Fun House

Life amid the plasma globes at Lytheria.

Standing in front of a three-story, neoclassical mansion on the East Side, a man dressed as an old-fashioned reporter bellows to anyone who will listen: “There is something very suspicious going on in that house! I tried to investigate myself, but they wouldn’t let me in.”

He suggests to a group of young trick-or-treaters, “Why don’t you go up and see what’s going on?” Guarding the house’s front doors is a bald man in sunglasses and a black suit. Above him, a sign reads, “Ordinary Building. Not a secret MIB Headquarters.”

Inside, a thin man in white gloves and a long white wig tells the children, “Alien registration desk – line forms to the left,” and motions with a cane toward a number of glowing glass bulbs positioned in a corner. Once the children have touched the orbs (gas-filled “plasma globes” made to glow with radio waves), two alien customs agents hand them full-sized candy bars.

The man in the wig is Lee Schneider, the owner/resident of the house, otherwise known simply as Lytheria. The name, assigned by Schneider after he purchased the sprawling property in 1980, comes from a fantasy novel he dreamed up but has never committed to paper. He may just be too busy, as he builds stage props for various groups in his spare time, organizes tabletop role-playing games and painstakingly restores the 120-year-old Lytheria property. Plus, there’s his day job with a company that specializes in water effects, such as when he made it rain on the band Fun as it performed during the 2013 Grammys. “I grew up in a family of tinkerers,” he says. “Then I went and got a computer tech degree, which made me an official tinkerer. Then I got a degree in computer hardware design, which made me an overeducated tinkerer.”

Technically a boarding house with 12 bedrooms, six bathrooms and two kitchens, Lytheria (2705 N. Shepard Ave.) is not a commune, co-op or art house, Schneider says, preferring to call it “a sanctuary for people who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else.” The 13 current tenants (there’s a waiting list to move in) meet once a month to discuss outstanding issues and divvy up chores.

Otherwise, they all do their own thing. “The secret to maintaining communal living is not to be too communal,” he says.

The first floor is filled with common areas. One room has served as a theater, with a handwritten movie schedule posted outside, and across the hall is a library. The basement contains a small village’s worth of workshops, and in one corner, resident Mike Davis creates plasma globes like those used during 2015’s Halloween performance. Once a pyrotechnic specialist working on rock band tours and such films as The Fisher King and Lethal Weapon 2, Davis now makes props for display at Lytheria.

“Mike is one of two people in town I trust to wire my body with explosives,” Schneider says. (He doesn’t identify the other person.)

The range of hobbies pursued by residents or regulars at Lytheria can be dizzying. Todd Voros, who played the reporter for Halloween, is an amateur actor, chess player, astronomer, restorer of antique watercraft motors, My Little Pony convention-goer, scuba instructor and member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, which he touts as a great way to receive specialized training at no cost.

“My purpose in life is not to die of boredom,” Schneider says of his friends and housemates. “So far, so good.”

‘Fun House’ appears in the March 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the March issue on newsstands beginning Feb. 29.

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