Historic Detroit

Masonic Temple

HistoricDetroit.org is working to get its own history of the Masonic Temple up. This history is from the Masonic Temple’s Web site, www.themasonic.com:

The development of the Detroit Masonic Temple is indicative of the growth and the strength of the Masonic Fraternity in this community.

The first move towards a suitable home for the Order in Detroit was made in 1891. In January of that year, the bodies occupying space over the old Wayne County and Home Savings Bank on West Congress Street appointed a committee to confer regarding the purchase of property and the erection of a temple which would accommodate the Lodges, Chapters, Council, Commanderies and the Michigan Sovereign Consistory. Several meetings were held by this joint committee in1891 and the early part of 1892. On March 16, 1892 representatives of Zion, Detroit, Union, Ashlar, Oriental, Schiller and Kilwinning Lodges, Monroe and Peninsular Chapters, Monroe Council, Detroit and Damascus Commanderies, and the Michigan Sovereign Consistory, held the first meeting of record at which time Michigan Sovereign Consistory was requested to place a valuation on the property which it owned on Lafayette Boulevard. At a meeting held March 23 of the same year, the Michigan Sovereign Consistory placed a valuation of $37,500 on the 75 feet between Cass Avenue and First Street on Lafayette Boulevard, and generously offered to transfer this property to a new corporation to hold title to this property, where a suitable structure should be erected to house all Masonic Bodies, and agreed to accept therefor certificates of contribution. Thus we have the beginning of the Masonic Temple Association of Detroit. The above land was added to by the purchase of adjoining property, giving a total frontage of 150 feet on Lafayette Boulevard and a depth of 130 feet on First Street.

Committees were appointed to raise funds for the erection of this Temple. Complete plans and specifications, prepared by Mason and Rice, were formally adopted on December 3, 1892. A committee was appointed to wait upon the State Legislature to secure an enabling act to incorporate fraternal organizations, and on March 19, 1894 the Masonic Temple Association of Detroit was formally incorporated. In designing the Temple to be erected on Lafayette Boulevard and First Street, representatives then in charge of the activities, planned a structure, that in their opinion, would care for the needs of the Fraternity for fifty years to come. The various bodies moved into the Temple in 1896.

Notwithstanding the careful planning and wise devising of the committee, the Order outgrew the Lafayette Boulevard Temple in 12 years and in 1908 it was crowded to capacity. The growth of the Order had been so rapid that it was found necessary to place restrictions on the use of the dining room service, the assembly halls and other parts of the Temple. With the idea in mind of enlarging the Temple then in use, the Temple Association finally purchased 50 additional feet of land on Lafayette Boulevard from the Newland Estate and 16 feet from the Benevolent Order of Elks.

Some time was spent by George D. Mason & Co. architects in devising plans for the enlarging of the Lafayette Boulevard Temple to take care of the over-crowded situation It was finally decided, however, that the land available in that location would not permit the erection of a Temple that would be adequate for the needs of the fraternity. A move was started in 1913 to purchase a new location and a thorough survey involving many choice sites in the city of Detroit was instituted. After long and careful study by the committee in charge, considering every angle which might enter into the erection of such a structure as would be necessary, the Association finally obtained options on 350 feet of property fronting on Temple Avenue (then Bagg Street), running in an easterly direction from the Northeast corner of Second Boulevard. Because of the desirable location affording close proximity to the downtown section of the city, adequate transportation facilities, and a splendid outlook on Cass Park which would forever give them an unobstructed approach to the Temple, the Association entered into negotiations which resulted in the purchase of this property and commissioned George D. Mason & Co. to draw plans for the new Temple. After the plans bad been completed, Moslem Temple purchased 50 feet of additional land fronting on Temple Avenue at the eastern end of the property already secured and presented the same to the Masonic Temple Association. This additional property enabled the Association to include club quarters for Moslem Temple and the final designs of the structure were formally approved.

During March 1920, most elaborate plans were perfected covering the entire membership of the fraternity in this community and a campaign to secure subscriptions to finance the undertaking was inaugurated; the committee, through its initial efforts, secured subscriptions amounting to $2.5 million.

In order to save the association as much money as possible and secure the greatest values for the money spent, time and care were used in placing the contracts for the various portions of the structure.

It was on Thanksgiving day in 1920 that the sod was first turned. And with many more months of planning and labor ahead, the Craft was at work on this undertaking of worldwide interest. A great host stood in Cass Park for this occasion and flowed in human currents up and down Second Boulevard and what was then Bagg Street. It is certain that no man will forget the occasion.

George Washington’s own working tools, brought from his Virginia Lodge, were employed. The first mortar was spread with the same trowel that our first president used in the cornerstone laying of the National Capitol. On Sept. 18, 1922, thousands of master Masons and their families witnessed the cornerstone of the Masonic Temple of Detroit being placed into position.

On Thanksgiving day of 1926 the final ceremony of this program took place when thousands gathered for the formal dedication of the Temple and the consecration of its rooms, by the Grand Lodge of Michigan, to the work of the Craft. And as a means of opening the public portion of the building as a civic center and for the use of the community at large, a most elaborate and delightful program was offered in the Temple’s beautiful auditorium.

The Detroit temple is unique among the Masonic buildings of the country because all of the various bodies are housed in the same structure. There are some 12 million cubic feet of space in all, making it the largest and most complete building of its kind in the world.

The precedents for fraternal buildings are all in Greek or Egyptian. Nothing of the sort had been done in Gothic, yet the architect felt that this style best expressed the traditions of Masonry, Solomon’s Temple and the beautiful Scottish Rite Cathedral in Washington to the contrary notwithstanding. Certainly the spirit and tradition of the Knights Templar and the historic setting of the Scottish Rite are Gothic, and operative Masonry, having its origin in the guilds of Europe, has the tradition of the great cathedrals of which they were builders.

In all, there are 28 units in the building grouped into three major divisions: the ritualistic tower, the auditorium and the Shrine Club. Provisions for 50 Masonic bodies which must operate independently were included in the plans.

The Ritualistic Building, or 14-story tower, provides a home for 26 Blue Lodges, the Consistory, two Commanderies, five Chapters and the Council. This tower is 210 feet high, dominating the view of the surrounding neighborhood and facing beautiful Cass Park, five acres of green lawns and graceful elms. The temple in its classical Gothic architecture and facing of Indiana limestone gives one the impression of the massive medieval castles of old.

While it is as yet unfinished, the plans call for a third-degree auditorium seating 800 on the top floor of the tower. Below this on the various floors above the ground level are the 10 other Blue Lodge rooms, all having different decorative treatment, the motifs of decoration being taken from the Egyptian, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Gothic and Romanesque. These rooms are all true to period and the composite has not been used. All of the artwork throughout the building, especially the beautifully decorated ceilings, was done under the personal direction of famous Italian artists.

On the third floor of the tower we find the quarters of the Commandery, consisting of the beautiful parlor treated in the Tudor period with its walls of high oak paneling and the two figures in armor creating an atmosphere suggesting the period of knighthood. The work room of the Commandery (known in the parlance of Templarism as the Asylum) adjoins the parlor. This room is truly a poem in stone and wood with a touch of the cathedral suggested by its Gothic architecture and stained glass windows, placed as a memorial to those who gave much of their life to the progress of this phase of the Order. The Asylum is a reproduction of the room in the Tower of London where the knights received their charge before leaving on the Crusades during the middle ages. These details have also been carried out in the stone flagging of the floor with its worn edges suggestive of the rough wear caused by the mail shod feet of the ancient knights.

Adjoining the Asylum is the small but beautiful Red Cross Room devoted to a part of the ritualistic work of the Templars.

On the second floor we find the Chapter Room, made most impressive by its heavy red hangings which cause to stand out in bold relief the white Doric pillars surrounding the room.

The main lobby is a work of art, the decorative scheme having been adopted from a room in an old castle in Palermo, Sicily. The expansive archway of the main entrance with the especially designed chandelier and handsomely wrought brass floor plaque are all features of interest. The bronze doors of the six elevators which serve the tower are emblazoned with the symbols of the Craft, the same symbolism being very artistically incorporated in the decorative scheme throughout the entire building.

This brass floor plaque, 5 feet in diameter, is emblematic of truth, strength and charity.

Adjoining the main lobby is the Scottish Rite lounge, richly furnished with period furniture, beautiful hangings and Persian rugs, with its high paneled walls, heavy molded ceilings and cathedral windows creates an atmosphere suggestive of Scottish Rite Masonry. In this lounge is hung an original painting of George Washington as master of his lodge, done by Emanuel Leutze in the year 1855, and also the wonderfully wrought suit of armor fashioned in Europe especially for the Scottish Rite quarters.

Stepping from the lounge through an ample hall, one enters the Scottish Rite Cathedral with its seating capacity of 1,600 and its fully equipped stage for the dramatization of the Scottish Rite degrees. The cathedral is a beauty spot of the Temple made rich by the carvings and color work of the whole which is most effectively carried out in the ceiling. The cathedral is equipped with a four manual organ of 70 stops, the echo of which is located in the ceiling. The stage is modern in every detail with a width of 64 feet from wall to wall and a depth of 37 feet from foot lights. The proscenium opening is 35 feet. The height from floor to fly gallery is 28 feet and from floor to gridiron is 64 feet. There is a counterweight system of 100 sets of lines and a remote control five color preset switchboard.

Passing along from the Scottish Rite Cathedral on the main level to the center portion of the Temple we come to the auditorium or public portion of the structure. In this section of the building on the third floor mezzanine is the mammoth Drill Hall, comprising 17,500 square feet of open floor space. This Drill Hall is used by the uniformed bodies of the organization Commanderies, Consistory and Shrine Patrol. The Drill Hall is equipped with one of three floating floors in the United States; that is, the entire floor is laid on felt cushions. This type of construction provides more or less give to the floor which tends to relieve the marchers.

Immediately under the Drill Hall we enter the Main Theatre. The Main Theatre of the Masonic Temple is one of the finest public halls in the United States, having a seating capacity of about 5,000. Because of the arrangement, there is maintained a very intimate contact between audience and stage. Aside from the Shrine Ceremonials and an occasional concert conducted by some of the bodies, this auditorium is available to the public and is becoming more and more a center for the finest things in dramatics and music offered to the people of Detroit. The decorative treatment of the auditorium has considerable detail adapted from the Venetian Gothic and in the handling of the color decoration its character his been consistently carried out. The general tone is gold which has been enlivened with red and blue to produce a quiet richness of color seldom attempted in this type of work. A great deal of careful study was given to the acoustical treatment of this room which has produced an auditorium where the hearing qualities are perfect from every seat. The auditorium is lighted by indirect light from the balcony rail and from two magnificent electroliers suspended from the ceiling. These chandeliers weigh one and a half tons each and take three quarters of an hour to lower to the ground level. They are thirteen feet over all, and eight feet in diameter. Having a jeweled effect with red, blue and amber on dimmers a great variety of lighting combinations are possible.

It might be mentioned here that the lighting fixture contract for the Temple called for the greatest number of special fixtures of any building in the country. There is a great variety of styles all well studied and in perfect scale.

The stage of the auditorium is the second largest in the United States, having a width between walls of 100 feet and a depth from curtain line of 55 feet. It is equipped with a counterweight system of 90 sets of lines and a remote control four color pre-set switchboard. Supported from the gridiron are two structural steel bridges for carrying border and other lamps. The proscenium arch is 64 feet wide and 32 feet high. There are 23 well furnished dressing rooms, both the individual type and those for ballet and chorus groups, these being on three levels are served by elevator.

Both the Main Theatre and the Scottish Rite Cathedral are provided with picture booths, equipped with the most modern Motiograph machines, effect machines and spot lights.

The plans for the auditorium provide for an organ, the lofts of which are located on either side of the proscenium arch, but as yet the instrument had not been installed.

In this center section of the building directly below the auditorium and approached by a wide stairway on either side is the Fountain Ball Room, a very expansive circular room receiving its name from the tiled fountain which produces a very beautiful effect when lighted. The Fountain Ball Room provides enough space for the seating of 1,800 at a banquet, or will provide for 1,500 couples when the room is used for dancing purposes.

Located a half floor below is the slightly smaller Crystal Ballroom which is unquestionably one of the most beautiful rooms in America. The decorations of this room are in the Italian style and the two magnificent crystal electroliers, from which the room is given its name, lend the final touch of magnificence. Nine hundred diners may be accommodated in this ballroom and there is ample room for 750 couples for dancing.

Adjacent to these ballrooms are the five dinner rooms, recreation room and public grill. By using all of the space available for the serving of banquets the catering department of the Masonic Temple can serve 5,000 persons at one sitting.

For the convenience of those using the Temple there is located on the ballroom mezzanine floor a five-chair barber shop and a soda fountain, where light lunches are served.

Months of planning were used in working out the details of the mammoth kitchens of the temple, which are manned by a steward and chef with years of experience. The staff of the catering department is the best to be had, the chef having been trained in the leading hotels of Europe and America. All of the equipment in the kitchens are electrically operated, including the ovens, kettles, dish washers, dough mixers, etc. The cooking is all done in aluminum and great care is used to maintain absolute cleanliness in the careful preparation of the food. This department operates its own pastry shop where the pastries used at the formal banquets as well as the daily dining service are produced. The temple is equipped with two 40-ton ice machines which provide for the refrigeration and the making of ice.

The 10-story unit at the east end of the building is devoted to the exclusive use of Moslem Temple. The main floor with its clerk’s desk and offices for the club manager and recorder of the Shrine has the appearance of the most up-to-date hotel lobby.

On the second floor we find the magnificently furnished lounge with a well-appointed writing room and library adjoining. No pains have been spared in providing the finest period furnishings, rare rugs and hangings for the Shrine Club.

Above the lounge we have the fully equipped billiard room with the card room adjoining, and above that the club gymnasium equipped with the most modern apparatus. The remaining floors are devoted to the guest rooms, there being 80 in all. These rooms with their connecting baths are as delightful as any hotel rooms in the city and are available for any Noble of the Mystic Shrine or member of the Blue Lodge who may care to take advantage of the same at very reasonable rates.

The power plant of the temple, which is equipped with the most scientific mechanical devices of the latest design is sufficient to produce the power, light and heat for a community of 50,000. High pressure steam, air and water lines and electric cables are carried through immense tunnels placed 34 feet below the street, these tunnels being 10 feet in width. The main tunnel, which runs east and west, is intersected by two tunnels of equal dimensions running north and south. In this manner the steam, air and water lines and the electric cables are accessible for inspection and repairs at any time. Great care was exercised in installing the necessary fire and water protection. The Detroit Water Commission installed an 8-inch main from their service line on Temple Avenue and a 6-inch main from their service line on Second Boulevard. Thus interruption on either one of the mains will not impair the operation of the building. The electrical equipment through out the building is known as remote control apparatus, the same system being used also on the main switchboard. Automatic contactors are used everywhere with over and under load attachments, fuses therefore being used only at the distributing panels and momentary overload on any part of the electrical equipment is taken care of automatically at the main switchboard. In connection with the engine room is the machine shop where the repair work about the temple is taken care of.

The Masonic Temple is one of the most complicated buildings ever erected in the United States. In the ritualistic tower but four columns extend in a vertical line from the basement to the roof, the other great columns being staggered involving eccentric loads which must be carried by proper steel fabric. Many mammoth trusses are used throughout the structure; two Pratt trusses 39 feet in depth and 78 feet in length support three floors at the top of the ritualistic tower. Above the Consistory Cathedral carrying the Commandery and other apartments between the third and sixth floors two immense plate girders are used weighing twenty tons each. These girders are 18 feet in depth and 78 feet in length. The Drill Hall and the Main Theatre are supported by eight immense Pratt trusses 18 feet in depth and 76 feet in length, the upper cord of these trusses supporting the Drill Hall and from the lower cord is suspended the ceiling of the Main Theatre.

A further idea of the size and extent of this great Temple erected by the Masonic Fraternity may be gleaned from the following facts: There are 1,037 rooms in the temple, the roof of copper, concrete and asphalt is 80,000 square feet in area - or nearly two acres; the excavation for the foundations required the removal of 1.62 million cubic feet of earth: 3.85 million bricks were used for partitions and walls; the exterior contains 100,000 cubic feet of stone from the quarries of Indiana, and the structural steel used in the erection of the building weighs 16 million pounds.

This gift of the Fraternity is not only to the local community, for the Detroit Masonic Temple is assuming a national as well as an international position because of its facilities and service.

Miscellaneous facts

During the presentation of the original plans, the architects intention was to build the temple in the shape of a hammer. The ritual building was to be the head, and the Main Auditorium the handle. This plan was abandoned when an additional 50 feet of frontage was acquired and the Shrine Club was added.

The temple, at one time, used to house the following, but have since been removed or are no longer in service: · 3-chair barber shop · Shoe shine parlor · 15 bowling alleys · Cigar/candy/souvenir stand · Indoor swimming pool · Bakery · Billiards room · Roof-top garden · Gymnasium

A third auditorium is located on the seventh floor but remains unfinished, however, due to lack of funds. Had this room been completed, the Masonic Temple of Detroit would have been the only building in the world to house three theaters under one roof.

The painting of George Washington that hangs on the sixth floor is an original painted in 1856 by Emanuel Luetze, a German artist most famed for Washington crossing the Delaware. This painting was exhibited in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts from 1876 to 1885. From 1885 to 1910 it was on exhibition in the Grand Lodge Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. In 1927, it was purchased from John Hana Gallery in Detroit by Michigan Sovereign Consistory, now known as the Scottish Rite.

The large porcelain vase, located in the main lobby, is of the Ching Dynasty, which was in existence from 1644 to 1912. This particular vase is called a Yung Chen Temple Presentative Vase and was made somewhere in the late 1600 to mid-1700s. Its bold, baluster shaped body stands 55” high with a flared base carved out of Teakwood.

The first steel structure of the temple was lifted into place at exactly 12 o’clock noon on April 22, 1922.

Some 3.85 million bricks were used for the walls and partitions.

The structural steel of the temple amounts to 16 million pounds.

The artist and sculptor for the interior of the Main Lobby was Corrado Parducci, who was probably the last surviving master architectural sculptor in America when he died in 1983. (HD.org note: Parducci’s work can be seen all over the city, including on the Free Press and David Stott buildings.)