'This church means so much:' 2 years after fire, restoration of iconic Milwaukee church marches on

MILWAUKEE -- Two years ago on May 15, a Milwaukee church went up in flames.

At the corner of 9th and Highland, the iconic Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church -- standing since 1878 -- was destroyed in a matter of hours in 2018.

The fire broke out along the southside roofline. According to a lawsuit filed against a contractor and its insurers, it was sparked by a grinder being used on a gutter. It was a windy day, too -- which did not help the fight.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

24 hours later, a skeleton of what once stood for more than a century was all that was left.

Tom Mann

"It was pretty mindblowing how big the structure is number one, number two how much damage was done," said Tom Mann.

Mann is the superintendent of the Trinity restoration project. In short, he oversees a $24 million dollar effort to restore the church. That effort has made a lot of progress.

FOX6 News had the chance to get inside Trinity and its sea of scaffolding in the summer of 2019. Charred beams and empty windows left as clear reminders of what was.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Today, as much of the country is in a stalled state, the progress on the downtown Milwaukee corner is not. As the restoration continues, Mann says the structure is now "watertight 100%."

Doug Peters

That means the focus of the restoration effort can now be shifted to the planning of the interior restoration and the intricate aesthetic work on the exterior stone -- an exciting step forward for Trinity's pastor, Doug Peters.

"This church means so much, not only to Milwaukee but really to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod," Peters said.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Construction hasn't been impacted directly by COVID-19. Mann says the biggest roadblock has been getting things on time to move forward with the project. But there have been no setbacks in terms of timeline, at least not yet.

"It's been quite a challenge to be able to serve our folks when we are not together as a whole," said Peters.

Like many others, Pastor Peters is turning to the virtual world to bring services to his parishioners with the hope of one day being together under the roof near 9th and Highland again.

The goal is to have Trinity completely restored by the fall of 2021, but in the meantime, they are working to create a temporary chapel in the church's basement. That could be ready as soon as the end of this year.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church