fact, when it was first constructed the street wasn't even named "Fourth," it was "College."
After demolishing or removing a private residence, the Rochester Woolen Manufacturing Company factory building was built in 1900. There are no pictures of the exterior of the building at that time, but the above photos depict the daily life within the building with a stock room on the main floor and rows of seamstresses making trousers and other garments on the upper floor.
The building sat open on all four sides at that time with no neighbor yet to its east and a public alley to the west. This allowed plenty of natural light to bathe the interior from the regularly spaced windows that marched along the length of each facade plus the three rooftop skylights. However, less than five years later the building would have new owners: the Conley Camera Factory. Perhaps the most well known of its illustrious tenants, the Conley Camera Factory relocated to downtown Rochester from Spring Valley, MN. They claimed fame by supplying cameras for Sears, Roebuck and Company and grew to become one of Rochester's largest employers. In the below photo the men and women of Conley Camera Factory stand in front of the building in 1904 which likely looked very similar to its initial construction.
While prominent, this era was short lived and for the third time in a decade, the building changed hands to house the Maass and McAndrew Company. Maass and McAndrew specialized in the most modern of conveniences of that time working with Dr. Plummer on mechanical systems for Mayo Clinic as well as pedestrian tunnels and indoor plumbing. The photo below shows the employees of Maass and McAndrew in 1912.
Many notable changes took place during this era of the building. Chiefly, the architecture transformed from an inward focused factory/warehouse to a pedestrian-friendly porous storefront to promote retail traffic. Elements of that facade included prism glass transom windows above plate glass display windows, decorative cast iron columns, a stone cornice, and recessed entry doors. Inside the floor plan was divided down the mid-line of the building to create two distinct shops.
Maass and McAndrew Company stuck around for a number of years before finally leaving in 1929. The years that followed become a laundry list of tenants and subtenants that found a home in this 15,000 SF building. Along the way, College Street became Fourth Street and by the turn of the 21st century the building was home to a series of theater companies. The photo below from 1973 depicts the patchwork quilt of uses, signage, window air conditioners, and paint that encapsulated the rich architectural facade.
Today the building is not much to look at. In difference to other notable historic structures in downtown Rochester (Chateau Theater, the Armory Building, the Plummer Building, etc.), this building is not recognized for its intrinsic value not to mention its value architecturally and to our local heritage.
But under the surface much of the detail from the early 20th century remains. There are surprises that have been locked up inside for generations ready to be exposed. It has a lot of life left to live, and with the help of new ownership dedicated to preserving, restoring, and modernizing it, the future looks bright for this historic building in our revitalized downtown.