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Masons Will Miss Temple

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(Editor's Note: The following is aother of a sedes on the buildings scheduled to bc torn down to make room for the new federal building planned for Ann Arbor.) When the Masonic Temple is razed to make way for a new federal building, as seems likely, tbere will be a tug at the heartstrings oí many Ann Arborites besides the Masons, for whom the building has been symbol and home since 1925. The public may recall three seasons, 1954 through 1957, when the Dramatic Arts Center turned the auditorium and adjacent rooms into a center of drama, ballet, dance, symphony and art. The Junior Theatre was born there, and several well known doctors and musicians performed there, among them James Coco, , Sydney Walker and Marian Mercer. Theatrical events ceased at the temple after the Bendix Aviation Corporation leased the building's first floor in 1956 and quickly expanded into the auditorium. Office partitions cubicled the floor space and panels cut off the narrow balconies, but the decorative hanging lights, which repeat the Masonic motifs of the exterior of the building, remained and hung ghost-like in the open space that loomed over the temporary offices. After Bendix moved out in 1964, the temple saw a succession of renters, among them the Juvenile Court for three years and the Washtenaw Children's Aid Society. A few offices are still housed on the main floor, but the rest of the rented space remains empty. Masonic activities, which in the old days occupied the entire building, gradually w i t h d r e w from the ballroom auditorium-banquet hall and from the third floor game rooms, to the fourth floor lodge rooms where they remained. The large lodge meeting room on the fourth floor is preserved nearly as il was in the 1920s with its enormous dark leather and wood thronelike chairs and benches, tables with massive legs and large floor candelabra. Still an imposing and serene if somber Victorian room, it is the one that Masons will doubtless miss the most, however nice their new quarters, because it is associated with so many of their ceremonies. The three lodges that use the building, Golden Rule Lodge No. 159, Fraternity Lodge No. 262 and Ann Arbor Lodge No. 544, meet at the temple but hold their large dinner dances at the Grotto Club of Ann Arbor. Commandery groups, Eastern Star, White Shnne of Jerusalem, Order of Rainbow and Order of Demolay also make use of the Masonic Temple building for their activities. The total membership of all these groups is around 1,500 with some overlapping. "We're sorry to lose the building," said Bob Sevebeck, president of The Ann Arbor Masonic Temple Corporation, "but all things have to give way lo progress." "The Masons have ekperienced increasing difficulty in obtaining renters for the building. There is only one elevator, and a large amount of interior space is devoted to the two-story high auditorium. The building has simply outlived its usefulness." The cost of operation has made the building expensive in recent years, Sevebede added. Masonry began in Ann Arbor on February 26, 1827, when the Western Star Lodge 6 was chartered. It met in the John Allen tavern, a log cabin on the northwest corner of Main and Hurun Sts. A second Masonic organization was founded here in 1847 and a third in 1857. The Golden Rule Lodge was the fourth Masonic organizalion in Ann Arbor and it held its meetings above the Oriënt Tavern at 215-270 S. Main. In 1886 the Masons transferred their meeting place to the top floor of the three-story brick St. James Block on the northwest corner of Hurón and Main Streets. Later called the Savings Bank Building, it was most recently known as the Municipal Court Building. It housed a jewelry store and several professional offices when it burned in a $5(H),ÜÜO fire on November 10, 1971. The structure remains were razed and the lot is temporarily being used as the Ecology Center'sdowntownpark. The Masons began planning their own building in 1910, but fund drives and pledges had to be put aside during World War I. The project was renewed in 1919. The Masonic Temple was designed by George McConkey, a professor of architecture at the University of Michigan and a Masón. The cornerstone was laid June 28, 1922, and the event was marked by a parade and gala dinner. The building was dedicaied on February 27, 1925. Fund raising to pay for the building and its upkeep continued throughout the years until the building was finally paid off in 1948, just about the same time the lodge membership began to level off and start to decline. There were an estimated 3,000 members of the lodges in 1957. Both the Masons who built the temple and the Dramatic Arts Center that filled its rooms with the arts had high hopes for the building. The Masons enjoyed many solemn and gala events there. The DAC offered some first-rate cultural fare to the public. The DAC's dream of turning the temple into a thriving civic cultural center, however, never was achieved. In their day Ann Arbor's Civic Theatre, Civic Symphony, Civic Ballet and Junior Theatre all performed there. The hope was to unite all these organizations plus the Ann Arbor Art Association under a small professional staff of four or five actors and a technical and artistic director. Many lucal people contributed to Ihe effort to conven the auditorium into an arena stage. Eugene Power, Burnette Staebler and Richard Mann all served as presidents of the group when it was housed at the temple. The DAC continued to sponsor the dramatic arts and musical performances of the ONCE group until 1969. The Junior Theatre is now sponsored entirely by the Re,creation Department. DAC was influential in starting t h e University's Professional Theatre Program in the early 1960s. The Masons are presently considering a new site for their activities, so for them the razing of the building will mark another milestone on their 14fi-year local road. But for the Dramatic Arts Center participants it will recall a dream that began to end with the group's final performance of "Medea" at the temple in February 1957. ' __- -■