Cathedrals of the Double Headed Eagle : Part 1
A Quick Tour Around the Scottish Rite Cathedrals Past and Present
SP Conor Patrick Moran, 32°
My interest in the meeting places of the Scottish Rite can largely be attributed to my love of the arts and architecture. Given my work schedule, I find that it’s often difficult to make a side diversion to visit one of these majestic buildings while traveling. It is also interesting to note that my Valley, the Valley of New York, meets in the Grand Lodge building in New York City. We have long since sold our building, which I believe but haven’t verified, is still standing somewhere in Midtown. I thought a quick tour around some of the majestic cathedrals of the Scottish Rite might shed some ‘light’ on a time when Masonic organizations went to great lengths to build grand edifices to exemplify to the world just how unique the organization really is.
To begin with, where does the name cathedral come from and why did it end up that Scottish Rite buildings were christened cathedral? Much like ordinary lodge buildings that have been dubbed ‘Temples’ in the past, there’s nothing particularly religious about these buildings are what goes on inside them. The term ‘cathedral’ is used to reference the bishops’ church in his jurisdiction. Although there may be many churches in a jurisdiction, the cathedral is his personal building.
Doing a little more research, I came across an interesting citation in Albert Mackey’s tome, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Volume 1. When looking up ‘cathedral’ the definition is explained by the Supreme Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction in 1923, John H. Cowles as follows: “The word cathedral is improper as applied to Scottish Rite buildings. It is only in recent years that the word has come into use in this Jurisdiction, presumably from the purchase of some church building by Scottish Rite bodies, and remodeling it to Scottish Rite uses.”
So the conclusion seems to be that our buildings should never really have been called cathedrals in the first place. Another way of looking at this is that perhaps the buildings were called cathedrals to invoke the spirit of our operative predecessors, the stonemasons of the great cathedrals of medieval Europe.
In taking this ‘tour’ I’m leaving out the Scottish Rite House of the Temple in Washington DC. This building is very well publicized and featured prominently in Dan Brown’s latest work, The Lost Symbol. I’m trying to focus on lesser known buildings to members of the Scottish Rite. Many of these buildings were constructed in the early 1900’s-1920’s when membership was at its peak and it was a bit of a competition to design the most ornate meeting place. We have seen much consolidation over the years, not just from the Scottish Rite, but from Freemasonry in general, and many of these buildings have been sold or are rented out frequently to make ends meet.
Detroit Masonic Temple from Above
Our first stop takes us to Detroit, MI. Detroit is a city that has fallen on some hard times, however, their Masonic building still stands as a tower to the heavens and a classic example of Masonic architecture. This building is not exclusively for Scottish Rite use, however, I thought I would include it as it has a special section devoted to Scottish Rite only use.
Lobby of the Scottish Rite Section of the Masonic Temple
Detroit’s Masonic Temple is the largest in the world and planning began for it in 1892. 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 1600 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.
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 twenty-eight units in the building grouped into three major divisions: the ritualistic tower, the auditorium and the Shrine Club. Provisions for fifty Masonic bodies which must operate independently were included in the plans.
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 corner stone laying of the National Capitol. On September 18, 1922, thousands of Master Masons and their families witnessed the corner stone of the Masonic Temple of Detroit being placed into position.
Scottish Rite Auditorium
For more information about this building, you can visit the following websites:
or this book:
Images of America Detroit’s Masonic Temple (MI). Kowalski, Greg and Alex Lumberg. Arcadia Publishing. September 2006.
The next stop on our journey takes us to Omaha, Nebraska to visit the Valley of Omaha.
Valley of Omaha Cathedral
In 1912 the members of the Omaha Valley of Scottish Rite broke ground for the new building at 2001 Douglas Street. This magnificent neo-classical building covering approximately 47,000 square feet on four floors opened to the members in the fall of 1914. The November Fall Reunion picture shows 168 men posing for this special occasion. All but six were new Scottish Rite Masons. What an exciting opportunity it would have been to be part of that first Reunion Class of 1914 to receive the degrees of Scottish Rite Masonry.
Over the years the membership added the Organ (1926 dedication), had Bro. Thomas Moses, creator of Scottish Rite scenery to come to Omaha to paint our original set of stage drops. Original seating from American Seating can be found in the balcony with the wires under the seats for men to store their top hats and a hook built in at the bottom of the standards for the ladies to put their parasols.
Heading southwest on Highway 80 takes us to the Valley of Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Lincoln Scottish Rite Building
Lincoln's Scottish Rite Temple is a reinforced concrete, Neo-Classical Revival style building sheathed in Indiana limestone. The temple's most prominent feature is a colossal order of ten Roman Doric columns on the front facade. By 1916 when the temple was constructed, there were seventeen Masonic organizations in the city. On April 6, 1916, Lincoln's Delta Lodge of Perfection No. 4 voted to build a new Scottish Rite Temple. The building was designed by Ellery L. Davis, Lincoln's leading architect in the first half of the twentieth century.
Next we head to the city of Yankton, North Dakota to view their Scottish Rite Cathedral. The building originally began use as the cities Masonic Temple.
Yankton Scottish Rite Cathedral
Groundbreaking for the massive Masonic Temple, on the southwest corner of Fourth and Cedar Streets, took place in September 1901. Dedication events filled a week in March 1903, and the building is still used by the Yankton Masonic Scottish Rite, officially established in 1862 (though the first Masonic visitor to the area was probably Meriwether Lewis in 1804).
Yankton’s Scottish Rite Masonic Center includes a fully equipped theatre, complete with main floor and balcony seating, a light and sound system, more than 50 historically significant hand painted scenic backdrops, and a rare Aeolian player pipe organ (one of only three such instruments known to exist).
Heading to the state of Oregon, we first stop in Portland, Oregon to visit the Scottish Rite building.
Portland, OR Scottish Rite Building
The Scottish Rite Center was completed in 1902 and still stands as a magnificent example of neo-Classical architecture. The auditorium seats 587.
Traveling north a bit to Spokane, Washington brings us to a very impressive Scottish Rite building. Unfortunately, not a lot can be gleaned from their website or the state’s Orient on the building. The long row of Doric columns adds to a stately sense of what transpires inside the building.
Spokane Scottish Rite Building
Next up is the State of California. California has some of the most impressive and varied forms of architecture in the United States in their Scottish Rite buildings. What’s even more interesting is how quickly Scottish Rite masonry spread throughout the state. California was only admitted to the union in the late 1850’s and Scottish Rite Orients had begun to spring up during that time.
Our first stop takes us to Bakersfield, California’s Scottish Rite Building. There’s not a whole lot of information out there on how and why it was created.
Front Façade of Bakersfield Building
Next up is a trip to Oakland for a very impressive building. The building was constructed in 1927 and interestingly, since 2005, the building has been green – operating on solar power.
Main Lobby of the Oakland Scottish Rite
The Oakland Scottish Rite building sits on the shores of Lake Merritt and the Valley began operations in 1883. There is an excellent history available chronicling the founding and creation of previous buildings for the Scottish Rite. Albert Pike helped bring the Rite to Oakland in the summer of 1883. The website is http://scottish-rite.org/srhist.htm
Oakland Scottish Rite Auditorium
Long Beach, California brings us to our next Scottish Rite Building. The building was completed in 1926 and was designated one of Long Beach’s first few historic buildings.
The five-story Romanesque Revival building was built for use in the Scottish Rite branch of Freemasonry. It was built from 1925 to 1926 from steel frame and reinforced concrete with exterior granite terra cotta. Architects Wright & Gentry prepared the drawings for the building as well as the Long Beach York Rite Temple. The general contractor on the project was W.E. Campbell.
The building's auditorium is considered an outstanding example of early 20th Century opulence. The 30-foot-high ceiling has hand-painted designs. The stage measures 27 feet across the front curtain area and is 40 feet deep. It is used for theatrical performances, weddings, and other events. There is seating for 800.
The groundbreaking for the building was in July 1925. The skeleton of steel, weighing approximately 500 tons, was installed in just 27 days. Some 250 tons of ornamental terra cotta purchased from the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company were also used on the structure. Architect Parker O. Wright described the choice of materials as follows: "Steel was selected because buildings of this type are more enduring and more nearly earthquake proof than those of any other material."
The cathedral was dedicated in September 1926 in a three-day ceremony during which several hundred individuals were invested with various degrees of Masonry. At the time of its opening, the Los Angeles Times called it "one of the most beautiful structures of its kind in the West." The total cost of the building with furnishings was estimated to be $500,000.
In 1980, the building became the eighth structure to be designated as a Long Beach Historic Landmark. At the time, the Los Angeles Times referred to it as an "enormous" building with an "imposing facade" and an "elaborately decorated main auditorium."
Long Beach, California
Fresno, California’s Scottish Rite Building is next.
The Los Angeles, CA Valley has had several buildings in their past. The building pictured below was built in 1900 when the membership in the Valley had reached 200.
Hope Street Scottish Rite Cathedral
It became necessary in 1994 to find a temporary home and to explore locations for a new Temple. It had been a long-time mission of the Los Angeles Bodies to establish the California Cultural Heritage Museum; a place for people to learn about the heritage of their communities. The Elsworth Myer Gallery is designed to introduce Masonry to the public. The William R. Hervey Gallery focuses on the City of Los Angeles and the Scottish Rite from 1885 to 1950. Both museums display memorabilia, historical photographs and documents, all available for public viewing and research. The new building is pictured below.
New Scottish Rite Building in Los Angeles, CA
In Pasadena, California, the Pasadena Scottish Rite has a building dating back to 1925. The building is at 150 N. Madison Avenue complete with auditorium, stage, and 90 scene drops.
In 1957 the first major remodeling project got under way since the building was constructed in 1925. In 1959 authorization was obtained to purchase property for expansion. The membership had now grown to nearly 4,000. In 1961 a new entrance and vestibule was constructed leading from the North parking lot directly into the banquet hall. It followed an Egyptian motif with terrazzo floor and appropriate furnishings. During November the entire building was repainted. New sound equipment was installed in Cobb Auditorium consisting of console, amplifiers and racks. A new Scottish Rite Museum was also authorized. (1) Again in November 1964 extensive remodeling of 40 year old Cobb Auditorium was authorized including electrical and sound improvements, extended stage, new lighting and 454 new permanent seats. In 1969 an architect was employed to draw plans to modernize certain areas of the main floor and basement.
Pasadena, CA Scottish Rite Cathedral
I have tried to avoid highlighting more ‘modern’ Scottish Rite Cathedrals, however, one noteworthy building is the Valley of San Francisco’s Scottish Rite Center.
San Francisco Scottish Rite Center
Traveling west to the island of Hawaii, we visit the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Honolulu. The building was built in 1922 by the Christian Science organization, and, that same year, became the Scottish Rite Cathedral, home to the Scottish Rite Masons, one of a handful of lodges of Free and Accepted Masons in Hawai‘i. The Scottish Rite has been in Hawai‘i since 1874, and counts among its founding members John Dominis, King Kalakaua (who also founded HONOLULU Magazine), former mayor of Honolulu Lester Petrie and N.R. Farrington.
Honolulu Scottish Rite Cathedral
Heading back east, we pass through Salt Lake City, Utah and visit their Scottish Rite Cathedral.
Salt Lake City, Utah Scottish Rite Building During the Day
Heading south, we go to Sante Fe, New Mexico where one of the most impressive Scottish Rite Cathedrals stands.
In 1909 Santa Fe's paper, The Daily New Mexican announced that local (he lived and had offices in both New Mexico and Colorado) architect Isaac H. Rapp had been awarded the commission to design a new Scottish Rite Cathedral. A few months later, in July of the same year, it printed a perspective by Rapp showing a grand Neo-classical styled design for the Temple. Only a week later the same paper printed that Rapp's plans had been considered to be "not satisfactory." Shortly afterwards it was announced that the Los Angeles architectural firm of Hunt and Burns had been employed instead. They produced a Moorish Revival style structure based loosely on one of the gatehouses to the Court of the Lions at the Alhambra in Spain. Hunt and Burns were well known for their designs in the Spanish California Mission style, but decided instead to base their design on a connection between the Spanish building tradition of New Mexico and that of the Moors in southern Spain.
Still somewhat shocking today is the pink colored stucco that the building was, and still is clad in.
That Isaac Rapp did not get the commission was not a huge loss to him as he was to build his design in 1913 as the Las Animas County Court House, in Trinidad, Colorado. Also, that he did not design the building that was ultimately built was apparently missed by some, as he has been erroneously listed as the architect of the building.
Sante Fe, NM Scottish Rite Cathedral
Heading to Colorado, which has three Valleys, we stop in the capitol city of Denver, CO.
Denver Consistory Building in Denver, CO
There are many more Scottish Rite Cathedrals that I will be highlighting in a future posing as we make our way back across Texas, the Midwest, the Southeast, and the East Coast!
‘Book launch: Freemasonry on the Frontier’
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