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The Detroit Masonic Temple is the largest building of its kind in the world and is an iconic structure on Temple Street in Detroit. It is undeniably the center of Freemasonry in the city and attracts a lot of interest from outsiders interested in seeing the temple’s interior.
Although Freemasonry started in Europe, it has been prevalent throughout the US since the early eighteenth century, when prominent Masons included the founding fathers like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. In Detroit in particular, famous Masons have included Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler.
While the Detroit Masonic Temple is an important place for Freemasons in the city, it has become an important part of Detroit’s cultural heritage. It is a multi-purpose venue that welcomes people for different purposes year-round.
In this post, we take a look at the Detroit Masonic temple in greater detail and begin to understand its significance to the city of Detroit.
The history of the Detroit Masonic Temple
The Masonic Temple Association of Detroit was founded in 1894, and the first Masonic temple was constructed on Lafayette Boulevard in 1896. However, as Detroit enjoyed economic prominence in the early twentieth century, interest in Freemasonry was piqued, and membership of the fraternity increased.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the architectural firm of George D. Mason was hired to design a new temple. The Detroit Masonic Temple was officially opened on Thanksgiving Day 1926 and became a key feature of the Detroit skyline overnight.
Before its grand opening, the project drew significant interest from Detroit’s people as thousands gathered to see the cornerstone laid in 1922. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone was the same used by George Washington during the construction of the US capitol.
The design of the Detroit Masonic Temple
The Detroit Masonic Temple is a spectacular neo-Gothic structure and is complete with a limestone exterior and decadent interior. The temple is enormous; it has over 1,000 rooms, three theatres, a Shrine building, a chapel, a drill hall, and two ballrooms.
Since 1939 the Detroit Masonic temple became the largest purpose-built Masonic center in the world after the Chicago Masonic temple was demolished.
Because the city of Detroit suffered economically throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the temple’s aesthetics suffered as a result. There are still elements of the temple that remain unfinished, such as the vacant space that was supposed to house a swimming pool.
The temple is one of the most complex structures ever built in the US, and there were early plans to build the temple in the shape of the hammer, although this plan was ultimately abandoned due to the additional space required for the frontage.
The artist and sculptor of the interior of the temple’s main lobby was Corrado Parducci, who was perhaps the last surviving master architectural sculptor in America when he died in 1983. Parducci’s work can be seen all over Detroit, and his architectural design is a unique part of the city’s culture.
The Detroit Masonic Temple is multi-purpose
Today, the temple has become a popular live music venue, wedding venue, and a tourist attraction to visitors in the city. However, its primary function remains a Masonic venue, and various Masonic lodges host their meetings in the temple.
In the past, the temple has also hosted a 3-chair barbershop, a shoe-shine parlor, fifteen bowling alleys, a cigar stand, a bakery, a billiards room, a rooftop garden, and a gymnasium. The temple has become one of Detroit’s most easily recognizable landmarks and is an essential part of the city’s culture.
The temple currently has two theatres, and had a third theatre been completed on the seventh floor as planned, it would have been the only building in the world to house three auditoriums under one roof.
Significant memorabilia within the temple
Perhaps the most significant piece of memorabilia within the temple is the painting of George Washington that hangs on the sixth floor. The painting is an original by Emanuel Luetze, a famous German artist for depicting Washington crossing the Delaware.
As an early Mason, George Washington is a significant figure to Freemasons the world over, and the painting takes pride of place in the temple. It was actually on display in the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia before being purchased and transferred to Detroit.
As well as Washington’s painting, there is a large porcelain vase located in the temple’s main lobby. The vase is from the Ching Dynasty and is of historical significance as it was made sometime in the late seventeenth century.
Financial trouble for the temple
Although the temple was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it has encountered many financial difficulties since, partly due to the high costs associated with its maintenance.
In 2013, the temple owed over $150,000 to the county. Rockstar Jack White famously saved the temple from foreclosure by paying off $142,000 of the debt, stating that the temple was an important landmark in the city and it meant something personally to him as his mother used to work there.
As a result of White’s donation, one of the theatres was named after him and remains a popular music venue.
Conclusion: The Detroit Masonic Temple
The Detroit Masonic Temple is perhaps the most impressive of all Masonic buildings in America and is home to several Masonic lodges that meet there regularly. Arguably, the temple is an architectural gem in Detroit and is vital to the city’s people.
This was evidenced when Rockstar Jack White bailed out the temple in 2013 and saved it from foreclosure. While it remains an important symbol of Freemasonry, the temple is a cultural treasure for the city and will remain so in the future.